|By G. Michael Dobbs|
I turned on WMAS-AM the other day and was surprised and saddened to find out that my friend George Murphy, the station's morning guy, was hosting his last show. I was also disturbed to find out that the station was changing its entire syndicated talk line-up.
Since then I talked with the station's manager and, as I suspected, the corporate owners weren't happy with the ratings and changed the format to a satellite service featuring oldies.
It's more and more typical in the radio business that the suits want immediate gratification. The station had its new talk format for only a few months and, frankly, it wasn't given the time to succeed.
And George Murphy is a local broadcasting institution. He deserved far better treatment than this.
So, WMAS for the time being has no local content. Do a tour of the dial and see how many other stations have precious little ties with the communities they serve. You might be surprised.
Of course, this has been in the works for years. The Federal Communications Commission under President Reagan made a number of changes to radio that have bore this fruit. They relaxed requirements for public service, time checks, station i.d.s, and the number of commercials one could play, among other things.
Don't get me wrong. This isn't just a slap against radio a medium that I love. This is the problem with all American media.
Corporate owners, attempting to boost profits, will cut as much content as they possibly can, believing their readers, listeners and viewers will accept it because they have no choice.
I'm all in favor of profits. I want to see businesses in the black, but aren't there ways to accomplish this goal without messing up your reason for being in business?
Look at local newspapers. How many local stories are there from your community as opposed to stories from other communities? And do those other stories have any real impact on your town?
I regularly roast The Republican in this column and I don't want any one to be confused that what I write is aimed at the the rank and file reporters, some of whom are friends, many of whom I respect as colleagues.
The Republican, though, is cutting back on local news and the television stations, locked into the silly concept of producing a 90-minute local newscast every day, don't have the local news they should, either.
Ask any local television reporters if they would prefer a more manageable hour-long show, in which the emphasis could be placed on local news, not pick-ups from the networks or other stations, and I'll bet you lunch at Chef Wayne's Big Mamou that they would pick the hour-long show.
Since its corporate take-over, The Valley Advocate hasn't done as much local reporting as it once did.
We still have some bright spots in this market. WGBY has The State We're In, and their local shows, including Watercooler (even though they won't invite me back!). WFCR does venture out of Hampshire County to do a report down here now and then, and WAMC is doing more and more reporting from western Massachusetts.
Our weekly newspapers and others attempt to do as much community reporting as we can to fill the needs of the people who want to know what is happening in their hometowns.
Reporters want to do their jobs. Consumers want local news. It's too bad that the hacks at the top don't seem to realize that.
These are my opinions alone. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA, 01028.