Monday, March 2, 2009

The Sad State of News Radio

By Allen Bacon, Editor, The Daily Bosco

There used to be a time, living in the Southern California area, if I was in my car or out hiking with my radio headset I could get the news instantly. 24-7 Up-to-the minute....Even on the weekends. I took it for granted that it would always be there when I needed it.

The station was KFWB 980 News Radio and between them and rival KNX 1070 and the occaisional third news station that would crop up from time to time, the state of news radio was in good hands. We were a very informed bunch of Southern Californians.

"Give Us 22 minutes and we'll give you the world" was the motto on KFWB. And it had some great personalities..real news people that delivered the news. Like Gary Franklin ("Car 98..out") who once told me that if you're a journalist you have to live and breathe the news all the time...there are no breaks. The station had a bunch of Gary Franklins.

So imagine my shock when I was out over the weekend and wanted to get a quick hit of what was happening in the world and state and dialed in the familiar 980 and was met with infomercials. One after the other. About real estate...about how to get out of debt...about vitamin supplements.

The problem with these particular infomercials is that they are designed to sound like legitimate news programs. To the casual listener it would sound like KFWB is creating these programs. But listen carefully and you will find they are clever 30 minute commercials hawking one product. I don't need to tell you the problem with this. My reliable news station has turned into the Home Shopping Network.

The weirdest one I heard was funny man Tim Conway Jr. (formerly of the now defunct KLSX) hosting an infomercial for a Debt Consolidation company. Like I'm going to take anything that Tim Conway Jr. says seriously now.

I understand that the world has changed. The economy is bad and the news industry in particular is taking a big hit. You are seeing things that never used to happen. Like advertising on the front page of The New York Times and other papers. And let's be real honest. Radio stations make a lot of money by selling time to these informercial companies. But to set yourself up as a legitimate News Radio Station for all these years and to let this happen is just wrong and misleading. KFWB should be ashamed of itself.

The other station in town is at least staying true to it's mandate. But they are a different animal than KFWB. They blend news programs like 60 Minutes or Money 101 with hard news. But the only problem with that is that if you need a quick read from the radio on the news you can't get it at least here in Southern California. You used to be able to do that with KFWB.

It was always good to have two news stations competing in the same market. Like when there used to be more than one paper in Los Angeles. The competitors would keep each other honest. Then KFWB and KNX were owned by the same company. Not sure if that was a good idea.

A word to KFWB. Figure out who you are and figure it out real quick. Because in your current state, as a news station, you can't be trusted anymore.

1 comment:

Doug Vehle said...

KNX has NOT remained true to the mandate, just as AOL has not. (AOL crashed again as I was sending my first response.) When they dropped 'The Drama Hour' from 9pm they acted like this was somehow 'Modernizing,' but they have since been a shadow of their former selves, and not just because I can't listen to 'The Shadow' there anymore.

Don't know if I ever knew how to spell his name, but shortly after General Manager George Nicholov was honored by the City of LA for his 36 year run as General Manager, they disposed of him. ANd nothing irritates a post modernist like myself so much as SOMEONE ELSE making a joke out of a serious matter, as KNX has done with the news.

Remeber KHJ? 'Boss Radio?' All those old jokes and sound effects are over at KNX now. Money 101 is fluff, as is most everything else they air.

Infomercials. When I was with FNN, they claimed to have invented those, but I guess that's what much of early broadcasting really was. They said they would continue the informericals until they ". . . Were ready to do away with that revenue stream." Meaning they were a permanent fixture, even if FNN wasn't.

So back in college, I remember John Dizema telling me that to be a printer, you had to live and breathe printing, and that's why he wasn't going to follow in the family business. I lost touch with him when he was Music Director at KiFfm, (On the air as 'J.D.') but I'm told he took over the shop when his Dad retired. (Probably making more money.)

So is it true? Is his work affected if he has some unimaginable life away from the presses? Does this blog detract from YOUR work? Working on the set didn't take everything from me, or I would never have been able to write.

I just don't think infomercials are detracting from their ability to report the news, just from your ability to hear it from them. As Patrick Henry said, 'Make of that what you will.' Not so dramatic as 'Give me liberty, or give me DEATH,' but I hardly see the infomercial age as '. . . .Times that try men's souls.' (Ooops, it wasn't Patrick Henry that said that.)

AOL, now THAT is trying my soul.