Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Radio in decline

As I was driving to the bank a few minutes ago, I heard a news report on health damage to veterans who served in the Gulf War. At first, I wasn't sure what station it was, but after a minute or so, it became unmistakable. The scientist being interviewed was given uninterrupted time to speak. The reporter asked serious questions and waited through in-depth, serious answers before speaking again. Obviously, it had to be NPR. Within 60 seconds, the whole approach to the report had exhibited a sense of depth, of restraint and thoroughness that simply would be unimaginable in modern commercial radio.

Which left me just one question: Why?


Anonymous said...

Other than Jim Bohannon (sp) there is nothing of value on AM. I have even heard the clowns who read the Gazette on KBLG making right wing comments during the news.

Its been years since an AM radio station in Billings has had a serious news department.

Anonymous said...

Since they don't have much of an audience, they have plenty of time on their hands.

Jim Larson said...

I don't know how large their audience is, but I do know that public broadcasting gives more time to real conservative voices than the MSM, including Fox.

During the big antiwar protest in D.C., the only major media that had a correspondent with the pro-war folks was National Public Radio, and that reporter let angry conservative protesters speak freely and at length, and she did so in a non-judgemental sympathetic manner.

Nobody else had a reporter in their midst, not even Fox.

Come to think of it, one of my radio rep friends told me that YPR had outstanding Arbitron numbers.

As for AM, Michael Lyon at KBLG does a good job. He's the real deal.

Chuck Rightmire said...

In the last 50 years in Billings, only a few radio stations have had serious reporters. The onslaught of music has eroded that and the talk radio folks who try to carry "news" find that they get better ratings if they carry "the" answer rather than the fact. People prefer their news digested. And the ones who have the loudest voices, the biggest convictions and the most believable lies lead to deterioration in the entire media.

Ken Siebert said...

YPR is proud to have the audience we do--and I am always amazed at the depth of knowledge and understanding our listeners display, whether in on-air comments or in phone conversations & e-mails.

While we are free of many of the constraints placed on commercial radio, we are not immune to the marketplace. Increasingly, we face competition from the same national programming sources that provide our excellent national content. NPR member stations are all scrambling to carve out their own niche--and more and more, that means local programming. Developing interesting, relevant, and well-produced regional content is a huge focus for us.

As for Eric's comment, I would counter that we make the most of the time we have. Since we are largely listener supported (grants and funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting make up less than 25% of our annual operating budget), we can take advantage of an entire hour, not just pieces of it. This provides the time necessary to get into the nooks and crannies of a story, issue, or debate.

Unfortunately, this approach isn't all that commercially marketable.

But it is possible.

Jay Stevens said...

Why? It's quite simple. Quality, in-depth content like NPR provides is expensive to create. That is, lower profits.

The private sector rarely considers the overall benefits, esp. civil or spirtitual, to the public when creating products.

David said...

Ken, Thanks for weighing in. Maybe you can answer a question that has been on my mind. I seem to remember seeing ratings somewhere that showed YPR actually was the second-rated radio station in the Billings market, behind only KCTR. Have you heard that, or am I dreaming?

Anonymous said...

I stopped listening to NPR looong ago! Any thinking person realizes that they have changed. They basically joined the cheerleading team as we headed into Iraq. When bush appointed a rightwinger to head the Public Broadcasting Service, NPR quickly fell in line. Now, I don't know about YPR and their local programming because I can't recieve it. But KUFM outta Missoula is a pathetic joke headed by a pathetic woman named sally mockery. I can't even listen to it any more. It's THAT painful. I am really suprised that anyone still contributes to that garbage. The ONLY show that I still listen to is Alternative Radio, which is on for one hour per week. The rest is garbage. There is MUCH more insightful, actual NEWS available on the net. Hence, I predict NPR will eventually simply go all the way rightwing, or fade away.

Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers!

Ken Siebert said...

David--YPR has been rated 2nd in the Billings market many times over the past few years in the 18-54 demographic (weighted heavily, I'm sure, to the older end of that spectrum).

I tend not to think much about that because it isn't as much of a selling point for us as our content. Plus, YPR exists in so many other markets in the region that getting too Billings-centric could be detrimental.

Commercial stations see us as an apples-to-oranges comparison, too, so we're not alone in that assessment. I think most commercial stations in Billings ignore our ratings and tend to favor side-by-side comparisons with each other.

If, however, we had to compete with a commercial classical or jazz station . . . well, then, that would be a different ballgame.

Dave Rye said...

I'm surprised that satellite radio hasn't made a bigger dent. With about 150 channels offered by both Sirius and XM (which are trying to merge because they're both losing money), a listener of every taste has an endless supply of favorite programming for about ten bucks a month. Not only does satellite radio provide every known example of music programming, no matter how niche-y the listener's taste, but it has old-time drama and comedy, religious programming,constant sports, constant news, and the fan of talk radio can choose between "conservative" and "progressive." There's even a channel on XM geared toward public radio fans who are mad that NPR ousted Bob Edwards from "Morning Edition," featuring Edwards himself.

The only thing satellite radio doesn't have is what radio ought to be all about, which is local-ness, but then most local stations lack that same quality much of the time.

Anonymous said...

Good point Dave. I mostly find myself listening to Sirius 7, or Sirius 103 - Blue Collar Comedy.

Not that it hurts me any, but I get tired of hunting for local stations between here & Great Falls!

Ken Siebert said...

At the risk of hogging the discussion here, I'd like to echo Dave Rye's comments about "local-ness." It seems that quality is a key element missing from much of our lives.

Bill McKibben has a book titled Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, in which he lays out the case that "growth" has reached a critical mass and only through local development of everything from produce to culture will we see true prosperity.

In the book, McKibben uses radio as an example of what's been lost through consolidation in the name of "growth."

As a brief PS, I have to say I enjoy Dave Rye's contributions to the local blogosphere. I lurk a lot more than I post (although you wouldn't know it from this comment thread) and I'm always glad to see his considered, intelligent additions to the myriad of topics discussed here and elsewhere on the "local" internets.

Vince said...

I feel, as a long time radio junkie, a need to weigh here. I would echo many of the comments, but to get to a simple answer to David's question, which I think was directed to how news was done, the answer is that commercial news is not about depth. It's about entertainment. Period. This is nothing new but probably goes back to the maturation of news in the TV era of the 60s when the weatherman became the stand-up comic and the news anchors had to bridge every story with "happy talk." The likes of Murrow, Kaltenborn, Shirer, and Trout work in outlets like NPR, the BBC, and to some degree, Pacifica. That is not to say that all news of days past was devoid of the entertainment factor when one remembers Walter Winchell and Louella Parsons.

I suppose that Larry can make a case that NPR has been watered down over the years, but the listener who is informed from multiple sources takes slanted stories in stride to get the depth they do offer.

For those who like to explore the range of reporting out there, remember that many station stream and archive broadcasts like YPR does (thanks, Ken.) I enjoy dropping in from time to time to KPFK, the Pacifica outlet in Los Angeles, and hear news covered from a completely different perspective than you'll find on Fox.

Dave Rye said...

Well, Ken, you just lost your credibility with Chuck Rightmire, Larry Kralj ("Environmental Rangers!", whatever the hell that means), Dave Bovee, Jim Taylor and Mark Tokarski, all of whom, by the way, are at least courageous enough to sign their names to their opinions, but----gee, thanks.

You get old and curmudgeonly and mostly retired, as I am, and you develop new hobbies such as trying in vain to change other people's minds.

(For the sake of temporary harmony, I just deleted the adjective "ill-considered" from its position in front of "opinions.")

David said...

Good comments up there, but my fundamental question remains: Why is good journalism bad business?

Ed Kemmick said...

I thought somebody did mention this: It costs a lot of money to produce good journalism, whether in print or on the air. To round up a really talented cast of reporters and give them the time and resources to do the job right is expensive. If you can put some half-wit in front of a microphone and let him blab for two hours and people tune in in droves, why spend money on good journalism?

Most people, I think, don't want solid, in-depth journalism. It's much easier to hear somebody rant, to listen to something that makes steam come out your ears, rather than something that furrows your brow and makes you think.

Ken Siebert said...

Real journalism is bad business for the same reason that "smaller portion sizes and regular exercise" is bad business for the diet "industry."

Who wants to lose a pound or two a week for several months when you can eat steak and McDonald's and lose 10 pounds a day (actual results may vary, consult your doctor before starting any weight loss plan, offer void in Tennessee)?

Real journalism requires one to bring a healthy dose of informed skepticism, peripheral knowledge, critical analysis, and a fully-formed attention span to the table. Who wants to go through all that? Sheesh! Just show me the rats scurrying around the inside of the Taco Bell . . . or better yet--show me Paris Hilton ad infinitum while you simultaneously cluck over the state of the news media and how ridiculous it is that you're showing me Paris Hilton ad infinitum.

Lowest common denominator. Plain and simple.

Too caustic? Sorry, this is why I usually just lurk.

Anonymous said...

Ken, if the truth be caustic, so be it! I would add that one also needs a sense of history to your list above. That's why most of the older folks I know can't STAND the prancing, preening little AWOL pissant in the white house. They've seen better. And they know better. And they've lived through history. Of course, being old helps this sense of history. It's acquired by living or by studying history, which a lot of folks don't do any more. Let me offer up just one example. Now days, many people curse unions and see no need for them. But for people who actually worked BEFORE unions were around, they understand perfectly the need for them. And it's the same way with many things. Education for example. A recent editorial in the L.A. Time suggested that public schools were no longer needed! Incredible I know, but people actually FALL for that crap. So, if ya don't know where you've been (figuratively speaking), you sure as hell don't know where you're going!


Chuck Rightmire said...

Actually, Dave, while I don't usually agree with you, Ken didn't lose any points by mentioning you. I keep NPR on all my radios. And to add to my previous rant, I agree that most people today don't like serious discussion. They believe in the old rule that you don't talk about sex, religion or politics in polite society. As my mother used to say, what else is there to talk about (although her day sex wasn't the general topic it is today).

I think people are lazy. The big gripe you hear about our schools is that they don't teach people how to make change and spell. They really never did. But the biggest problem we have with the advent especially of television is the inability to think about things for more than 30 seconds, half an hour at the most. Even TV channels that are supposed to carry heavyweight stuff will toss in cabbages such as pro-Nessie arguments without moderation by the skeptics. And radio is worse because of the musical world we live in. I love music, but I think that 24/7 fascination with blinding our minds with sound eliminates a great deal of conversation and rational thought.

Anonymous said...

Did someone say Paris Hilton? My ears perked up for a second.