Endangered Localism

My friend and writer extraordinaire Ken Tucker has a blogIt’s one of my favorites, so you should check it out. About a month ago he posted this piece on the deconstruction of local radio and the move toward a national format.

I don’t know why I’m surprised, but I am, at least to some extent. None of the radio industry trades have offered any analysis of yesterday’s announcements by Clear Channel regarding “Premium Choice” programming (sounds like a satellite television menu offering) and increased attention to localism. Each and everyone of them pretty much reprinted the Clear Channel press releases intact.

I take that back. Tom Taylor on Radio-Info.com does seem to view the proceedings with more than a little skepticism. “Now it’s up to the local PDs (says Clear Channel) to select ‘large portions, single pieces or none of the offered programming’,” Taylor writes. “But if a particular daypart hasn’t measured up lately – do you really think the option would be ‘none’?”

The gist of the story is this: local programmers can select from a menu of “premium choice” programming options to fill their local line-up. Morning guy not working out? Plug in Ryan Seacrest. Afternoon guy’s ratings starting to fade? Plug in Seacrest (his show apparently fits almost anywhere).

Now, I’m not a Clear Channel hater. I never have been. I have friends that work for the company and there are things I admire about it. These initiatives are not among them.

Call me old fashioned and out of touch, but when I was a teen I remember driving with a group of friends to downtown Cleveland to see the Sunday night jock on WGCL (G98) do his show through a window that faced the street. He wasn’t particularly friendly, but he was there.

I also remember calling in a request to Dancin’ Danny Wright, the morning man on that same station, and then listening for him to play it back on-air.

Not any more.

These days the country station in Cleveland, WGAR, only has two local dayparts, mornings and afternoons. Middays and nights are voice tracked out of Baltimore and overnights are syndicated. Cleveland, Ohio. Not Cleveland, Tenn.

CC is also increasing the number of PSAs stations do and making it easier for local officials to reach station management. Go figure.

Dan Miller, a longtime local television anchor here in Nashville, recently died suddenly. Thousands of viewers in the area are still mourning his loss because they saw him as a trusted friend—someone who came into their house every night. Competing stations ran stories about him, and two of those stations even covered news and answered the phones at his former station while his colleagues attended his funeral.

That’s localism.  A couple more PSAs on a radio station with a few, if any, local talent is not the same thing.

I just don’t get how radio station owners can continue to fight calls for localism regulation from Capitol Hill and turn stations into satellite operations.

Gerry House on WSIX has built a large and loyal following and when the day comes that he dies (hopefully no time soon), he will be remembered in the same way as Miller: a trusted friend who was a part of our lives.Then what? The country version of Seacrest syndicated from Tampa or somewhere else?

It won’t be the same.

“PLAIN SPEAK”: A blog that aims to communicate without trying to impress. Risible, egregious, pedantic, hubris, multifarious? You won’t find those words here, unless they’re used in jest. Never use a five dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do the job.

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One Response to Endangered Localism

  1. Ken Tucker says:

    Thanks for the reprint, Mike. I have a feeling I’ll be revisiting that topic soon. On a separate note, I’d love to hear what you’re doing with Compassion International at some point.


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