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By Kevin Casey
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — It’s understood by anyone in the radio business that the big news stories of the day – whether they are local or national stories – generate the topics that drive the conversation on news/talk radio. But what are the roles of the newsroom, the reporter and the regular newscasts on today’s news/talk stations? The move of all-news to FM signals, the development of more national and regional radio news products and the addition of newswheel programs to some of the country’s most respected talk stations seem to indicate radio news has received a shot in the arm. But the decimation of many radio news departments that occurred in conjunction with consolidation still affects many radio operations and raises questions about the relevance of news elements to the successful operation of the modern news/talk station.
Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio Hits 10 Million Registered Users in Eight Months. The digital media player that Clear Channel Media and Entertainment has been vigorously promoting is growing, according to CC, “faster than nearly all other entertainment platforms, including Pandora, Facebook, Spotify and Instagram.” The iHeartRadio player has more than 10 million users since the 10 million figure includes just registered users – only required for the custom station service. Brian Lekamp, president of digital for CCME, states, “iHeartRadio has demonstrated incredibly rapid adoption, more than two times faster than other leading entertainment services – it’s mind-blowing. We are thrilled with the consumer reaction and feedback. Clear Channel Media and Entertainment, using the tremendous promotional power of our broadcast radio properties, has been able to drive this adoption like no other company could. iHeartRadio offers a great product supported by unparalleled promotional capabilities.”
NPR Facing Fiscal Downturn; May End Year in the Red. In a piece by Paul Farhi for the Washington Post, the challenging financial situation NPR is dealing with as the U.S. economy continues to struggle is brought to light. New CEO Gary Knell tells Farhi NPR has operated at a deficit three out of the past four years and had to dip into its endowment fund to cover expenses. This comes after the brutal 2008 fiscal year in which NPR was forced to cut 7% of its workforce after coming up $23 million short. The situation for NPR is that corporate underwriting – or advertising – has fallen dramatically. Instability in some of the corporate positions responsible for fundraising and underwriting have not helped the content provider, either. NPR states that through March of this year, it was operating at a deficit of $2.6 million beyond what the endowment covers and when the end of its fiscal year rolls around in September, it may still be in the red. Knell has told employees the last thing he wants to do is cut staffing and programming but he also states NPR cannot continue to operate as it is. He tells the Post, “NPR has been withdrawing from the bank and we can’t keep doing that,” he said. “We have to be at break-even or be in a positive position on an annual basis, or I can tell you at some point we’re going to have to turn the lights off.”
CNN Suffers Lowest Prime Time Rating in 15 Years. Time Warner’s CNN is getting more bad news after getting clobbered in the April Nielsen’s released last week. Now, TVNewser reports “Piers Morgan Tonight” – which aired at 9:00 ET – pulled in just 39,000 viewers in the 25-54 demo on Tuesday, May 15. The show garnered 284,000 total viewers which was not a record low. The piece notes the program faced competition in the form of the season finale of “NCIS: L.A.,” “America’s Got Talent” and “Dancing with the Stars” which, all together, had 39 million total viewers.
WOWO, Fort Wayne Reporter Held in Contempt for Phone Use in Court. WOWO, Fort Wayne news director Dave Wheaton was found in contempt at the Allen County Superior Court for using a station-owned iPhone while covering a guilty plea at a murder case at the courthouse. Two sheriff’s deputies noticed Wheaton texting on the phone – a violation of court rules – and confiscated the phone. Wheaton told Judge Fran Gull he did not see the numerous signs warning of the ban on phones in the courtroom to which the judge replied, “Candidly, I don’t believe you,” reports the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. The ban has been in effect since 2007 after courtroom attendees were found taking photos. The judge ordered the phone destroyed but allowed WOWO owner Federated Media to download the contents first.
The State and Future of News on America’s News/Talk Radio Stations. The rise of digital news sources, today’s quickening news cycle and the economic realities of our times are forcing news/talk radio stations to evaluate their news product and adapt to continue to serve their listeners. In a feature story by TALKERS managing editor Kevin Casey coming to Talkers.com next week, programmers speak on the record about their news philosophy and its practical application. KMOX, St. Louis operations director Steve Moore says despite the factors some think puts radio at a disadvantage for news, it’s still a very important element. “Local news is the foundation for everything we do and that includes providing content and information for our programming staffs. That relationship goes both ways. Talent use their connections to flesh out stories that are heard on our newscasts. A strong, local news department should be the perfect complement to a good talk show host.” Read what some of today’s top news/talk programmers are saying about the state of news on their stations and in the larger media mix at Talkers.com next week.
Michael Harrison to Speak at New Jersey Broadcasters Association Conference. June promises to be a busy month for Michael Harrison. Less than one short week after the New Media Seminar in NYC, the publisher and founder of TALKERS magazine will deliver a special address at the 65th Annual New Jersey Broadcasters Association Conference on June 13. The address titled, “The Future of the Stick and the Shtick: How Terrestrial Radio can Thrive in the Digital Age,” will provide a realistic focus on the key issues and challenges facing AM and FM radio today as it finds its place in the new and exotic landscape of 21st century technology and culture. One of the key points that Harrison plans to make is that even though talk radio broadcasters are licking their chops at the prospect of music radio’s demise, one of the keys to talk radio’s growth in the coming years will actually be the survival and revival of music radio as a commercial and cultural force. Harrison says, “An AM and FM band of only spoken word programming will not be enough to keep terrestrial radio afloat. For terrestrial radio of all formats to have a healthy place from which to operate, it must reclaim ownership of the music scene – no doubt a daunting task.” Harrison goes on to say that this can actually be done. “The music scene in America has a desperate need for big-time leadership in terms of breaking new artists and product as well as defining and creating a cultural environment in which a healthy and purposeful industry can operate. This is something that radio has historically done effectively and can do again in the new century.” Harrison suggests the key to doing this is to bring back the disc jockey as a viable broadcasting art form and the plugged-in music director as a connection to the street and marketplace. “When music radio gave up its franchise on personalities – on-air talents who can present, deliver, and ‘sell’ a song, it set in motion its own destruction as well as inflicting damage to the music business itself. It is not too late to correct this.” The 65th Annual NJBA Conference will take place at Caesar’s Atlantic City June 12-13. For information call 888-657-2346.
2012 Presidential Race Tops Talkers TenTM for 7th Consecutive Week. The race for president between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney once again was the most-talked-about story on news/talk radio during the week of May 14-18, 2012. Following at #2 was the Greece and Euro Zone fiscal crisis; at #3 was world financial markets activity; and at #4 was President Obama’s gay marriage stance. The Talkers TenTM is the result of ongoing research from TALKERS and is published every Friday at Talkers.com. See this week’s entire chart of the top stories and people on news/talk radio here.
Commentators of the Year. That’s ESPN’s Mike Golic – co-host of ESPN Radio’s and ESPN2’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning” show (c) – holding the awards given to him and co-host Mike Greenberg (not pictured) for being named Team ESPN’s Volunteer Commentators of the Year. Next to Golic are ESPN EVP of production John Wildhack (l) and president of ESPN, Inc. John Skipper (r). Golic and Greenberg were honored at a luncheon yesterday (5/17) with the award given to an ESPN commentator “who provides positive impact in the community through his or her volunteer efforts.” The duo led the way on ESPN Radio for the “Don’t Give Up ESPYs V Foundation Auction” which raised more than $800,000 for The V Foundation for Cancer Research. They have contributed their personal time to emcee the Jimmy V Basketball dinner, and visit military sites, like the Intrepid this year for ESPN’s Veterans Week. Each received $1,000 to be donated to the charity of their choice and both elected to give it to The V Foundation.