Future of Local Radio On the Air is In the Air!

There have been more cuts to staffing and on-air content at local broadcasting outlets.

It has always been the case that people wake up to morning radio. Maybe it’s time for the opposite to happen and have radio operators wake up to listen to what the listeners have to say.

There have been more cuts to morning news in the south Georgian Bay market.

This time popular radio personality Mariane McLeod from Bayshore Broadcasting’s 97.7 The Beach has disappeared from the early morning airwaves. McLeod was the co-host of the popular McCully & Mariane morning show and News Director of the radio station. Her disappearance from the airwaves represents another cut to local news delivery in the south Georgian Bay region.

Corus Entertainment has already closed it’s regional CHAY-FM Barrie newsroom that served 93.1 FRESH RADIO, BIG 101 and 95.1 THE PEAK. The Enterprise Bulletin newspaper has been closed. Rogers Television’s excellent dinner hour newscasts have been eliminated and the control room at Rogers TV Collingwood has been taken away. The Sports Department at CTV Barrie has been eliminated.

We’re focusing on the local market but the disturbing problem of disappearing meaningful spoken word content on radio is nation-wide.

We asked four long time local/regional radio veterans to jump into the conversation and give their opinions regarding the alarming increase of disappearing local and regional news and live programming at your favourite radio station.

Ken Swirsky with Eddie Money
— Ken Swirsky (left) with Eddie Money

The faceless MBAs who run the so called communication companies have no belief in the real reason radio existed for over 70 years
Ken Swirsky, Radio/Television/Print Media Specialist and Retired Broadcaster

Ken Swirsky has worked in Toronto at CKFH and CFTR, at stations in Oshawa, Chatam, Ottawa and Sarnia, and locally is remembered for his time spent on the air at CKBB in Barrie, CKCB in Collingwood and CHAY-FM in Barrie. He also worked at the Radio Sales Bureau and for the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement. He closed out his lengthy media career as Publisher of the Sarnia Gazette newspaper.

“The radio business is as relevant today as the Buggy Whip Industry was 100 years ago. Radio died the first day Ontario Community Colleges started their Radio Television Journalism courses 50 years ago. We used to laugh if you couldn’t cut it in commercial radio … get a teaching gig.”

Swirsky feels graduates of these programs were ill-prepared to step into the broadcasting business. He also takes aim at radio consultants.

“Back in the 90s, while working in a SW Ontario station, the consultants came in, got rid of the newscasts after the noon report and the Farm reports. Rationale was ‘CHFI- doesn’t have them.’ We were Chatham Ontario. Farming was the #1 Industry … and Automotive Parts Manufacturers such as Eaton Yale, Meritor etc., and Truck Manufacturer Navistar, were all running double shifts and those shift workers depended on newscasts and reports. End result, thanks to those “Consultants” the station lost over $100,000 in revenue, and sadly the confidence of the community.”

Swirsky says the lines are blurred between news and entertainment these days. Newscasters often thank the viewer for watching “the show” at the end of a newscast.

“There are no re-writes in a morning news cycle. Grammatical and pronunciation errors are now the norm. This unsatisfactory content and delivery is an insult to the intelligence of the listener. Perhaps cutting the newscasts is a good idea.”

“The only way to get radio programming and newsrooms back on track is to regulate local ownership.”

Programming elements within the radio industry used to be heavily regulated. Stations had to apply to switch formats and had to adhere to strict daily and weekly rules and regulations regarding Canadian Content, Enrichment Material, News and Surveillance. Swirsky says the only way to get radio programming and newsrooms back on track is to regulate local ownership.

“This trend of stripping newsrooms will continue. Let the Funeral March begin. The day where the station owner lived in the community is gone. The faceless MBAs who run the so called communication companies have no belief in the real reason radio existed for over 70 years. Talent, technique, community responsibility was not in their text books and the result is self evident. The only change would be if The CRTC legislated 33 percent local ownership and then the mandate would be clear. Legislation for Cancon sure helped the Canadian Music Industry.”

Radio and Television Broadcaster Bob Bowland

“The big broadcast company bean counters and lawyers will argue the industry is losing money and they have to find ways to save.”
Bob Bowland, Radio/Television Veteran and former radio station owner

Bob Bowland has had a hand in just about every aspect of the broadcasting business. He started like most, as a teenage disc jockey playing rock music and trying to carve out a style that would lead him to greater things. He worked as a newscaster at CKNX AM/TV Wingham and at CKVR-TV in Barrie. He was the original Operations Manager of CHAY-FM in Barrie, playing a major role in developing the station’s extensive regional news coverage delivered by a well staffed news room. He has chaired various radio industry committees including assuming many roles including Chair of the Radio-Television News Directors Association of Canada. He later purchased an AM station in Parry Sound and built the property into a successful 50,000 watt FM station known as CKLP-FM. Bob is also an expert in CRTC policy, meaning he knows the rules and regulations inside out, and recognizes when they are turned upside down.

“Broadcasting should offer “information and analysis” and be “drawn from local and regional sources”.”

Bowland says radio operators don’t seem to understand the opportunity that news and spoken word content can provide not just to the communities they serve, but to the overall value of doing business.

“It is my opinion that radio is missing the boat by not continuing to have strong news departments. Those departments would be manned by competent people trained in broadcast journalism which are still being churned out by universities and community colleges. However, my guess is that these journalists are not being gobbled up by the broadcast industry and are instead going into PR, becoming giddy flap mouth disc jockeys or driving uber cabs.”

Strong audience ratings have followed Bowland throughout his career. He recognizes the absolute need to put a quality product on the air. He says radio operators are going the wrong way when the decision is made to eliminate spoken word content to focus on music, music and more music. He says spoken word content may require a more thought out effort and cost more to deliver but the payoff can be very good.

“Music is available from so many other sources that it doesn’t make sense for people to want to continue to listen to radio for it with the added irritant of commercials. Let’s put the “live” into gathering news, information and opinion in the station’s own back yard. I think the bean counters would be surprised at the ratings. And ratings generate revenue. The audience of a station is its only product.”

Radio Broadcaster Ted Telford

“As listeners flee Radio in search of news and information relevant to their daily lives they will not return.”
— Ted Telford, retired broadcaster

Ted Telford is a verteran broadcaster. He worked at CFOR in Orillia and co-hosted CHAY-FM’s morning show with Diana Meder for many years. In his 25 year association with CHAY, Ted worked through a corporate ownership change that triggered multiple format changes. He has witnessed first hand the reduction and/or elimination of local news and information programming. Telford says the broadcasting industry continues to re-invent itself in an effort to remain relevant in today’s mediascape. He says cost cutting is viewed as the only viable action available to maintain profit margins for shareholders.

“I find this to be a shame. There was a time when Radio was a service industry. It serviced the listener. Today Radio services the shareholder at the expense of the listener. As listeners flee Radio in search of news and information relevant to their daily lives they will not return. The corporate masters will eventually cost cut themselves right out of their own jobs. Mind you, I’m sure their severance packages will be significantly more substantial than the average worker being blown out today, tomorrow or next week. Will the trend continue? Yes most definitely. Corporate Greed dictates it.”

“I used to go to work everyday because it was fun. I left Radio when I started looking for my name on the bulletin board.”

Telford said he worked for a company where staff turnover became the norm, and this put a great deal of pressure on employees on a daily basis triggering other issues including morale problems.

“I worked in a corporate environment where one dreaded to read the bulletin board in the staff room. All too often notices were posted announcing departures. This is very hard on morale. Until someone was hired to fill the gap others worked harder to fill the holes. Most of my associates were proud of the product and dreaded seeing it suffer. Greater workloads lead to longer hours leading to stress and burnout. The latter leading to further departures. Too many of the vacant positions were never filled. Productivity suffered greatly and to my surprise nobody in Administration seemed to care. This seeming lack of leadership in turn lead to a further drop in morale.”

Radio Television Announcer John Nichols

“Given the curent trend, these media corporations will be closing small operations right, left and centre. It’s a dark time for radio.”
Retired Radio/Television Broadcaster John Nichols

John Nichols was the longest serving morning personality on south Georgian Bay radio. He was the voice people listening to CKCB 1400 and later 95.1 THE PEAK woke up to every day. People trusted him and appreciated his efforts to create and support important causes in the community. He sees the trend of cutting local news coverage on radio continuing because of the trend of diminishing local ownership.

“When family run radio stations connected with their communities, it was because the owners were in direct contact with community members. When you try to connect from the Ivory White Tower … not going to happen because shareholders get in the way. In the family run operations, the station team was an integral part of promotion and care of their respective communities. There was a strong connection from within. Now a radio employee is just an expendable number. I’m quite sure that, given the current trend, these media corporations with be closing small operations right left and centre. It’s a dark time for radio.”

Nichols agrees with Swirsky and Bowland in feeling the CRTC has a role to play if local radio is to make a meaningful comeback.

“The only chance of a turnaround would be if the CRTC learned its lesson and ushered in a return to a community run operation by a group of local individuals, like the old Mom and Pop operations, even if they only ran from sunrise to sunset to getting a footing. However, that is only a remote possiblity because of the inroads and impact of the Internet.”

Creative minds can find winning ways to merge traditional radio with new media, but without content, both will suffer. Radio stations should return to programming to the needs of the markets they are licenced to serve. How you program a radio station in downtown Toronto is much different than what you would do to be successful in downtown Collingwood, Midland, Medicine Hat or St. John. Applying the same programming formula to stations across the country is simply ridiculous.

So what does the future hold for radio?

Ask a consultant, any consultant, and you’ll probably get the same answer.

Ask any listener and you’ll hear something different.

It’s time for broadcasters to start listening to what the audience has to say, while there still is an audience.

Stay tuned …

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