Bill O'Shaughnessy -- The Original Social Networker

I love this man.

I have known him a long time going back to the early days of Inside Radio when he offered wise advice and counsel. I still consider him my Irish consigliere.

When I married my wife, Cheryl, in 1998 he and his beautiful wife Nancy (shown here with Bill) were there as Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell married us at the Four Seasons in Philadelphia. O'Shaughnessy provided the "smoothies" who made the music as only he can. And can he and Nancy tear up a dance floor!

This is my way of saying I cannot be objective about Bill O'Shaughnessy, but I remain observant.

In all my years in broadcasting this fellow is one of the few who gets it.

Long before the kids invented the term social networking, he was a social networker. When radio got all full of itself during consolidation he was among the few (but the most eloquent) voices to remind us that radio is best when served locally.

Many of you know the colorful owner of WVOX in Westchester, NY, but those of you who don't, let me paint a picture.

He's been running two small local AM and FM stations for a long time. His research is done through direct contact with his community. He has no set agenda. He's a Republican who counts former New York Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo as a friend. Governor Cuomo is a fierce defender of our journalistic and broadcasting freedoms. So is O'Shaughnessy.

He sees himself as a "permitee" not a license holder. Someone forgot to tell O'Shaughnessy that consolidation changed everything in radio because it didn't change anything for his stations in little but affluent Westchester, NY. He personally does editorials on the air. He hosts talk shows. Advocates for both the little guy and big guy equally.

Forget the Arbitron Portable People Meter. He doesn't need it for his two small stations. You should read the "rating book" he publishes for his advertisers with hundreds of testimonials from people from all walks of life. No numbers. No meters. No expense other than paper. Z100 couldn't live without ratings, but his two local stations can.

You could say Bill O'Shaughnessy is a throwback to another era and you would be correct.

But O'Shaughnessy has also seen the future. And I don't think he gets the credit for that.

While Clear Channel sells radio stations for fun and profit, O'Shaughnessy knows that the sooner small, independent operators regain control of broadcast radio, the sooner they can improve its content and eventually join the Internet generation.

Ask young people what they hate about radio -- and many do hate it -- they'll tell you consolidation and the programming it has spawned. They don't hate radio -- even though it is so analog and so retro.

To the extent that the monopolies of consolidation can be broken up or at least whittled down, the greater the chance radio can save itself from its apparent fate -- irrelevance in a digital, Internet world. With O'Shaughnessy's way, it's literally back to the future.

Gen Y loves social networks like YouTube, Facebook and MySpace because they still create local communities. They're big (YouTube owned by Google, MySpace by News Corp) but their focus is local. While the radio industry ran off and had a disastrous affair with consolidation, O'Shaughnessy remained loyal to his own type of "social network" -- the ones he pioneered on the air.

It's called local radio.

FCC take note.

Congress listen up.

When radio becomes too big a footprint it falters. That's because radio works best when its focus is local. I got a kick out of the new NAB when I heard that it prefers "local radio" over the term terrestrial radio.

If only it were true.

I believe that if today's radio remained local, it would not be on its current decline.

Before radio executives look to the Internet for their future they should get back to local radio and create the social network built around the radio station. Then, introduce the Internet for contact with listeners and marketing with advertisers. Then create niche contest for segments of your terrestrial social network and do it online.

The Internet can be part of their future, but servicing the local public interest, convenience and necessity is the formula that still works today and it must come first.

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