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Friday, June 10, 2011
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FCC News Report - the Radio Section

My first radio job was as a news reporter for KLLL Radio in Lubbock, Texas. One responsibility I carried was to stop at the local police station on my way into work to look through the overnight logs. According to a new report on Local News, produced by the FCC, actions like that don't happen anymore in the radio industry (or other media).

"Take about fifteen minutes to read what's said in this report from the FCC. Then turn to your boss and ask why our local news coverage can't be improved." What follows are a few quotes from the radio section of this FCC's report. You're sure to nod in agreement on most items stated, possibly with the exception of those quoting Clear Channel's John Hogan and his defense of using the hub-system for gathering news.

It's not at all convincing to me, but that's because I view little of what John Hogan has done since he's been in control of the world's largest radio group as reflective of what's in the best interest of radio or its audience.

Here are a few excerpts. Read the full section on radio here. Download the complete report on all media here.

John Hogan - Clear Channel:
"I am not sure where the whole notion of hub-and-spoke or that nomenclature comes from, because I don’t think of it that way at all. What I think of is connectivity between markets.

“What we do is gather news from any one of our markets, and we have a number of locations where we have better, more qualified readers of the news. We become more efficient: instead of having news gatherers and anchors in every market, we have news gatherers and anchors in some markets. It’s a way for us to make sure we have the highest-quality presentation of the news. The economy has gotten tougher and tougher and tougher, and we’ve had to stretch to be able to be as innovative as we can, and that’s one of the things that we use."

Paul Jacobs - Jacobs Media:
"You could almost measure the impact of deregulation [by] reading the trades and headlines. [The headlines about radio] went from content-based stories about great content and great personalities to Wall Street–based stories on radio." ... "The headcount at radio stations decreased dramatically. Local content, especially news, has disappeared. In a lot of cases, local programming and local focus have deteriorated and have been replaced by a lot of syndicated programming."

Robert Papper, director of the Radio Television Digital News Association’s RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey:
"I can say this without a doubt—there are far fewer stations doing news than 10 years ago, there are far fewer people hired by commercial radio to work in the newsrooms, and the median number of people employed in a commercial radio newsroom has been ‘one’ for quite a few years."

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, professor of communications at Johns Hopkins University:
"It [local radio] has largely abdicated its responsibility to generate local news coverage to public radio."

Kenneth P. Stern, former CEO of National Public Radio:
"The consolidation of commercial radio and the very significant reductions in local news [on the radio] created an open playing field for NPR and local public radio. The big local news all-news stations like WCBS-AM and WTOP-AM/FM still draw very large audiences but there are fewer and fewer of those stations, and the demise of serious local and national radio news created a real opportunity and mission for NPR and public radio. We decided to go at it hard to fill this growing vacuum, because we saw both a marketplace and public service opportunity."

There are a couple of small market bright spots in this report, though. One comes - literally - just down the road from me.

Edward Esposito, vice president of information media for Rubber City Radio Group in Akron, Ohio:
"We are owned by a local guy, who lives up the road. We have nine people full time in my news department, down from a high of 16, which I had last year [and] most of whom I got rid of were the part-timers. It’s still very important to [the owner] for us to be a creator of content so he can make those individual decisions and say, ‘You know what, I’m good at taking less profit margin’ or ‘I’m willing to stomach a loss in this line item as long as I can generate revenue in another item.’ Every time Akron City Council meets, we are there.... We also cover the school board meetings."

I am familiar with the Rubber City Radio team, and they truly share a concern for doing radio that's responsible to the public. They produce what anyone in the radio industry would be proud to call "good radio."

Here's my summary: It doesn't matter what radio industry executives claim, it's what the public - and reports like this - perceive.

Take about fifteen minutes to read what's said in this report from the FCC. Then turn to your boss and ask why our local news coverage can't be improved.

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