20/20 Radio Hindsight

There is a YouTube video making the rounds these days that is worth a look.

It's about CKLW's 20/20 News concept when The Big 8 was a dominant rocker in Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

In my career I also had the opportunity to do this form of rock 'em sock 'em news which in many ways went beyond what news should be. But in retrospect, this video teaches us a lesson and gives us a glimpse into what might have been if radio kept inventing new ways to do things.

I hate to send you away to watch a video, but you must. Come back for some comments that I think you'll appreciate.

Click here.

Radio was forced to carry news in the 60's and 70's. But shrewd radio programmers (myself included) always found ways around it. Burying the news in the middle of the night with 15 minute newscasts -- all this to fulfill the station's commitment to the FCC. We had to deliver what we promised.

In a way the FCC was acting in loco parentis.

Today, the FCC always seems to be acting in the best interests of big business. Hey, this is not a political soapbox I'm speaking from. Democrat Bill Clinton's administration helped bring us radio consolidation and your NAB -- the group you think is acting on your behalf -- lobbied their butts off to get deregulation attached to the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Many broadcasters didn't see it coming. Consolidation was a surprise to many.

Nonetheless, the old FCC was like the parent you feared if not respected. As a PD, I knew not to run afoul of FCC rules because a) I'd get fired and b) I'd get fired. You know about c) and d).

You earned a license renewal by reaching out into the community. You opened your public files. You explained. Made promises. And celebrated when you won the renewal.

I'm not saying the loss of a news commitment led to the demise of terrestrial radio.

I am saying that when the group acting in loco parentis became a pal of big business, it was the beginning of the end.

I don't think I have to make this case, but...

Radio wanted consolidation, it got it -- and failed.

Radio wanted to realize its financial potential by going public -- and failed its shareholders.

Radio wanted to guess what the public would tolerate instead of ascertain community needs and promise the FCC what little it eventually took to win a license renewal -- and it lost touch with the audience and the next generation. Radio stopped innovating.

Radio begged for breaks to automate broadcasting -- and failed its communities. The ones that didn't, remained the lifeblood of their cities of license.

Radio wanted to broadcast on a bigger, national platform -- and failed to provide the local content that made radio stations so valuable as a marketable asset.

This is not just about the past. It's still happening now.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the fleeting profanity case that had until now been settled appropriately by lower courts in the interest of freedom of speech.

Oddly, many broadcasters are happy the highest court is taking up the issue because they are looking for some resolution so that they know what to do. How pragmatic of them?

The NAB swallowed its tongue on this issue dishing out the at-least-we'll-have-an-answer line of bull.

This is a dangerous issue.

The government belongs out of the censorship business.

Again, broadcasters used to know how to be responsible about what went on their air without censorship by knowing and considering their cities of license.

One of my readers emailed me yesterday with this fitting conclusion:

I heard the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee speak at a conference once. He said, “Radio is a great service to America. Time and time again you’ve come to the aid of your communities. Your industry has an amazing track record of taking on all challengers to your information and entertainment value. Nearly 99% of Americans listen to the radio every week. You’ve offset movies, television, color television, and I’m confident you will adapt in the information age.”

My writer added: How inspiring! Little did he know the only thing that could kill the radio industry, was the radio industry itself.

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