Late last month, Clear Channel cut 590 jobs nationwide and effectively ended local sports talk radio. I only recently started to listen to local sports talk not because of an interest in sports as much as it was the last bastion of local issues. Local sports talk has been replaced with even more nationally syndicated programming.
We have had our views of world events shaped by fewer and fewer news outlets for years. If you watch any of the morning news programs, you will see the same handful of stories being retold. You will also see the same news stories on most of the Internet news sites. Talk radio regurgitates these same headlines at decibels above reality. The hosts will whip those topics into controversies that in turn drive up their ratings. In the end, there is very little in the way of original programming or content.
I first realized the magnitude of this phenomenon while deployed. One of the myriad satellite radio stations was broadcast in the gym. The hosts were a saccharine male and female that went out of their way to be from nowhere. Their accents were neutral and banter was kept to generic topics. Perhaps it was the stress of being 6,000 miles away from home but after about two weeks I wanted to strangle these radio androids. Their pretense at being from everywhere and nowhere at the same time became unnerving.
About three years ago I was listening to local smooth jazz station (okay so that was my first problem). I recognized Norman Brown as the host. What the hell was he doing hosting a local show? He is a well-known jazz guitarist and as far as I knew wasn’t from the area. He added just enough bits here and there to make it sound like it was originating from here but this was an illusion. He was hosting the show from L.A. and was adding the local bits to make it appear as though the show was originating from here.
I know the reasons for the shift from all local to national programming lies in economies of scale and not some conspiracy. Regardless, the effect is our tastes in music and knowledge of events is based on programming formulas and not representative of local interests and views. Sports talk was one of the last markets that reflected the interests of local listeners. Now that has fallen by the wayside as well.
In part I believe this why blogs and social networking media have take off. People are growing tired of a homogenized view of music, news and sports. They want to talk about things they are interested in with others. Unfortunately most blogs, including this one, are the reflection of the author. Those who don’t write blogs or use social networking media really are left without a means of reading about or expressing their interests.
The state of local media is not really my area of expertise. I am reflecting on this subject mainly as someone who grew up in the local area and remember how different radio, newspapers and TV were. The music I was exposed to on local radio was selected by people and played by disc jockeys who lived here as well. Local reporters and commentators covered news and sports. Good, bad or indifferent the views expressed were by those who lived here. I’m not sure this nationalized view, to the exclusion of a more regional view, is going to take us anywhere good.