R A D I O N E W S F O R M A T S IV

Podcasting, Satellite Radio, and the Internet

 

As this report is being written in December 2007, the FCC has just concluded a series of public hearings on localism. Radio host Bob Edwards, speaking at the final hearing, on behalf of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, urged the commissioners to resist allowing further radio consolidation.

Bob Edwards

"The drive to consolidate ownership of media seems to ignore the disaster that consolidation has brought to local news and public affairs on radio in this country," he said, referring to the 1996 deregulation. He mentioned the common practice of voice-tracking on music format stations, "canned programming produced in a distant market, and without regard for the input and tastes of the local community."

He also mentioned a well-known incident of January 18, 2002 in Minot, North Dakota, where a train derailed and emergency officials were trying to evacuate a section of the city. One company, Clear Channel, owned all six commercial stations in Minot but officials were not able to reach anyone at any of the stations, causing an unhealthy delay in the emergency response. [46]

"If commercial media are given the unfettered right to abandon their obligation to serve the public interest, they will do just that," he concluded. "If the commission truly seeks to enhance localism, it should tighten, not loosen, ownership restrictions." [47]

QUILL

In his landmark 1948 book News by Radio, Mitchell Charnley wrote, "News is...one of broadcasting's major program offerings, and perhaps broadcasting's major avenue of public service. News by Radio rests on the conviction that the practice of radio news is a high calling." [48]

Writing on the decline in radio news for Quill magazine in 2004, Kansas State University journalism professor Bonnie Bressers didn't find much evidence for the high calling of news remaining in commercial radio, or optimism that the precipitous disappearance of commercial radio news could be reversed. [49]

Radio listeners in communities that are served by both public radio and all-news radio stations at least have a choice of news options. Today's resourceful listeners have a few additional listening options to help keep themselves informed.

ipod

Some news broadcasts, particulary on all-news stations, NPR and the BBC, find new audiences through podcasting. Listeners can choose the time and location of their listening by downloading programs to their MP3 players. "The time shifting aspect, to listen when you want to listen, is a good trend," says Jack Mitchell. "But just hitting your button and there's your favorite station, the live stream, I don't think that will go away."[50]

News programming also exists on satellite radio. XM has a dozen channels of network news, and almost as many sports channels. One channel features former Morning Edition host Bob Edwards, who jumped to satellite after he was dropped by NPR. [51] Sirius has about 17 national and international news channels, plus weather and traffic channels for almost a dozen major metro areas.[52]

Survey results reported at the 2007 NAB radio show indicate that the youngest radio listeners, the 17-28 age group, listen almost exclusively to radio in their cars. Many do not own a radio otherwise. The mobile phone is their medium of choice (described as the "Swiss Army Knife of gadgets"). Radio stations that want to reach this demographic were encouraged to reach them via texting. [53]

mobile internet

Mitchell believes that wireless internet offers the most interesting and intriguing potential for future radio news service innovations. "If the internet becomes ubiquitous in cars, you have so many choices all over the country. The competition would be tremendous. The potential reach of any one station is terrific."

But, just as in the past, he observes that more options means more challenges for program producers. "Being unique and standing out in this flood of content would be trying. Local stations can still have what you can't get anywhere else. I believe public radio stations, and it goes for commercial as well, should be making sure they have a strong local component." [54]

In its essence, Mitchell's observation is almost identical to what Ed Giller, the program director of Kansas City radio station WDAF told Gordon and Falk back in the fifties: "This is the television age but there are still plenty of things radio can do and places it can go that TV can't. Radio can react quickly and so can its listeners. You can't watch TV while you're driving a car or working, but you can listen to radio. It can really keep you in touch with what's going on in your community." [55]

Radio news tools have never been better. There will always be an audience for information delivered in an audio format. Radio's ability to transport listeners instantly to distant venues, as well as its extreme portability, remain among its strongest distinctives. Based on the history of changes observed over the last 100 years, the odds favor radio news continuing to be available, in some form. It will continue to compete with other media.

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46. Jennifer 8. Lee, "On Minot N.D. Radio, A Single Corporate Voice." The New York Times, New York, NY: March 31, 2003
47. Bob Edwards, "Localism Has Been Eviscerated" (Falls Church,VA: Radio World, December 5, 2007) 39
48. Bonnie Bressers, “A Shift in Substance” (Indianapolis Indiana: QUILL   May, 2004)
49. Mitchell, interview
50. Sirius Satellite Radio, http://www.sirius.com/
51. XM Satellite Radio, http://www.xmradio.com/
52. Scott Fybush, “Jacobs Pulls Back Curtains on 'Bedroom” (Falls Church,VA: Radio World, November 7, 2007)
53. Mitchell, interview
54. Gordon and Fang, 181