Ken: I tend to like business news, consumer issues, science and medical news the most. For a long time I was a health beat reporter, and spent a lot of time in hospitals talking to doctors and other medical professionals. I never ran out of stories, because there’s so much to know when it comes to health, and a lot of groundbreaking research is being done these days.
Do you think that drama programs will ever return to radio like they had in the golden days, with new and contemporary themes?
Other than a few programs on XM Radio, Garrison Keillor's “A Prairie Home Companion” on public radio, the 5 minute daily soap opera on Tom Joyner’s Morning Show, ZBS Media’s “Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe”, and various independent internet podcasts, there isn’t much drama on America radio. However, “audio theatre” as it’s now called, remains popular in other countries. Contemporary plays can be heard regularly on Canada’s CBC networks, and on BBC Radio channels 3, 4, and 7.
What happened to all the radio networks? I used to be able to hear NBC, CBS, and Mutual news on the hour.
Ken: The decline of AM radio caused many radio networks to go out of business. During their heyday, AM stations offered a wide range of programming, including extensive news coverage. This often included network news at the top and/or bottom of the hour. When listeners began to migrate to the FM band in the 1980s, many AM stations reduced their news content to cut expenses. Local news staffs were let go, and a number of outlets began carrying brokered programs (pay-to-play infomercials and church shows) to increase revenue, squeezing out network newscasts. NBC, which was America’s oldest radio network, discontinued programming in 2003. The Mutual Broadcasting System, which had been in operation since 1934 and was the country’s largest radio network, closed down in 1999. The RKO Radio Network, became the United Stations Radio Network after an advertising billing scandal, eventually ceased all news programming. The UPI Radio Network was purchased by the Associated Press and was promptly shut down, so as not to compete with AP Radio. The National Black Network, and the Sheridan Broadcasting Network merged to become the American Urban Radio Network, but AURN doesn’t seem to have the power, influence, or coverage NBN and SBN had separately. Over the past few years ABC Radio has decreased the number of news services it provides to stations. All of this has occurred while the number of individual radio stations have steadily increased, however, few commercial FM stations carry news of any kind, choosing to focus more on music. Fox News Radio has quickly grown to prominence since starting operations in 2005, largely because it’s distributed nationally by Clear Channel. CBS which is now the nation’s oldest radio network remains in operation. So do the Associated Press Radio Network, CNN Radio, and USA Radio, and several other minor operations. Maybe digital radio with its improved sound quality will bring about a revival of the AM band.
Who are some of the unheard people and managers that help in running your average radio station? Who are the managers behind the scenes?
Ken: Most radio stations have the following managers:
GENERAL MANAGER - This is the person in charge of the entire radio station. He or she oversees all departments. The G.M. usually has a sales, and sometimes a programming background. It's his or her job to make sure that all executives at the station are working towards the same goal of increasing or maintaining revenues, and ratings.
SALES MANAGER - The sales manager answers to the general manager, and is in charge of raising revenue to the keep the station on the air. Several salesmen work with this manager in convincing local businesses and big corporations to advertise on the station.
BUSINESS MANAGER - This individual attends to the station's monetary affairs. Making sure employees are paid, making sure the station's bills are paid, and making sure those to bought advertising on the station made good on their bills.
OFFICE MANAGER - The office manager helps the general manager manage the clerical aspects of his or her job. This person may also supervise secretaries, and receptionists, while keeping a handle on in-office functions.
PROGRAM DIRECTOR - This manager answers to the general manager, and sometimes the sales manager. The program director is in charge of the station's format, and all shows placed on the air, with the mission of making the station attractive to the greatest number of listeners. He or she also managers the air personalities, and decides which songs are broadcast. Sometimes works as a part time or full time disc jockey.
MUSIC DIRECTOR - Makes sure the songs the program director selects are aired in the right order, at the proper time. Is also responsible for maintaining music collection. Usually works as a full time disc jockey as well.
PRODUCTION DIRECTOR - This individual is in charge of all the pre-recorded promotional, and commercial announcements on the air. He or she records spots to the advertisers liking. May also work as a part time disc jockey at the station.
NEWS DIRECTOR - The person responsible for the station's news, and frequently public affairs coverage. Usually answers to the program director.
ENGINEERING DIRECTOR - In charge of keeping the station on the air and sounding good. Also maintains electronic equipment.
PROMOTIONS DIRECTOR - Keeps the station in the public eye, with publicity stunts, and community involvement. Assigns air personalities to take part in local events.They may not be managers, but their work is very important....
Board Ops – Board operators control what sound is on the air, and make sure the station sticks to its schedule.
IT People – Information technology workers make sure the computers, and internet connections are functioning properly.
Ken: For the past 10 years conservative views seem to have been quite popular. Radio is in the business of providing people with what they want to hear. The popularity of conservative views seems to have started right around the time when the GOP took both houses of congress back in mid 90's, after the Democrats had held congress for several generations. During the 70's and the early 80's, liberal talk shows were the norm, and conservatives were seldom heard. These things appear to go in cycles.
Ken: Read everything you can about the business. Subscribe to all the trade magazines. Study the history of broadcasting. Don’t rely on your teachers to tell you everything you need to know. Try to determine where the business is going, then learn the right skills so you will be prepared to go with it. Enroll to a school that allows students to receive hands-on, or on-air experience, and try to get a much experience as you can. Volunteer if need be, the better prepared you are the more successful you will be. However, keep your options open. Consider on-air, off-air and opportunities.
Ken: Our news operation is completely digital. We use PC’s to gather and write copy, as well as to record and edit phone and in-person interviews. We can also receive audio reports from our correspondents through the internet, and can send reports to other stations through the net. Many of our reporters have only seen pictures of a typewriter. It has been years since I’ve used a cassette or reel-to-reel recorder.