June 10, 2016
We had an earthquake here Friday morning. I have yet to go to the radio or even TV to find out more about it. It's 2016. That's not how things work anymore.
It's a common thing for people to ask the question, "what were you doing when... " or "where were you when..." about any momentous or notorious event. You remember what you were doing when 9/11 happened, you remember where you were when your favorite team won the championship, you remember how you heard the news. Since radio's advent, the chances were pretty good that you'd hear about major news on the radio, as good as any other option. And the chances were even better that no matter how you learned about it, you'd rush to a radio for more information. TV, too, but radio was always a strong option.
Now, something happens, and where do you go? I'm betting that most people grab their phones and check social media first. I know I do; I managed to sleep through the 5.2 shaker, but an hour later, when I woke up, the first thing I did was turn on my phone and check social media and email, and there it was on Twitter, people saying that they felt the earthquake. I scrolled through, got the details -- okay, Borrego Springs, that's way out in the desert, huh, felt from Santa Barbara to San Diego, interesting -- and only then thought to check the house for fallen items, because I'm sometimes clueless that way. (One bag of cat treats fell off a shelf. That might have happened before the quake.) Then a quick Facebook check, and on to work as per usual. Radio? TV? Maybe later, maybe not.
Lesson for radio? First, I didn't do formal research, so we're just talking about observations here, purely anecdotal, although there was also an L.A. Times article that "reported" the quake through embedding meme-heavy tweets. But I was a heavy consumer of radio and TV news. I found out about the 9/11 attacks on the radio and then on TV; I could answer practically every "what were you doing when..." question with something involving hearing about it on, or getting follow-up information from, the radio. That's no longer the case for me, and I suspect that the multitudes with their heads down, concentrating on their smartphone screens, feel the same way. Thanks, radio, but we're good. No, we don't need an FM tuner activated on the phone to get the news. We got this. Thanks.
Which is not to say radio news has no place in the mix. Far from it. And the station with a dominant news image in the market -- a WTOP, say -- will always have a brand that's trusted no matter how the news is delivered. Some guy tweeting there's a quake is one thing, but a trusted brand -- the L.A. Times, KFI, KNX, CBS 2, ABC 7, whatever -- is always going to be important. Joe Average will say "I felt that," but a real news organization will be the definitive "5.2 centered in Borrego Springs" source, the source that confirms or refutes the chatter. There's value in that.
That's also why I don't think the trend justifies cutting back on radio news. To the contrary, I think radio news departments can be even more critical to radio's survival than other content, because they're uniquely suited to creating content for any platform. Anyone can play a song, liner cards aren't unique, but a strong, active news department can generate material for on-air, online, web, video, podcasts, social media, apps, wherever people seek information. I know, in an era of budget cuts and looming bankruptcy, it's a pipe dream to think that radio news departments can even be maintained, let alone expanded. It's a nice dream, though, and it's something that I'd hope some of the less financially challenged groups will think about as they map out how they plan to proceed with trying to grow their business. (They ARE trying to grow, right? Just checking.)
But the days when everyone immediately dropped everything and tuned to the radio for more information are, if not totally over, endangered, and the role of sentinel is now shared with not just other media companies but with "citizen journalists" as well. And we can also take one other thing from the transition: The news cycle is shorter than we imagined for a lot of stories. The quake dominated my Twitter timeline roughly between 2 and 5 am, and then it was like it had never happened, other than a stray "hey, I didn't feel it" tweet. Maybe, for talk radio purposes, you can use the tweet and Facebook cycle to judge when to bail from a topic; if the tweets die down on a subject, maybe your listeners have had enough.
And "had enough" is another story about social media this week, one with some implications for talk radio. I'll address that next week, barring a) something more momentous occurring, and b) my forgetting I promised that. I should probably put it on a Post-It and stick it on my computer screen. So analog, but it works.
Yes, I skipped last week's column -- turns out that covering a conference and trying to do two other jobs at the same time is a little trickier than I thought it would be -- but I did manage to keep posting all the way through at All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with news items and kickers and bad jokes for any kind of show, and you can see the results and get all sorts of stuff you can talk about on the air by clicking here and at the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item. And there's the Podcasting section at AllAccess.com/podcasts. Oh, and do check out "10 Questions With..." MLB Network Radio and baseball podcast host Rich Herrera, who's doing a great job of getting himself out there all over the place right now, from fill-ins to satellite to podcasts, which is, really, how it's done these days.
You can follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, and my Instagram account (same handle, @pmsimon) as well? And you can find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon.
Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries, a division of Legendary Pictures and Legendary Digital Networks, which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities.
Now, I'm going to go see if anything else fell down from the quake. Not that anyone would be able to tell in my office. I really need to clean this place up one of these days.