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Monday, April 28, 2014

The local soul, broadcasting and robots of the future...

The loss of our local soul?

Where will we learn, make mistakes and grow?

What will happen to customer service, providing services and the human element?

When you listen to the radio and the announcer keeps your comfortable, reliably there...they probably are somewhere else doing something else, maybe in another state or country.

Automation and satellite radio have become so common and sophisticated that people accept it.

If you hear only time and not temperature, hear numerous voices reading things that the announcer use to read, hear general but not specific details on upcoming programs...then the announcer pre-taped the show or is sitting in a booth in another part of the country.

If there are little or no current topical local references, the show is syndicated, satellite or possibly pre-recorded in some other way.

Radio has gone from live and local centered to recorded, a game of shells and magic to keep the audience interested, listening and thinking that it is live, in my time as an announcer / reporter / manager.

Eddie Schartz in Chicago was one of my first employers, on WIND before he moved to WGN. He would talk directly to his listeners, talking about things happening now on the scanners, wire service, or with live phone in tips. Always give time and tempriture, never just one, was a rule. And always be there, including holidays, for those who rely on you to get them through the night. Not that he was a good man, he had his faults, but I learned a great deal from his likes, including Clark Weber, Doug Dahlgrin, Michael Neff, Larry Lujack and my own GM at WUIC, John Wennstrom.

Community meant live.

Then came automated reel to reel machines, that played short tapes between songs, pre-recorded intros or local comments, and pre-recorded news, weather and even traffic (a few minutes to a few hours before). Then massive automated "cart" machines (looked like 8 tracks) that were more specific to time and able to plug in details based on a few keystrokes of a keyboard. Then solid state, where the entire radio station can be a computer fed locally or from the other side of the planet with digital files, so precise they sound "live" and current.

Many have lost their jobs, passion, creative potential and dreams to the loss of jobs in broadcasting...(even TV uses this pre-recorded format most if not all of the time).

Add consultants in big cities who decide what you play and when (a request is usually something already set up to play with your voice or name put before it does), what format to use or not, what listeners "want" based on numbers instead of living in the market, radio as a local heart beat is gone except in the smallest of towns (where they may be automated but still rely on local news, public affairs, public service announcements, up to date weather and local advertisers to keep them on the air). Many small town station are now little more than repeaters for major stations, extending the reach of some network or big city station.

Religious braodcasting is at the front of this trend, with automated systems carried around the world on networks such as "the Arrow" bringing their music, reinforcement and evangelical message across the map.

But what of local live announcing.

On its way to extinction.

Along with many other jobs over the next ten to twenty years, including most jobs in fast food, construction, and just about every field.

Even Hollywood can work with smaller crews or no crew at all, fixing everything in post which can be done on home laptops instead of expensive studios where professionals put their pride and own art into every frame.

The future is for robots...what will we do.

What does a broadcaster do when broadcasting is not there for them anymore because their job disappears or some far away consultant says a change is needed?

Does a generation that thinks that radio is just music, and that Spotify, Sirius, Apple and others have replaced broadcasting even care.

As a society we are losing our local soul.

We are also losing the grass roots jobs we were able to learn and make mistakes in, advance from and craft careers out of.

What, if anything, can be done?

-Art Lynch
c) 2014

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