A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

If you work in media and live in Memphis, last week was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad week. On Tuesday, we learned the Commercial Appeal let go 17 more employees, perhaps in a cleanse before they sell to Milwaukee’s Journal Media next year. Included in this purge were longtime reporter Lela Garlington and more recent hires Timberly Moore and William DeShazer. Award winning photographer Karen Focht was also cut.

Thursday brought the latest revamp of the printed-paper complete with a “We’ve Changed” headline. Yes, you changed but it’s a case of too little and too late.

On Friday, Entercom abruptly changed formats on 94.1 from Classic Hits to Country and in the process let go on air talents Willie B and long time Memphis favorite Steve Conley. Just over two years ago, this same station removed another fan favorite, Karen Perrin, saying the station was taking a new direction. As a “power listener” of the station, the only change I noticed was a tag line, “Your Life, Your Music.”

Both broadcast radio and print media have had a hard time adjusting to the new digital world. Print hasn’t figured out how to compete online and still make any money. Radio has a similar issue in that almost any music can be heard online without advertisement at little or no cost. Getting that coveted 18-34 demographic is harder and harder to do when that age group has grown up streaming music.

Unfortunately, some really great journalists and broadcast talents are suffering because the corporations running their businesses haven’t caught up with the changing landscapes.

Instead, the paper will continue to cut good people only to find that investigative journalism suffers and Entercom’s 94.1 will become the fourth country music station in a market that can really only handle one. Don’t forget, Memphis is the capital of the Delta, where Elvis and rhythm and blues rule. Leave country to middle and east Tennessee.

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On Radio, People and Community

When I was young, I would love to listen to the radio. I was star struck by the disk jockeys and can remember the thrill of finding a distant signal from St. Louis or Chicago on the AM dial. This was before FM radio, before MTV, before YouTube, satellite radio or iTunes.

Today, my children could not care less about radio nor can they understand the thrill of tuning in a distant radio signal. After all, they can find any music they want online. If they want to know what’s happening in Chicago, they can Google it.

Radio continues to struggle. I know it and I hate it. Those who are still on-air on local radio live a precarious life. Corporations, of course, want a profit run radio. I don’t deny them that. They rely on shares, ratings, books, whatever it’s called, to prove to advertisers that their station is the most popular in one demographic or the other. I understand the need for measurement.

However, these corporations are forgetting something very important. They are forgetting about the one thing that will save local radio from the onslaught of internet radio and satellite radio: engagement with the community. In Memphis, there is a great radio station that appeared to have the corporate backing to be engaged with the community. All of the on-air talent is encouraged to use social media to connect with listeners and they do it well. They have an active Twitter account and Facebook fan page with great engagement in both platforms.

This station embraces being local and supports local events. Their talent is seen at all types of events, even events that the station is not a direct sponsor. It’s been great to see them embrace the community and leverage social media in that engagement, as I believe that this increases loyalty to the station.

But last week, they made a big mistake.

They fired, without warning, an eighteen-year veteran of local radio and one half of their popular morning show. It was shocking. Why? All she could say was the station was going in a different direction and it didn’t include her.

The next morning’s show was painful to listen to without her. Her on-air partner could say nothing about her absence but anyone who listened could hear the pain in his voice. After all, he had been fired from another station owned by this same group as part of a three-person morning team some years before. She was one of those left behind that time.

You would like to think the corporate guys would have learned the first time, but no.

So today, I am upset and disappointed. Not only because of who was fired, but the way it was done.

There is still no official statement from the station. All traces of her are gone from the website. They removed negative comments to their Facebook fan page and barred those who posted in protest from future comments. Not smart. You already have an upset fan base and you make them even more upset by banning them from the community and telling them nothing?

Community. That is what will draw listeners to local radio. Community is not shares. Community is not ratings or books. Community is made up of people and people listen to the radio. People like knowing she has two kids in local schools and he has one in college. People grieve when his mother dies. People celebrate when another personality announces a marriage or a baby. This is not how you treat your community.

I still love radio. I love the people on radio and I will continue to support them, even when those in charge of the future of the station can’t see what’s right in front of their faces.

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