Monday, March 3, 2008

So. How was your weekend?

I don't like to spend any time online on the weekends.

I do log on, but I don't like it. Work week. Week end. Work end.

But yesterday, the Comments Section broke the TEN mark! (And not just because I had accidentally posted the same HTML-challenged comment 16 times.)Thanks to Keri, Lefty, and Pete. Climb aboard anytime. The comment glass ceiling shattered and it was all thanks to ...

the gorram local radio station.

Nothing lights up the phone lines like immigration, and nothing fills the Comments like local radio. Go ahead, ask the Standard-Times. Sure, now it's all WBSM, but ten years ago, SouthCoast Response, the New Bedford Standard-Times online forum, existed only to piss and moan about WSAR, Hec, Mike, Margaret, Charlie, the Herrens, the Karams, the signal, the commercials, the bump music, everything. EVERYTHING.

And the posters weren't just coming up with stuff on the fly; these were studied, researched treatises about the owner and the Program Director before this one and the General Manager and office staff and the custodial staff and the families of the talk hosts and the day that so-and-so said this about that and...

It seemed that a lot of the commenters were former employees. As a former employee, I knew that you'd have to be a former employee to say some of the things these guys said. I know that, as a former employee, I am privy to some details of some people's unfortunate lives. And I know that audiences -- particularly SouthCoast audiences -- relish gossip. Because it means a walk of shame, seeing one of the bigshots taken down. I also knew that as a former employee, the kindest thing I could do is stop reading the crap.

Or maybe... these people were just obsessive listeners. People who, although in no way officially part of the station, knew more about the station's operations than the station's current staff.

Which is the SouthEastern New England Radio Neurosis. No other region (except possibly Mississippi in the 1930s) has such a discordant relationship with its broadcasters.

Keri mentioned that radio "evolves." True. But...

Radio in Fall River/New Bedford has never been "radio that evolves." Like so many other businesses in this backwater, it has denied industry standards and practices until it has created a mutation that, although healthy here, would never survive outside of its quagmire of origin. It is radio that flounders haphazardly, sometimes triumphantly, lurching forward clumsily technologically and emotionally, always a stumble away from masterpiece or dire consequence.

This is in no way a reflection on the radio professionals in the SouthCoast, who generally stay too long as midwives to the abomination that AM radio always threatens to become. SouthCoast Radio is cursed, and I blame Col. Green and his radome. Unnatural forces were loosed upon the ether last century, and poor Keri and the rest can only keep bailing and correcting course to keep the compromised vessel off the shoals.

My experience with local radio goes back to before I was born. My mother was host (or, as they said back then, "hostess") of a Durfee High chat show in the Fifties, when Fall River radio was a diverse, lucrative, and imaginative industry. When the other brothers who owned a station, the Sissons, broadcast from their kitchen. There were no tired-eyed account executives who flashed numbers from "ratings books," there was no constant baseless and breathless self-promotion, and it was considered bad form to denigrate the print media or mock the station across town. "Everybody listens to WALE" or "Everybody listens to WSAR." Because everybody listened to the radio.

But at some point, news/talk radio became an exclusive club. Maybe because there were more choices, more music stations, more televisions, more movies and other options. The talk radio audience was catered to like never before. Listeners were begged, catered to, patronized, and bribed. T-shirts were handed out, radios were given away, bumperstickers, everything to show a commitment to the only community that cared about SouthEastern Massachusetts radio: SouthEastern Massachusetts. The Callers' Club knew their responsibility.

And they took over gladly, eagerly, and you can hear them still today. They are conversant in the jargon, and they know about traffic management. Little tidbits of broadcasting trivia filled their minds with ersatzia and their hearts with a false sense of ownership. These are not people who just turn on the radio for background noise on the way to work. They are the true hobbyists, and they are obsessed. And they are territorial in the same way any wild animal would be. And will strike with as much force when threatened.

They know WSAR --"Their WSAR" -- better than anyone who ever worked in the GM's or PD's office. And they will always insist that they are entitled to grasp every opportunity to share their opinions about the station, on-air, on-line, on the street.

After all, they have been told that it is their station by every talk show host who ever solicited a call.


RadioKeri said...

LOL ... this post is completely true in more ways than people realize.

In my heart, my only intention is to make great radio that people will listen to and participate in. Maybe those days are over ... but I'm still fighting -- determined to bring people back.

People do take ownership of the station. And it's hard to balance that with the direction given by the guys who really do own the station. But it's out of love that everyone wants to see it succeed.

ThirdMate said...

Thanks for humoring me. I mean stopping back.

The beauty of the beast I describe as "local audience" is its loyalty and conviction. What you call 'love.'

I pity communities that don't have what we have -- the ones with only local weather and 21-hour network content. I was a board-op in one and that was soul-crushing. Got a lot of reading done. But I had to fight the urge to flick on the mic and read an interesting paragraph or two.

Good thing I took to the sea.