Sunday, June 27, 2004

The Loss of Good Radio

I lived in the Cleveland area for most of my life before coming to central Indiana, and was blessed with really interesting radio. There has always been more local programming in Cleveland than in most markets, and having five college stations in the region helped. Local programming makes a station kick. I will concede that syndicated shows get guaranteed ratings and demographics, are cheap and easy, and that live local shows are a risk, are expensive, and a hell of a lot of work. However, local programming is vital. Hot button issues get drilled by local hosts, leading to better informed voters and more responsive elected officials.

When I arrived in Indy, I found that the radio offerings were extremely bland. The vast majority was beamed in by satellite, offering no real local relevance. I tried listening to WIBC-AM because they were the closest thing to local talk, but I tired of the station quickly because the format was too tight. No call would last more than two minutes. No caller would get to hang in to debate for too long, especially if they were getting one over on the host. I would tune in to WXNT-AM because they had Neal Boortz. Sure, it was another syndicated show, but Boortz is a libertarian. I had always wanted to catch his show, since it did not air in Cleveland.

So, it was a delight to tune in early on morning and find WXNT-AM's Morning Line with "Trapper" John Morris and Jim Burrows. Trapper ran the show and would get the last word. This set up a fascinating dynamic because WXNT's syndicated fare- Boortz, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham- was largely right-of-center, conservative, Republican, etc. Trapper wouldn't describe himself as a liberal, but he was generally very much to the left of the station's syndicated hosts, Burrows, and the callers. The discussion was very lively, with often pointed banter coming from either direction, but always with Trapper getting the last word. Where the hosts could agree was in the area of popular culture, with a fun homage to all things 1980s, to movies, and to stand-up comedy.

With this balance, the show was able to attract a wide range of phone interview guests and no shortage of listeners who called in. Regulars began to congregate at promotional events, such as their Town Hall Tuesday series of live broadcasts and breakfasts at Dodd's Town House restaurant on Meridian St.

One irksome thing about WXNT's lineup was that in the months where most of the country goes to daylight savings time, the station found itself with a schedule shift. All syndicated shows would start an hour earlier than in winter months. Sean Hannity's show was carried live, and would move from 3-6pm to 2-5pm in DST months. What to do with the 5-6pm hour? The station would repeat the first hour of Hannity.

It drove me nuts. When I left Cleveland, I was hosting a weekly one-hour libertarian news and comment program on WCSB-FM. All I could think of was filling that slot myself. Even if the listeners and callers disagreed completely, a local topics show would be far superior to a re-run from just three hours before.

Fortunately, the station put Greg Browning into this time. He had been doing a show on Sunday nights, and fairly agitating his listeners by making Mayor Bart Peterson his personal whipping boy. The show was well suited for the early evening. The tempo could often drag, but that was okay in that time slot. Uptempo is perfect for monring shows, and the Morning Line was the station's uptempo act.

As Browning hit his stride, the station hit its' peak, in my opinion. The Morning Line was in top form, with great interplay between the hosts and callers, the news staff, the weather and traffic reporters, and the guests. The syndicated lineup was entertaining enough- Hannity takes more opposition callers than any other conservative, and Ingraham's show is great fun because of her use of sound bites. The only bump would come when a show was pre-empted by Butler basketball or Indianapolis Indians baseball.

Then came the dreaded change in management. This almost always results in a major shake-up, regardless of what is working at a station. The WXNT situation, unfortunately, was no different. The Morning Line was abruptly cancelled, with Greg Browning moving to the AM drive. No surprise, Browning was replaced by the syndicated Michael Savage.

This was a horrible turn. The Morning Line was a perfect morning show. Browning, bless his feisty heart, is terribly out of place in the AM drive. Savage is easily the most repulsive conservative talker in the country. While I often disagree with Limbaugh, Hannity, and Ingraham, I usually have the sense that although they are entertainers, the policies they promote are done so in the best interests of the country. There is no such sense with Savage, but rather, a sense of pure nasty spite and hatred. His attack on a gay caller to the cable TV talk show he was fired from is case in point.

I try to listen to Browning in the morning, but give up after a few minutes because it's just too painful to hear him struggle with the format. I never tune in to Savage. Central Indiana lost a great forum with the cancellation of the Morning Line. I suspect that Browning will sink before given the chance to learn to swim in the morning waters, taking away the station's other top forum. I am extremely hopeful that Trapper and Jim will land a spot together on a station in a morning gig, but I'll be glad to hear either one of them on their own show.

1 comment:

Mike Kole said...

Funny to look back at this post. I'm glad it turned out as it did with Abdul in the Morning. You just never know what lurks on the other side.