Commentary by Art Vuolo, Jr.
Those are the opening lyrics to a 1960 oldie by Joe Jones and it got me thinking about the radio business that, as most of you know, I am passionate about. In particular, it made me think about TALK radio. Each morning in my e-mail in-box I receive numerous radio trade publications which are now primarily sent out electronically. Several of these "trades" are specifically dedicated to the talk radio format, which includes news and sports as well.
Let it be stated, up front, that I am personally neither registered as a Republican or Democrat and consider myself a "moderate" without a distinct lean to the right or the left. Talk radio, in general, as anyone who listens knows, skews very heavily to the right, while television news, other than the talking heads on cable news channels, tends to be more left leaning. What worries me is that the media, especially talk radio, is reshaping the country into "The Divided States of America." Think back to the amazing unity within our nation immediately after the 9-11 attack. Then remember how fast that wonderful level of patriotism dwindled into a faint memory.
What bothers me the most is the ridiculous amount of on-air conversation centered around politics. Political talk seems to consume nearly 90% of talk radio and, this being an election year, it's been especially overwhelming. Didn't it seem as though a year after the current administration was placed into service, talk radio was over-analyzing the job our President was doing and started to heavily speculate which Republican candidate could put him out of his job in 2012. It's been the better part of three years of second guessing who would be occupying the White House in January of 2013.
Frankly, if talk radio is successful in placing "their man" into the top job in the country, one wonders what they would have to talk about? Secretly Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, et al probably hope the president is re-elected so they'll have four more years of "material" to rant about.
Thank God for the Digital Video Recorder (DVR) that many cable TV subscribers have, including myself, so that we can time-shift programming and scoot past all those political ad's. It's important for us to know about how to vote on certain proposals etc., but most of us can do without the mud-slinging commercials for the candidates. Is a DVR of sorts coming for radio? We'll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, I appreciate having an Internet radio, a smart phone and an iPad all of which allow me to dial up some of the few stations, around the country, which know how to discuss topics other than politics. I only wish we had one here in the Detroit area.
Joey Reynolds was tossed off the air at New York City's WOR Radio to make room for Detroit-native George Noory and his AM coast-to-coast program. Noory, who talks heavily about the paranormal and extraterrestrials, was dropped by WABC a couple of years ago and his network, Premiere Radio (owned by Clear Channel) needed another New York affiliate. This is called "clearing the market," and they needed to clear a station in the Big Apple. So, a live local show got canceled so a syndicated program on 599 stations could get one more clearance. Reynolds is not bitter, just disappointed. Swami Joey predicted that all media is going to hand-held devices nearly seven years ago. He also points out that the proliferation of political talk has probably done much to propel the rapid growth of Sports Talk Radio.
It may not be widely known, but the landslide move of sports radio to the FM band, was propelled by the success of WXYT-FM, known best as 97.1 The Ticket, right here in southeast Michigan. It was originally the brain-child of top-notch sports programmer Tom Bigby, and is being carried forward by current Ticket PD Jimmy Powers. All over the country sports stations are racing off of their AM frequencies and migrating over to FM. It also happened in Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, Orlando and now in New York City! What is considered to be the nation's first all-sports station, WFAN-AM 660, is now moving to FM in Manhattan. The 50,000 watt signal on 660 is much greater than the new 101.9 FM coverage...but it's FM, and that's where most of the audience is. Same goes for Orlando where WDBO-AM moved its news-talk format to FM. The AM 580, with a huge signal reaching from the ocean to the gulf, takes on ESPN sports. Yikes!
Here in the Detroit area, the ratings The Ticket has generated quickly pushed it ahead of WDFN-AM 1130. Livonia's AM 1090 WCAR (which were once the call-letters on 1130) took on the ESPN sports format, and after January 1st, WXYT-AM (1270) will drop its format of mostly syndicated talk and feature the new CBS Sports Network. That means goodbye to Charlie Langton in the morning and Doc Thompson in the afternoon. WXYT is owned by CBS. This will make four sports stations for our area, and that's not including WTKA-AM 1050, a strong station from Ann Arbor.
Speaking of sports, as Howard Cosell used to say, here's a tip you may not have thought of regarding your greater enjoyment of local sports broadcasts. Ever since the old days of when the ultimate U-M homer Bob Ufer was colorfully describing the Maize and Blue, avid fans have often enjoyed our local RADIO announcers more than the (supposedly) un-biased TV analysts. If you have a, as previously mentioned, DVR you are in luck. This weekend, while watching Michigan take on Illinois, just pause your DVR for seven seconds to accommodate the seven second delay on WWJ-AM 950. U-M games are also on 97.1 FM HD-2 with a delay of about 41 seconds. This way you can have the audio pretty much in very close sync with the video on your HD TV! Spartan fans, can do the same thing with WJR-AM 760 for the Michigan State supporters. With the Tigers in the hunt for the World Series, let's face it the radio guys run circles around the TV folks. Before the DVR this was not possible, but then before Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at the Super Bowl in 2004 we didn't have to deal with all these broadcast delay factors.
Let me know if you agree with anything I pontificated about in this column, or if I'm suffering from the delusions of turning another year older a couple of weeks ago.
Contact Art Vuolo, Jr. via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org