Friday, April 14, 2006

Broadcasters scramble for eyes and ears

Overlooked in the Tuesday Times-Picayune story about the changing broadcast market is the fact that the media market is about to get a dose of fire and brimstone religion once the reprieve from Arbitron and Neilsen ratings is lifted, and once the ratings reflect the fact that more than half of New Orleanians no longer live here.

Most locals are familiar with how dramatically New Orleans media, in particular radio, changed after Hurricane Katrina. The Times-Picayune suddenly became an investigate newspaper, and radio companies merged resources and announcers as United Radio Broadcasters of New Orleans to report on such things as the whereabouts of lost friends and family, on the condition of different neighborhoods, and round-the-clock interviews that helped shape our understanding of what was happening in our world turned upside down. I tuned in 870 AM every opportunity I could while I was in Pensacola so I could pick up WWL (yes, the signal actually traveled that far -- a little fuzzy, but AM has the advantage of distance over FM).

United Radio Broadcasters was slowly replaced months ago with the dull standard of niche formats, playing the same songs by the same artists over and over ad nauseum. WWL, however, continued to focus on local issues, continuing with its call-in format, broadcasting on both 870 AM, and 105.3 FM. A couple of months ago, the WWL parent company attempted to revert back to music programming on 105.3. In the last week, however, Entercom ditched the music format to resume broadcasting the same call-in program heard simultaneously on 870 AM.

I suspect that a few things are happening at Entercom: 1) They came to realize that most people don't bother to hit the AM button on their radios; 2) they found out that they had more listeners on 105.3 when they were doing issues programming; and 3) they wanted their signal to get to listeners inside of buildings downtown (FM can do that, AM is next to impossible).

I'm not especially pleased with the objectivity of WWL hosts. I wouldn't mind if hosts expressed their opinions, if only they played against their own biases and asked their guests tough questions. The most egregious biased offenders are Garland Robinette and Spud McConnell, who frequently use guests to confirm their own views, and to confirm the views of listeners who tend to hover around to catch the three hours of Rush Limbaugh in the middle of the day. They also tend to pontificate endlessly before asking their guests a question (Robinette prefacing seemingly every question with a boast about how he was a business owner for a year, McConnell more often than not mumbling, stuttering and rambling), then asking the pardon of their guests so they can break for the 10,000 commercials per hour the station airs. Still, I celebrate their use of the airwaves to stimulate the minds of their listeners, rather pander to the mindless lowest common denominator.

There are few-to-no alternatives on the radio. I don't consider any TV changes as meriting attention, a view summarized by Groucho Marx quote I read recently in Amy Goodman's, The Exception to the Rulers: "I must say I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a good book."

One glaring shortcoming in the Times-Picayune story was the changes in programming left of the dial, including local headlines on WWNO (a small feat, but long overdue), and WTUL's budding Saturday morning community affairs program, Community Gumbo. It may not have been within the scope of the article, but there also was no talk of alternatives that have blossomed since Katrina -- like blogs, and citizen journalism found at New Orleans Indymedia.

I view the local interest in issues programs as a promising sign that New Orleanians have a long attention span for news that really matters to them. I hope the media market continues to experiment, and to expand the available offerings.

4/18/06 update: I forgot to mention -- one of the really cool things about WWL broadcasting now on 105.3 FM is that I can switch back and forth from 105.3 FM to 1350 AM for Air America without moving the radio dial.


At 4/14/2006 03:45:00 PM, Anonymous ashley said...


The only thing that's really struck out at me is the absence of R&B and rap. Some of the numbers I've read are that while NO is at 40% of pre-K population, the metro area is at over 90%. So given those numbers, the big demographic changes are 1) the evacuation of those below the poverty line (e.g., 9th ward), and 2) the influx of workers (e.g., trabajadores).

So we'll probably lose a rap station or 2, and get a musica latina station, given those parameters.

Also, WYES has been re-broadcasting a whole lot of their original programming (The uptown that was, the FQ that was...), which is nice.

At 4/15/2006 07:41:00 PM, Blogger Schroeder said...

You're right about the "musica latina" market -- it's untapped, and that's pretty surprising. It remains to be seen, however, what sort of an economic force those workers are. I do see them shopping quite a bit, but would advertising drive them to places they aren't already patronizing -- like Wal-Mart? I don't know.

I too appreciate the WYES historical programs.

At 4/16/2006 07:42:00 AM, Anonymous Lenny Zimmermann said...

I think there has always been something of a strong interest in this area in local news and events. Honestly I think that's actually been a problem for this city. It has long lead to our ability to be rather myopic in our views, which has both plusees and minuses. The positives mean we have long been able to retain a local "flavor", a feeling of really just being a small town, no matter how big our metro area really is. We pride ourselves on that, and rightfully so, IMHO.

At the same time that myopia means we end up being a little more ignorant about national and international occurences with a definitive inability to see how those things affect us here in this little town of ours. We are slow, slow, slow to change, which gives us a great historical feel, but also leaves us less competetive and capable financially and in the overall business market outside of our local area and our own economy of tourism. Which in turn keeps our wages low even though our cost of living is more affected by national economic fluctuations than we would like to admit and leaves us in a less capable position of adjusting to those fluctiations. It is oneof the things, I feel, that has long stuck us with a relatively poor population and all of the social ills that are bound to accompany so many that live below the poverty line.

I have no answers to these kind of issues, though. (Well, other than telling our various local, state and national governments that they should mind their own business and stick to those few legitimate things those governments were supposed to do to begin with.) I will say this, though... what's with all the damned country music stations!?!?! The only "adult alternative" (as Billy Joel once sang, it's still rock and roll to me ;)) station we had is now countty. *sigh*

At 4/17/2006 08:16:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

Interesting points Lenny.

The proliferation of country stations -- I know. Well -- it's not even "country" -- it's corporate slut, glam boy and girl pop with the slightest hint of redneck -- it's music for metro-country wannabes. Nothing like Johnny Cash, Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Buck Owens.

I'm listening more to Air America (until I can't stand it anymore), then go to WWL (until I can't stand it anymore), 'OZ, or 'TUL. Try 100.3 KLRZ for an interesting cajun and country alternative --it's much more variety within it's genre than I've heard on any other commercial station, and the announcers are HUMAN! I don't think I've heard the same song twice on KLRZ


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