Friday, October 09, 2009

609 Whither ABC Radio?

609 Whither ABC Radio?

(With apologies to readers for the long windedness of this post and for writing it in the first person, two general no nos on this blog. But eventually it will find its way into a book of radio recollections which will require both.)

When the NBC Radio Network moved from New York to the Washington DC area in 1989, I was the very last guy to leave the ninth floor newsroom at Broadway and 53rd St. I was the one who literally turned out the lights and then went to work for UniStar Radio.

The UniStar gig didn't last long. In 1990, they, too decided to move to the Washington DC area and again, I was the very last guy to leave the fifth floor newsroom. I was the one who literally turned out the lights, and then went to work (for the second time) at ABC Radio.

I had lots of friends and colleagues there but my welcome was tinged with tangential trepidation. After all, after NBC and UniStar, I might be the Typhoid Mary of network radio.

But there were differences in the circumstances surrounding the deaths of those operations. NBC Radio had been purchased by the searingly incompetent Westwood One company which did all it could to alienate advertisers, affiliates news sources and employees, and which paid its news executives bonuses for cost cutting, which meant for every fired employee, someone earned commission.

UniStar had been RKO Radio which was forced to sell its stations and network. Something about questionable on-air contests. Dick Clark Productions owned the thing and ran it well. But not well enough to keep it "home" in New York.

At the time, the people at ABC had nothing much to worry about. When Capital Cities Broadcasting took it over from the original owners, sure they cut people and cut costs. But by today's standards ABC was a luxury shop after that takeover. Eventually, Capital Cities sold out to Disney which, tried to make ABC stand for America's Biggest Cartoon, but met resistance from cooler and harder heads in the news division.

Just recently, Disney went and sold its owned radio stations to the Citadel company which bit off more than it could chew, and looked like a prime candidate for bankruptcy -- a small time sunfish that thought it was a shark.

But while Citadel didn't buy the ABC Network, only the stations, the stations depend heavily on having the debt paid, and apparently that's not happening as it should.

ABC isn't going to turn out the lights (I'm not there to man the switch, after all,) but they have just slashed the staff in New York and in Washington. Cost cutting in advance of further trouble at and with Citadel? Smart business sense? Who knows.

What we do know is that dozens of veteran writers, producers, editors and reporter/anchors are off the payroll, with little opportunity to find similar work at similar wages. And many of them are ... um ... persons of a mature age who will be lucky to land ANY work.

The difference between 1989-90 and now is this: There far far fewer places to try to get reemployed. Only CBS among the majors and they're not doing all that well. There's also Fox and CNN, both of which have a toe or two in radio. There's no RPI or UPI Audio. APRadio no longer has an all-news service for radio stations, though they do offer newscasts and news cuts.

I was fortunate in knowing the right people and having the right skills to make a good solid and long lasting transition into network TV. But not everyone can do that, unfortunately. Radio and Television are two very different creatures.

A day or so after the ax fell, you could tune in the hourly newscast and it sounded pretty much the same as it always did. Kind of like when a corpse belches or sits up in a coffin.

So to Gary Nunn and Joan Bernstein Harris and Nancy Singer and scads of others I could name, and other scads of people with names I don't know, good luck. Your absence will make the ABC radio news product less than it was before. It may be a good business decision for Disney, but it's the robbery of all those good people and to that very large chunk of the America that listened to you and your work and who trust you and who should.


--Ding Dong, the witch is dead. The Rockefeller drug laws which imprisoned many of the wrong people for the wrong reasons and for the wrong length of time are off the books. This should have been done years ago, and its doing at this point means Gov. Paterson is not entirely incompetent.

--While on the subject of states: Yesterday was the 100th day that the Great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was without a budget. Let's celebrate by leaving.

--Keith Olbermann spent his entire TV hour Wednesday night editorializing for universal health care. It was a spectacle unprecedented in TV commentary, both fascinating and boring, both right and eye glazing, both right and personal, both right and universal. We need to hear more of this, only shorter.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

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