I hope I’m right.
I’m still bullish on local media, particularly radio and television. And apparently at least among the content creators, I’m not alone.
Through “Linked-In”, I belong to a couple of groups that deal with broadcast programming. There are fairly regular comments about the lack of local programs and personalities. It’s a trend that’s been growing in the industry for nearly three decades.
One of the things that drew me to broadcasting when I was a kid was listening to disk jockeys in Louisville … about 70 miles from where I grew up. My favorite station back then was WAKY … and the Boss Jock in the afternoons was Bill Bailey … also known as “The Duke of Louisville”. He was the classic Top-40 AM radio DJ, and it made me want to be on the radio. In the 8th grade, a teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. “A Disk Jockey”, was my immediate reply.
My first radio job was at the local station, WBIW-AM. The parent company applied for, and was granted, a Class A FM license for a 3000 watt transmitter. That first automation system used mechanical relays and thumb wheels and 4 10″ reel to reel decks and everything switched on 25 hertz transfer tones. There was no disk jockey, no operator, you just turned it on, and it ran … mostly. Much like today, the automation technology changed quickly, and the second generation had a rudimentary digital brain, which dumped it’s programming every time there was an electrical storm. We spent a lot of time re-programming the automation. But those of us who worked on-air on the AM side could see the writing on the wall. It was fairly obvious that the mechanical computers would probably eventually cost us our jobs. If you’ve been in a radio station recently … more than likely there are more computers than air talent, and that’s made for a pretty shallow talent pool. There are not a lot of places for them to develop, as many of the small stations are completely automated.
But for all the prediction of the interwebs spelling the death of local radio and television … is it possible that the availability of national content from so many sources might … just might … cause a resurgence in local programming? I think it’s plausible.
Follow me along here. If I want to listen to or watch a national program … I have options. I can get that program on my local radio or television station, sure. But I can also likely find someplace to watch online, or in the case of a radio program, I might be able to get a podcast. Satellite radio, too, offers national programs … sometimes without commercials.
In the case of music programming … my options are even more diverse. My MP3 player acts like a radio station. On random play, I can listen to a playlist of 400-500 songs, and I haven’t even begun to fill up the 8 gigs of storage in the player. No commercials, and if I don’t want to hear the song that plays, I touch the “skip” button. Next. In these uncertain economic times, an additional $13-$15 per month for radio is just not in my budget.
But what do I NOT get from my MP3 player, or satellite radio, or the station who’s programming is largely automated syndication? Local news, local information, local, local, local.
And frankly, for me at least, it wants to be more than just traffic and weather.
On both radio and television, the same digital technology that make the interwebs work are making for some interesting possibilities. Television stations have multiple channels to program by FCC mandate … and radio stations that opt for HD Radio also have multiple stations to program. Television has the advantage in digital broadcasting through the mandate. All of the digital channels will operate on a level playing field. HD Radio requires a new, not-inexpensive receiver … and again there are these uncertain economic times.
The stations who emerge stronger from this digital convergence may be those who will take a risk on innovative local programming on those new channels. What a shame it will be for all of this new bandwidth to exist without any cool local programming to populate it.
I know a lot depends on advertising sales, and again, there are these uncertain economic times. But attending the council meetings of the Regional Chamber of Commerce … I meet innovative, local small business people who might be a perfect market for sponsoring innovative, local programming.
Bottom line, I can see plenty of room for good local shows on radio and television. The problem is, they’re more expensive than syndicated programming, because you’ve got to hire and keep competent people. But it is at least plausible that the stations that will take that risk may wind up staying more relevant in the internet age.
At least I hope I’m right.