This week has turned into a rather dark one for the radio industry.
Yesterday, Clear Channel laid off about 150 employees at radio station across the country due to heavy debt issues (Partial list of those laid off here and here). The people laid off were mostly on-air staff ranging from talk show hosts, news reporters, DJs, producers of those shows, and others. They are being replaced with syndicated programming that Clear Channel doesn't have to pay an extra dime for since they already have the rights to those shows. Once again, radio markets lose. Of local interest, Brendan O'Riordan, who had worked as a news reporter for WJTN from late 2000 to early 2002, was one of people let go from WHAM in Rochester. These are talented radio people and their on-air presence will be sorely missed.
I wrote about how local radio is dying in a 2004 post called, Slow Death of Radio. What I said then has been clearly demonstrated by Clear Channel this week. A Syracuse Post-Standard article does a great job at filling in those details and other historical background on how the hell this all has come to be.
On the brighter side, since 2004, two local stations have come on the air in Jamestown and in the Southern Tier. One of those is not-for-profit, Arts Council-owned WRFA-LP. The other is Seneca Nation-owned commercial station WGWE. Both stations provide local programming and local hosts. Money is probably the biggest issue why WRFA doesn't have more live on-air staff and local programming but they are fortunate to have some dedicated volunteers along with some of the hardest working radio guys I've met with Public Affairs Director Jason Sample, General Manager Dennis Drew, and Consultant Steve Shulman.
On a not so brighter side, a good chunk of the money WRFA receives has come the past few years from a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Earlier year, there were threats to cut money to CPB and National Public Radio (NPR). Fortunately, that did not happen, but now the GOP has geared up again to go after funding to NPR.
Why should you care?
When you have radio conglomerates where local programming is homogenized across the country, public radio is often one of the few places where you can hear a local newscast or hear local personalities. Of course, with the syndication of NPR programming, the chances that you'll hear much difference from one NPR station to the next is just as bad as listening to any given Clear Channel Kiss station (note: WKZA in Jamestown is NOT a Clear Channel Kiss station). Local radio has become less personal and more canned across the country. Fortunately, in Jamestown we still have local voices on the air, but there are a lot of instances where those voices are pre-recorded and aired later in the day.
My probably unrealistic hope is that Clear Channel will get to a point in its financial state where it's forced to divest itself of some of the radio stations it owns, thus potentially allowing the ownership of some of those stations to return to independent groups that don't already own over 3 stations in a market. Given the economy and the cost of running a radio station, I don't know if this will ever come to be.
Please support your local radio stations that do provide local programming and local personalities. Consider donating to the public radio stations that depend on local listeners to extend that small bit of federal funding they may receive to exist. I'll repeat my urgings from 2004 to contact your representatives in Congress to tell them not to cut funding to CPB or NPR; and to urge them to scale back the flawed Telecommunications Act of 1996.