Monday, March 10, 2008

Radio: Stormageddon

We were due.

If you live in a four-season climate, you can count on at least one crippling snowstorm per year.

We got ours Friday afternoon through late Saturday night.

It had all the stormageddon qualities – high winds, near-zero visibility, and snow measurable in feet.

The highway patrol reported that their count of accidents on the interstates and highways hit triple-digits.

Even the airport was forced to close when its team of plows working the runways couldn’t stay ahead of the accumulation.

Remember when you had to travel in a severe storm, radio – especially a news-talk format - would serve as a lifeline?

Now let’s go to WTAM, the news-talk station in Cleveland.

During a gridlocked Friday afternoon rush hour, its host Mike Trivisonno told his listeners that the storm was “nothin’.” He accused the television meteorologists of overestimating the storm, and that it would actually produce around an inch and a half of snow.

True, nearly every snowfall is advance-promoted on TV newscasts as severe, especially during the sweeps – but, clearly, this one was the real deal.

WTAM is owned by Clear Channel, which also owns two other news-talk stations in Ohio: WLW in Cincinnati and WTVN in Columbus. The storm is travelling up the state from the south. You’d think they’d be linked since what was about to hit Cleveland had already impacted those markets with treacherous weather.

A while back, Clear Channel downsized its traffic report department – and now lacks a sufficient staff to cover the region during inclement weather conditions. That was evident on Friday.

But on WTAM we heard that the storm was “nothin’.”

Other Cleveland stations were in usual programming. Those few with live hosts made sporadic comments on weather, based on what they were seeing out of their studio windows.

The only news and information that came close to accuracy came fron television newscasts and their station web sites.

I don’t hold accountable the local radio stations’ management. They did their best with what they have at their disposal, which isn’t much. They don’t count the shots, they don’t revise the budgets and downsize the staff. Corporate does.

Fish stink from the head.

The latest babblegram from David “Fumbles” Rehr and the NAB insists that radio still does “localism.”

Could've fooled me.

And Fumbles – let me answer your claim that new localism proposals would put small market stations out of business.

Let’s fast forward to early Saturday afternoon. The storm is still raging - and I’m travelling in it.

I got weather updates and road conditions from the local TV stations, which were doing continuous coverage of the storm – but we’re talking about a high-wind storm that’s dumping inches per hour. Conditions change rapidly.

I put WTAM on. They’re carrying the Cavaliers game.

I hit scan. Nearly all voice-tracking or syndication.

I finally hit upon a station providing constant updates on road closings and other pertinent storm information.

The station?

A locally-owned 500-watt daytime; 57 watt night suburban neighborhood station from Oberlin, Ohio – about 35 miles southwest of downtown Cleveland. WDLW-AM.

They’re known as the “Kool Kat” and carry a locally-programmed and hosted oldies format – a real oldies format. Fifties, sixties, early seventies. They’re one of the stations I listen to when I’m on terrestrial .

They updated road conditions and community news after every song or two. Since it’s an oldies station – and its songs are mostly two to four minutes in length, one was never more than two to eight minutes from an update.

It’s a veritable local station, which carries local newscasts covering their city of license and surrounding regions - including all of Lorain County.

Maybe that's how they're able to sell time.

Oberlin is in one of the fastest-growing counties in the state, which makes its localism even more important to its emergent population.

A few years back, I was telling a manager of Cleveland station about this “Kool Kat” station – and how impressed I was with how they served their region.

He dismissed them a “local yokels” and predicted they’d be out of the format and carrying full-time syndication within a year.

Guess what? Those yokels are still doing local programming and were the most dependable and conscientious at being local during the season’s worst storm.


Anonymous said...

When you say "realoldies" does that mean they havent given in to inane "Classic hits"?

Talex said...

Small independent owners realize that to stay that way they have to serve their community and depend on local advertising. From what I read WDLW is doing this. This shows David Rehr that he does more harm than good by defending stations that don't provide local service and information. But he is in the pockets of Clear Channel.

Kingfish Stevens said...

What?! Triv was wrong? I don't believe it. What a disgrace to the City and the great radio history this City has. He should go back to being a bar keep, where he belongs.

Former WTAM listener said...

I was driving home at a snail's pace. The roads were covered with snow and many were closed. There were dozens of fender benders and cars spinning out. I put on WTAM the most logical choice for traffic on a bad weather day and I hear Trivisonno pontificating about everyone overreacting to the storm. I hope that beached whale got stuck in traffic that night and without food.

John said...

I missed Friday afternoon on WTAM. In fact I missed the storm being that I left for Hawaii Friday morning!
It was fun to listen to WTAM once in the hotel room and once a respectable broadcaster like Bob Becker was on the air.
One of the joys of the new media is being able to go surfing, come back to the room and hear live about what hassles family and friends are going through back home. We'd listen to WTAM, then, check out some of the TV station clips posted on their sites.

Anonymous said...

WLW wasn't any better with coverage. Thank you Clear channel for dismantling once great radio stations.

Rockland, MA said...

WATD on Boston's south shore is another example of an excellent locally owned and operated station that provides localism to its region.

Carla said...

You are lucky to have one station. Honestly, the only connection in a car is the cell phone. I don't have sync, I don't have the internet in my car and I am already paying enough for all the services I am getting. I don't even bother with the radio anymore. I know there is no one "alive" in a radio station building after 7:00 pm.

Anonymous said...

Radio would be the LAST place I would go to get current news and information and that includes ANY of the news-talk stations.

In New York WCBS and WINS are fast food delivery systems for news.

Ron Harper said...

One of your greatest posts ever, John. Especially in light of the fact that the NAB is calling for local stations to comment on the proposed rule changes by (in their words)
Describe why the FCC's assumptions may be inaccurate. Would having personnel at the station 24 hours a day, seven days a week, truly improve your ability to ascertain the interests of your local community or offer programming that meets those needs?
Explain to the FCC why automated operations do not hinder a station's ability to provide emergency information.

Doug and the staff at WDLW have done a great job with that station

Jim said...

Why in the world would anyone listen to Mike Trivisonno for anything? He is just awful and unlistenable. John is right on the money here, the locally owned radio stations are operated much better. My recommendations on the terrestial end of the dial? Any college station or WKHR,WNIR,WKSU,WCPN,WCLV or WAPS. I do not even bother with any other channel

Anonymous said...

It is amazing what you can do with a even a little suburban radio station when you don't have massive debt to service.

Anonymous said...

I am from Cleveland and as a rule I listen to WCPN on my drive to and from work. I was a Lanigan loyalist until that show and format changed. If I am in a massive traffic jam I will check other stations for reports. Last Friday considering the severity of the storm I believed that WTAM would have the best coverage. They probably did but every news item was challenged by Trivisonno. I am not all that familiar with him and after hearing him cannot believe he is allowed even near a radio station. I am surrounded by cars spinning off the road, drivers worried about running out of gas and getting home to their families and this joke of an announcer is telling me the storm is "nothing"? I went back to WCPN but their report was too generic. I know all roads are bad everywhere. I want to know which roads are the lesser of all evils. I got a better traffic report from calling home and getting my wife's update from one of the TV stations. At least I knew what ramp NOT to get on from downtown. Radio, you lost me.

Soto said...

I live in Southern California so what happened in Ohio over the weekend did not play upon my life. I am fully aware that there is no safe or perfect place on this earth. We have fires and mudslides and earthquakes. I would hate to be dependent on radio in the case of an emergency. My greatest fear is that when the government switches to digital television every battery operated portable television will be rendered useless in the event of a major disaster. I gave up radio many years ago but I do use television as a source of information. I do not know your business so I do not know how feasable it is. I would suggest that radio stations allow TV newscasts and bulletins to be simulcast in the event of an emergency. Television still covers news well. Radio does not. Come next year if there is a natural or mad made disaster in Southern California you will have large segments of the its population uninformed and unaware unless TV news is allowed to transmit on radio frequencies.

labelguy said...

Screw you A-holes! Elliot Sptizer got popped for protecting & using prostitutes. This A-hole went after the record industry and payola and forced companies to pay millions in fines when PAYOLA WAS MADE LEGAL BY THE TELECOMMUNICATIONS BILL. PAYOLA HELPED BOTH RADIO AND RECORDS AND HELPED NEW ACTS TO GET EXPOSED ON THE RADIO. IT HAS BEEN THAT WAY SINCE THE BEGINNING OF TIME. Now Spitzer has gotten POPPED for hookers. Spitzer, you ahole. Resign. Leave us alone. You cost us time, money and some us our jobs. I HOPE YOU COST YOURSELF YOUR OWN JOB. I NEVER EVER GOT A HOOKER FOR A RADIO GUY.

Anonymous said...

How much effort would it have taken even under the current financial crisis at radio to prepare for an emergency? Even grade school children have fire drills. When I was younger I was always under the impression that radio news departments were prepared for emergencies and that was a number one priority for the right of owning a radio station license.

Cleveland is not the only market to get shortchanged with inaccurate and lack of information. I hear this is happening throughout the entire country on a regular basis.

Did the telecommunications bill eliminate the right for the FCC to remove a station license for a company not serving its city of license in its best interest?

Radio's downfall is wholely responsible by greedy publicly traded companies trying to cash in on a new revenue source. It had nothing to do with serving the public.

If you don't serve the public you won't have listeners and if you don't have listeners you wont have clients. If you don't have clients you wont have revenue.

Then how much will your precious little radio station chain be worth?

Anonymous said...



Fox on the run said...

Watch what happens to the former Fox stations now owned by Oak Hill and (will be) run by Tribune trioka - Zell, Michaels, and Lawrence. They will strip television news bare and apply the same techniques used to destroy terrestrial radio. They redesigned and destroyed radio and now they have moved on to rape, pillage and plunder television. Next winter if there is a state of emergency don't bother going to your former Fox/turned/Oak Hill station. It will be as bad as what you people went through in Cleveland with the Clear Channel news talk station there.

Anonymous said...

It seems like every traffic report is followed by "If you see any issues on the road call us at xxx-xxx-xxxx". Didn't traffic reports used to tell commuters what was going on and not the other way around??

Anonymous said...

John, thank you for your support of independent radio stations that still believe in localism. I think like you do that the "big boys" are being crushed by debt service & eventually real broadcasters will reenter the field.

Anonymous said...

I don't expect a CHR or an alternative or an active rock or a hip hop or a country station to deliver news and information during a severe storm. I do expect a news-talk format to cover it and in depth. It is absolutely absurd that a news-talk format would have a jerk dismissing the dangers of the storm and his station allowing him to do it.
Clear Channel has learned absolutely nothing from Minot.

Anonymous said...

I live in Cleveland but I cannot pick up Kool Kat on my side of town. Do they have plans to stream their signal? Cleveland has not had a real oldies station since WMJI and WELW gave up the format. WMJI still calls themselves an oldies station. They should call it Jack - ass.

Anonymous said...

You can blame the corporate owners as much as you’d like, but it all comes down to local management. If the guys running the show locally have lost the fire, which may or not be a result of corporate, the desire to go above and beyond normal programming is gone. It takes a local manager to step in and say we’re going to do this right.

I heard several stations in Northeast Ohio who typically air syndicated or voice tracked programming switch gears and go live and local for the storm. Some were Clear Channel stations, some were not. I was surprised how some stations ignored it completely. I’m willing to bet this year’s paycheck that there has never been a memo issued to ignore severe weather.

Having no live staff scheduled is a poor excuse for this storm. We had at least 18 hours of advance notice. The GMs/PDs/OMs should lead by example, stay at the station, ask for other staff to volunteer (and I don’t mean donate time) to stay and handle the coverage.

Regardless of format, there should have been information being frequently announced. News/talk, Country, AC, Hip Hop, it doesn’t matter. 19 inches of snow does not discriminate based on format of music. It’s a pain in the ass to everybody. I absolutely hate when people make declarations such as Top 40 stations should leave the news to the newstalk stations. WTF?!?! When broadcasters start realizing they are in fact broadcasters and not narrowcasters, we’ll all be better off. Don’t even get me started on the recent trend of reducing FM newscasts to :30 the latest on Brittany Spears….

Kudos to the fine broadcasters John featured. I would like to add the folks at Rubbercity radio in Akron and the Clear Channel Cluster in Akron obviously got it as well.

Anonymous said...

So here's the choice: Run a station like a small indie, with lots of people making small salaries and be able to drop everything when the one big snowstorm happens. Or pay big city wages to a few big names and provide entertainment most of the year, but miss out on covering that one snowstorm.

Why do you have to choose? That's what happens when you take a city that used to have ten radio stations, and give it 50, plus lots of other local media. It drives down the ad prices, while salaries and other costs go up.

Those folks in the small towns don't have as much competition, and don't have all the high costs. That's how radio USED to be, and why it's still like that there.

Anonymous said...

Let's see, a radio station that provides entertainment to its listeners while still being locally owned and conscientiously serving its community? What a novel idea... Huh? That used to be the norm? THAT was a while ago!

Good info on the Kool Kat, John. I've come across them while tuning up and down the AM band on occasion (people still do that?) and wondered what the deal was with them. Now that I know their story I plan on giving the station more listening time. For 500 daytime watts they put a pretty decent signal in to northwestern Cuyahoga County, where I reside.

Anonymous said...

Why can't a highly paid talent drop everything when a snowstorm happens? What prevents them from cracking the mic?

Radio is emotion!

If I get thru the snow storm, with a personality I normally listen to, I've made an emotional connection. "We got thru this together".

It's the overpriced talent that need to be brought back down to the small market level and be reminded of why radio still works.

Anonymous said...

Why can't a highly paid talent drop everything when a snowstorm happens? What prevents them from cracking the mic?

Radio is emotion!

If I get thru the snow storm, with a personality I normally listen to, I've made an emotional connection. "We got thru this together".

It's the overpriced talent that need to be brought back down to the small market level and be reminded of why radio still works.

Anonymous said...

Don’t believe one optimistic word from any public figure about the economy or humanity in general. They are all part of the problem. Its like a game of Monopoly. In America, the richest 1% now hold 1/2 OF ALL UNITED STATES WEALTH. Unlike ‘lesser’ estimates, this includes all stocks, bonds, cash, and material assets held by America’s richest 1%. Even that filthy pig Oprah acknowledged that it was at about 50% in 2006. Naturally, she put her own ‘humanitarian’ spin on it. Calling attention to her own ‘good will’. WHAT A DISGUSTING HYPOCRITE SLOB. THE RICHEST 1% HAVE LITERALLY MADE WORLD PROSPERITY ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE. Don’t fall for any of their ‘humanitarian’ CRAP. ITS A SHAM. THESE PEOPLE ARE CAUSING THE SAME PROBLEMS THEY PRETEND TO CARE ABOUT. Ask any professor of economics. Money does not grow on trees. The government can’t just print up more on a whim. At any given time, there is a relative limit to the wealth within ANY economy of ANY size. So when too much wealth accumulates at the top, the middle class slip further into debt and the lower class further into poverty. A similar rule applies worldwide. The world’s richest 1% now own over 40% of ALL WORLD WEALTH. This is EVEN AFTER you account for all of this ‘good will’ ‘humanitarian’ BS from celebrities and executives. ITS A SHAM. As they get richer and richer, less wealth is left circulating beneath them. This is the single greatest underlying cause for the current US recession. The middle class can no longer afford to sustain their share of the economy..... Their wealth has been gradually transfered to the richest 1%. One way or another, we suffer because of their incredible greed. We are talking about TRILLIONS of dollars. Transfered FROM US TO THEM. Over a period of about 27 years. Thats Reaganomics for you. The wealth does not ‘trickle down’ as we were told it would. It just accumulates at the top. Shrinking the middle class and expanding the lower class. Causing a domino effect of socio-economic problems. But the rich will never stop. They will never settle for a reasonable share of ANYTHING. They will do whatever it takes to get even richer. Leaving even less of the pie for the other 99% of us to share. At the same time, they throw back a few tax deductible crumbs and call themselves ‘humanitarians’. Cashing in on the PR and getting even richer the following year. IT CAN’T WORK THIS WAY. Their bogus efforts to make the world a better place can not possibly succeed. Any 'humanitarian' progress made in one area will be lost in another. EVERY SINGLE TIME. IT ABSOLUTELY CAN NOT WORK THIS WAY. This is going to end just like a game of Monopoly. The current US recession will drag on for years and lead into the worst US depression of all time. The richest 1% will live like royalty while the rest of us fight over jobs, food, and gasoline. Crime, poverty, and suicide will skyrocket. So don’t fall for all of this PR CRAP from Hollywood, Pro Sports, and Wall Street PIGS. ITS A SHAM. Remember: They are filthy rich EVEN AFTER their tax deductible contributions. Greedy pigs. Now, we are headed for the worst economic and cultural crisis of all time. SEND A “THANK YOU” NOTE TO YOUR FAVORITE MILLIONAIRE. ITS THEIR FAULT. I’m not discounting other factors like China, sub-prime, or gas prices. But all of those factors combined still pale in comparison to that HUGE transfer of wealth to the rich. Anyway, those other factors are all related and further aggrivated because of GREED. If it weren’t for the OBSCENE distribution of wealth within our country, there never would have been such a market for sub-prime to begin with. Which by the way, was another trick whipped up by greedy bankers and executives. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. The credit industry has been ENDORSED by people like Oprah, Ellen, Dr Phil, and many other celebrities. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. Now, there are commercial ties between nearly every industry and every public figure. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. So don’t fall for their ‘good will’ BS. ITS A LIE. If you fall for it, then you’re a fool.. If you see any real difference between the moral character of a celebrity, politician, attorney, or executive, then you’re a fool. WAKE UP PEOPLE. THEIR GOAL IS TO WIN THE GAME. The 1% club will always say or do whatever it takes to get as rich as possible. Without the slightest regard for anything or anyone but themselves. Reaganomics. Their idea. Loans from China.. Their idea. NAFTA. Their idea. Outsourcing. Their idea. Sub-prime. Their idea. The commercial lobbyist. Their idea. The multi-million dollar lawsuit.. Their idea. $200 cell phone bills. Their idea. $200 basketball shoes. Their idea. $30 late fees. Their idea. $30 NSF fees. Their idea. $20 DVDs. Their idea. Subliminal advertising. Their idea. Brainwash plots on TV. Their idea... Prozac, Zanex, Vioxx, and Celebrex. Their idea. The MASSIVE campaign to turn every American into a brainwashed, credit card, pharmaceutical, love-sick, couch potatoe, celebrity junkie. Their idea. All of the above shrink the middle class, concentrate the world’s wealth and resources, and wreak havok on society. All of which have been CREATED AND ENDORSED by celebrities, athletes, executives, entrepreneurs, attorneys, and politicians. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. So don’t fall for any of their ‘good will’ ‘humanitarian’ BS. ITS A SHAM. NOTHING BUT TAX DEDUCTIBLE PR CRAP.. In many cases, the 'charitable' contribution is almost entirely offset.. Not to mention the opportunity to plug their name, image, product, and 'good will' all at once. IT MAKES THEM RICHER. These filthy pigs even have the nerve to throw a fit and spin up a misleading defense with regard to 'tax revenue'. ITS A SHAM. THEY SCREWED UP THE EQUATION TO BEGIN WITH. ITS THEIR OWN DAMN FAULT. If the middle and lower classes had a greater share of the pie, they could easily cover a greater share of the federal tax revenue. They are held down in many ways because of greed. Wages remain stagnant for millions because the executives, celebrities, athletes, attorneys, and entrepreneurs, are paid millions. They over-sell, over-charge, under-pay, outsource, cut jobs, and benefits to increase their bottom line. As their profits rise, so do the stock values. Which are owned primarily by the richest 5%. As more United States wealth rises to the top, the middle and lower classes inevitably suffer. This reduces the potential tax reveue drawn from those brackets. At the same time, it wreaks havok on middle and lower class communities and increases the need for financial aid.. Not to mention the spike in crime because of it. There is a dominoe effect to consider. So when people forgive the rich for all of the above and then praise them for paying a greater share of the FEDERAL income taxes, its like nails on a chalk board. If these filthy pigs want to be over-paid, then they should be over-taxed as well. Remember: The richest 1% STILL own 1/2 of all United States wealth EVEN AFTER taxes, charity, and PR CRAP. A similar rule applies worldwide. There is nothing anyone can say to justify that. Anyway, there is usually a higher state and local burden on the middle class. They get little or nothing without a local tax increase. Otherwise, the red inks flows like a waterfall. Service cuts and lay-offs follow. Again, because of the OBSCENE distribution of bottom line wealth in this country. I can not accept any theory that our economy would suffer in any way with a more reasonable distribution of wealth. Afterall, it was more reasonable 30 years ago. Before Reaganomics came along. Before GREED became such an epidemic. Before we had an army of over-paid executives, celebrities, athletes, attorneys, investors, entrepreneurs, developers, and sold-out politicians to kiss their asses. As a nation, we were in much better shape. Lower crime rate, more widespread prosperity, stable job market, free and clear assets, lower deficit, ect. Our economy as a whole was much more stable and prosperous for the majority. WITHOUT LOANS FROM CHINA. Now, we have a more obscene distribution of bottom line wealth than ever before. We have a sold-out government, crumbling infrastructure, energy crisis, home forclosure epidemic, 13 figure national deficit, and 12 figure annual shortfall. ALL BECAUSE OF GREED. I really don't blame the 2nd -5th percentiles. No economy could ever function without some reasonable scale of personal wealth and income. But it can't be allowed to run wild like a mad dog. GREED KILLS. Bottom line: The richest 1% will soon tank the largest economy in the world. It will be like nothing we’ve ever seen before. and thats just the beginning. Greed will eventually tank every major economy in the world. Causing millions to suffer and die. Oprah, Angelina, Brad, Bono, Drew, and Bill are not part of the solution.. They are part of the problem. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A MULTI-MILLIONAIRE HUMANITARIAN. EXTREME WEALTH HAS MADE WORLD PROSPERITY ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE. WITHOUT WORLD PROSPERITY, THERE WILL NEVER BE WORLD PEACE OR ANYTHING EVEN CLOSE. GREED KILLS. IT WILL BE OUR DOWNFALL. Of course, the rich will throw a fit and call me a madman. Of course, their ignorant fans will do the same. You have to expect that. But I speak the truth. If you don’t believe me, then copy this entry and run it by any professor of economics or socio-economics. Then tell a friend. Call the local radio station. Re-post this entry or put it in your own words. Be one of the first to predict the worst economic and cultural crisis of all time and explain its cause. WE ARE IN BIG TROUBLE.

Anonymous said...

And after you do that, open your windows and yell "I'M MAD AS HELL AND I'M NOT GONNA..." oh, never mind.

Anonymous said...

"Why can't a highly paid talent drop everything when a snowstorm happens? What prevents them from cracking the mic?"

His own ego.

That's what you deal with when you hire high priced talent.

Nothing wrong with that. It's that ego that helps him build his fan base. That fan base feeds a lot of people. But that ego can also stand between the station and serving the public.

I've worked with high priced talent who have it in their contract that they can't be told what to do. Even if that means allowing a weather person to break in with emergency warning. I believe that's what happened here.

""We got thru this together"."

I understand. But to these guys, especially the ones in sports radio, it's not about "we," but "me."

bobyoung said...

One of my favorite terrestrial radio stations is WARE 1250 AM from Ware MA. They have playing oldies (real ones also, 50'60 and a bit of 70's like your's John) for at least 25 years. They are a true local oldies station that plays stuff you'd NEVER hear on 99% of almost all other stations. You can go days without hearing the same song twice. I'm sure of course that they do but being the average listener I listen maybe 4-5 hours per week, I even listen to it on my computer sometimes as it's too weak to travel the 30 miles from Ware MA, to my town on the other side of Worcester, MA especially when they power down at night from 5 Kw to 1Kw. Ironically a Boston Kidneyland station on 1260 has recently begun running iBlock and has ruined what little reception I had here at home of WARE, which lead me to find WARE on the computer and and which is leading me to further investigate internet radio. iBlock is not only not attracting any listeners to radio it is chasing consumers AWAY from radio, either from the IBOC hash, the lousy reception of FM IBOC or the insulting, nauseating IBOC ads, yeah, iBlock is wonderful and so are the big conglomerates who are pushing it (and us further away)

Anonymous said...

If there is no money in the budget for the staff, then why can't the full time staff step up to the plate and spend their afternoon on the air??? If you can't afford to pay a part timer, let's see the PD in the studio working. Now THAT's commitment to the community, and not worrying about just your paycheck.

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