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Radio used to be such an exciting medium. In smaller cities and in the suburbs, radio served a special function -- providing very localized news and information for areas often overlooked by the major media located in the big cities.
When I was growing up, there was a station in Hartsdale that served lower and central Westchester County with local news and talk, with music actually selected by the deejay rather than off a computerized playlist generated by a programming consultant in Dallas or wherever. Those were the glory days of local radio.
Since the 1930s, the Westchester station had the call letters based on the initials of the man who founded it - Frank A. Seitz. I think he was an engineer and may have actually built much of the equipment in the early days of the station.
I began listening to WFAS during the summers off from college. I was dating a girl who lived literally in the shadow of the station's awesome transmisson tower, which rose high above the tract of suburban split levels. Coming home from a date, I'd tune into the station because the all-night deejay was a guy named Sonny Mann (real name John Manna, I later learned) who did a jazz show. Jazz was, and still is, my musical passion.
Sonny would play long jazz cuts and when he spoke, it was in a slow, soft voice so unlike the typical fast-talking deejays who shouted at you back in those days. And in the background, as he spoke he had some soft jazz playing -- the piano of Red Garland.
At school, I got involved with the college FM station and for three years did a weekly jazz show. I patterned it after Sonny Mann's show, with a repeating cartridge with some soft piano jazz that I'd play underneath my talk between songs. I loved doing that show and sharing my favorite music with unseen listeners.
So one summer night during Sonny's show, I picked up the phone and called to request a song. We got to talking and I mentioned I did a jazz show on college radio upstate. He invited me to stop in at the station anytime when he was on the air. And so I did a few days later.
I remember driving up to the station, which was in a small building right in front of that awesome tower that looked even more awesome at night, with its blinking red lights. I rang the bell and this older guy, a bit disheveled, came to the door and invited me in. It was Sonny.
We chatted for a while and then he asked me to pick out some tunes I'd like to hear. I found something by Billy Taylor, Quincy Jones, Oliver Nelson and a couple of others. Sonny said he liked my taste.
During a break between songs, he said he had a guest in the studio, a guy who did a jazz show on a college station. He put me on a mic and and asked me about one of the tunes I had chosen, which he was about to play. Nervous as I was, speaking on a real radio station, I was able to explain what I liked about the song coming up next. And then Sonny played it.
He said he was going out back to have a smoke. He said if he wasn't back by the time the song ended, to just go ahead and play some of the other stuff I had selected. He showed me the program log and said if he wasn't back by 20 past the hour, to read the commercial on this page, and about 5 minutes later to read the weather update which I should rip off the AP ticker in the newsroom. And he reminded me, just in case, to do a station ID on the half hour, which I knew was an FCC requirement.
Sonny went out and I played some music. I read ad and the commecial, and I did the station ID. I played more music, talked a little about it and, because it said so in the program log, I read another ad and a public service announcement. Sonny must have been out there smoking the whole pack.
Finally, he came back and told me I was doing a great job. I asked where he was all this time -- probably close to 45 minutes -- and he told me he had gone for a ride in his car, listening to me while joy-riding. That's when I got nervous -- what if something had happened while I was manning the station alone?
But nothing happened. Sonny came back on after a tune finished, thanked me for sitting in and told people if they were ever up in Potsdam NY to listen to my "Jazz Scene" show on WTSC-FM, 91.1 FM.
I spoke with Sonny from time to time after that, until the station cut his show and started airing a syndicated show -- I think it was "Delilah." A few years later I happened to read Sonny's obit in the local paper.
It all comes back to me now, as I read today that WFAS, now owned by radio giant Cumulus Media, is leaving that studio in Westchester, moving to The Bronx, changing its call letters and switching to an "urban" format. Although the transmitter will be in The Bronx, programming will originate from Cumulus' offices in Tribeca in Manhattan, where the company has studios for the several other stations it owns in NY, as well as the shared news operation.
This is typical of what's been happening in local radio over the past 25 years or so. I shouldn't be surprised. But this time, for me, it's personal.
So long WFAS, with fond memories of Sonny Mann, who ended his show every night at 6 a.m. saying, "Straight ahead."
A Gallup poll just released shows that Americans' confidence in news media continues to decline. A startling 18 percent of Americans say they have a great deal of confidence in what they see on TV news, and only a small number more -- 22 percent -- say they have confidfence in what they read in newspapers.
Surprisingly, to me at least, almost the same percentage of people -- 19 percent -- say they have confidence in what they read in online news sites.
The small vote of confidence in online news has remained the same since 1999, when Gallup last included internet news in the poll. What's upsetting to me is the sharp drop in confidence in so-called traditional news sources like newspapers and TV, which had been in the mid-30 percent range 15 years ago.
Gallup says confidence in newspapers has dropped by more than half since its peak, which was 51 percent in 1979. TV news had its highest vote of consumer confidence in 1993, when it stood at 46 percent.
Some of the decline, Gallup says, is due to increasing political polarization in the U.S. Liberals are a bit more trusting of the media than conservatives, which had a small impact on the overall numbers. But Gallup also attributes the decline to the changes in where we get our news and the proliferation of news sources. Even as newspapers fold, more and more cable outlets have news reporting. And where we used to have 3 or 4 major TV news sources and our local daily paper, there are now so many more places where we can get our news, especially online and on cable.
I have to blame some of the decline on the owners of papers and TV outlets, who too often sacrifice quality reporting for the bottom line. The beancounters force cuts in their reporting staffs, which leads to less coverage and sometimes less accurate reporting. That, coupled with the constant battle to be first, causes mistakes to be made. And every time a network or a major paper has to recant a story or admit they missed some details, the news consumers lose confidence.
It may be a cycle from which there's no jumping off. Time will tell.
Nearly half of U.S. homes now have DVRs or other TV time-shifting capabilities -- video on demand, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon TV, for example. More than ever, we are living in the moment... and we get to control when that moment is.
TV and cable networks and ad and media agencies have been trying to deal with the changes in viewing habits that time-shifting is causing. Back a bit more than ten years ago, it was pretty simple to come up with viewership for programs, and thus the ad rates, by relying on Nielsen for ratings. But with the growing availability and popularity of DVRs, as standalone units like TiVo or as part of the home cable package, the media folks had to figure out a better way to measure audience. They first used numbers based on live viewing plus the estimate of time-shifted viewing over the following three days. More recently, it's been live plus 7, reflecting real viewing habits of the majority of us.
The numbers through time-shifting can be significant. A story in Medialife this week reports that the five broadcast networks averaged an additional 1,565,000 viewers when seven-day time-shifting is factored in. For 60 of the more popular shows, time-shifted viewing added 50 percent or more to the total audience. In these days when a modest hit show claims perhaps 4 or 5 million viewers, an additional 1.5 million makes a difference, especially when the nets set their ad rates.
For the mega-hit shows, the time-shifting can come close to doubling the audience. NBC's "The Blacklist" averaged 10.8 million viewers, and another 6.1 million watched the show at their own convenience over the next seven days of the initial airing. ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" gets 8.5 million watching the live airing and another 3.9 million via time-shifting.
Time-shifting is at fairly consistent levels across the age groups, with 33 percent of adults 50+ watching by DVR or video on demand, 38 percent of adults 18 - 49 and 36 percent of teens.
For advertisers, time-shifting presents problems. Many time-shifters with DVRs zip past those costly ads. Video on demand often prevents fast-forwarding, although some nets run fewer and different ads or network promos on VOD.
The "who's actually watching the ads" question is more critical now, with all the viewing options. But even back in the days when we had only three networks, that question was probably a valid one as soon as remote controls became available. And, remote or not, many take a snack or bathroom break during the ads, which then play to an empty room... or maybe just the dog.
For content marketing to be effective, it has to have good content. That probably sounds obvious, but too many of us overlook that when we create content for marketing purposes that use tools other than ads.
Content marketing via newsletters, social media and so-called "native advertising" must contain real, usable information rather than product pitches, blatant or disguised. Make it too commercial and you'll lose the audience.
While it's really just common sense, a new study bears it out.
The study, reported in Bulldog Reporter's Daily Dog newsletter, says 74 percent of the general public trusts content from businesses that aim to educate readers about a particular topic. It's "a fragile trust that businesses must take care in protecting—even signing off an otherwise objective blog post or newsletter with a product pitch will bring the content's credibility level down by 29 percent."
Other things that can hurt reader trust in what's being said include:
Information that can't be corroborated with other non-company sources: 46% Educational information from a company is more credible when it contains verification from named sources.
It doesn't address other perspectives or viewpoints: 17%
It Isn't clear that it's coming from a particular company: 15%
It's talks down to the reader: 12%
Women generally appear 11 percent more trusting of content marketing than men, and they tend to trust content shared though friends and family members 20 percent more than men do. 60+ year-olds are 17 percent more trusting than 18-29 year-olds, but the same 60+ age bracket is 14 percent less trusting of content passed through friends and family members than the 18-29 age group.
The bottom line... Keep it credible, identify sources and avoid overt product pitches. If you just want to pitch product, take out an ad.
For many, it's a Sunday morning ritual, just like poring through the think Sunday newspaper.
"CBS Sunday Morning" has just finished its most-watched season since 1987, when "people meters" were first used to determine the ratings. Six million of us, on average, tuned in to the program, hosted by Charles Osgood.
"Sunday Morning" is a breath of fresh air on TV, offering thoughtful pieces that often go behind the headlines. And they cover odds 'n ends we often don't think about, but find interesting once we see the stories. There's no hype, no hysteria. Just a balanced dose of news and features, reported in a calm, straightforward way.
Congrats to "CBS Sunday Morning." Even in the new "Golden Age of TV," the program stands out and glitters.
Giant sales in retail stores. Picnics and barbecues. The beach. For most of us, that's what Memorial Day is. It's easy to forget what this holiday is really about.
So let's all take a moment out of the busy weekend to think about the brave men and women who've given the ultimate sacrifice to keep our way of life intact and strong. And also, those who served and came back, many with injuries - physical or mental - that remain with them.
Here's a good example of the error in thinking that because something works well in one country that it can be successful in another culture.
McDonald's now has a PR problem on its hands, after introducing its newest mascot "Happy," which, according to the company's news release, is "a new animated Happy Meal character that brings fun and excitement to kids’ meals while also serving as an ambassador for balanced and wholesome eating."
The problem is more attention is being paid to the public's negative response to the character than to the company's "balanced and wholesome" Happy Meals.
Despite the character's success in Europe, people here are making an uproar via social media, which is spilling over to mainstream media and becoming an even bigger story. Some parents are complaining online that the Happy character is too scary, with its open mouth lined by big teeth.
I don't know about that, but I do feel sorry for the poor McDonald's workers who will have to wear one of those costumes outside the store, especially as the summer heat begins.
News about news organizations has more often been bad rather good in recent years. It's been dominated by newspaper closings and news staff layoffs.
So it's good to see some positive news about news.
The Associated Press announced an expansion of its investigative reporting efforts, with the hiring of some experienced award-winning investigative reporters and the reassignment of others already on the AP staff to investigative units. There will be an increased focus on national news in the U.S. and a new focus on international investigative reporting.
Investigative reporting is, in my opinion, one of the most important functions of a free and independent press.
Reporting that's based on first-hand and eyewitness accounts, prepared news releases, staged news conferences and interviews tells us what's happening -- on the surface, at least. But investigative newsgathering delves behind what we see, to tell us why it's happening, who's behind it, what are the implications for those involved or for the readers. It's the news behind the news.
The news release about the move, on the AP website, gives several examples of how investigative journalism has exposed corruption, mismanagement or honest errors, and how it's brought about many significant changes in laws, corporate and government practices and other things both here in the U.S. and abroad.
The AP's commitment to more investigative journalism is good news.
I'm usually right there siding with the media for First Ammendment rights, since I think a free press is vital to having an open and democratic society.
But I'm afraid I'm at odds with the more than a dozen news organizations who are challending the FAA ban on use of drones by journalists. I can see all sorts of problems resulting from unfettered use of news drones, ranging from safety issues to personal privacy.
First of all, there's the safety issue. Although hobbyists have been able to fly unmanned model planes for decades -- as a teen, in fact, I built and flew one with a friend -- there are strict rules regarding how high they can fly and banning them from areas near airports. And the technology many years ago limited the height and range of those model aircraft. But as drones now have the ability to fly at high altitudes and miles from the controller, they can pose serious risks to commercial and private aviation, putting those in the air and those on the ground at risk.
I also am concerned about personal privacy issues involving news drones. It's bad enough that some big celebrity weddings get stalked by news helicopters or small aircraft hired by paparazzi hoping to get that $100,000 shot. But drones, which are far less costly, can also be used to stalk everyday people who some news organization may suspect of wrongdoing. Or I can see some local stations who have "Help me Howard"-type news features using drones to stalk someone who a viewer feels has wronged him somehow.
Over-zealous news drone operators can also interfere with legitimate police and emergency operttions. It's happened with news helicopters, where they get in the way of police aircraft surveying a crime or emergency scene. Just imagine police trying to do their work while dodging dozens of small, hard-to-spot news drones buzzing around the scene. It's a disaster waiting to happen.
I can envision so many abuses of privacy and safety if news organizations have the right to put dozens of drones up in the air. Just imagine "news organizations" like TMZ having free access to drones.
One possible solution might be to grant a very limited number of licenses to legitimate news organizations to use drones for newsgathering purposes, but with very specific and clear limitations that protect privacy and safety. And solid fines should be imposed, to set an example when news drones step beyond set limits.
I know I'm going against the thinking of news organizations I admire and respect, like The New York Times, Washington Post, Gannett, Advance, Hearst and others. But until very strict rules are set, I think we should hold off on unleashing news drones into the air.