At roughly 7:40 A.M., just a few blocks from where I live, an explosion and fire at a power station made for a massive electrical outage for large sections of the Capital City. Reports of flames 12 feet in the air, along with plumes of dark smoke sent rumors flying and tensions high on what was predicted to be one of the hottest days in the city for many a year.
It was the type of news story and moment made for radio. Local radio. Radio connected to the community and tethered with the needs and interest of those who reside here. An event had happened that paralyzed traffic, concerned pet owners on their way to work, along with business owners and shoppers not sure what to do with the planned activities of the day.
What WIBA, self-described as a news/talk format, failed to do was turn off the talk radio aspect of their operations and turn it into a continuous news format which could update events and connect with a city needing information.
But there was no time to meet the needs of the community.
There were fart jokes to be told on air.
That word has never been used on this blog before, and it would not now if I were not so taken aback at the lack of professionalism exhibited by a radio station holding a license from the FCC.
I turned in to the station several times on my battery operated short-wave unit. About 10:20 A.M. someone who did not sound local in any sense of the word was titillating himself over some story about police officers and farting. I am not kidding!
He was definitely no Henny Youngman with his one liners, but that did not stop him. After 30 seconds I turned the radio off and decided since there was no way to make coffee at home to head down East Washington Avenue to find my Morning Joe.
On the way I parked my car near the scene of the fire and talked with a friendly police officer that was helping to block traffic near to the power relay station. I asked how drivers were responding to the needs presented by the fire. He said drivers were respectful but with temperatures to increase and moods turning sourer near to drive time he was hoping for the best, but the department was prepared to staff the roadways as issues demanded.
At McDonalds I talked with a woman behind the counter who told me she lived on Wilson Street and was concerned about her pet in the heat of an apartment. While adding sugar to my two large coffee cups I chatted with a woman who had an aging parent who needed to be taken to a medical appointment but was not sure what route to take given the traffic problems.
In the span of about 25 minutes, and with nothing more than a conversational tone and a curious nature, I had in essence three interviews for a continuous broadcast on the biggest news to happen in Madison this week. If coffee-deprived Gregory could make that happen please ask yourself why a reporter for WIBA was not out on the hustings doing the same?
With two Egg McMuffins back at my kitchen table I again turned to WIBA where local and county officials were holding a press conference to update the public. In the midst of the report there starts to run an ad from Rush Limbaugh. The fire department report was seemingly not all that important. Rush was. After the ad had finished the news conference resumes and questions from reporters are to begin.
Which is when WIBA interrupted the news conference to begin their own news report at the bottom of the hour. Which was a short fourth-grade example of writing at the same time the actual elected leaders of the area were imparting facts at the news conference. There is no way to make this up.
While there was a flustered sounding announcer who admitted to not preventing the Rush ad from airing there was no apology for ending coverage of the press conference. Talk radio from a studio halfway across the nation was more important to WIBA than the folks they rub shoulders with at the supermarket.
And that is my point about local radio. Now hear me out on this.
It needs to be stated I have never been a program director of a radio station. But I have been an avid radio listener for going on 50 years. Much of it in my teenage years was from local stations in (WSPT) Stevens Point and (WDUX) Waupaca. I have also worked in radio. My time at WDOR in Sturgeon Bay was a prime example of what local radio is all about. It demonstrated repeatedly what the average, everyday, run-of-the-mill announcer could do for the listeners who tune in to be informed on breaking news events. That is, after all, the most important time for a local radio announcer to be professional and earnest about the job behind the microphone. When announcers and program directors no longer have that commitment they need to find new employment.
I know of what I write as I lived it. On the air.
Had a heavy snowfall happened on a morning back when I was at the station there would be the usual report from the police about the road conditions, urging caution with the slick streets. I would listen, and yawn as I had heard if many times before. No, they did not provide the type of information I wanted.
I was waiting for the man who called himself ‘the Egg Harbor reporter’ to dial me up and give some gripping account of how a car nearly wiped out at the curve where he lived, or how many inches had stacked up on his mailbox. (I swear I can still hear his slow dead-pan delivery of the information.) He was a favorite. I am not sure the man ever slept, as he had a reason to call and chat about the weather every chance he got, and I must say he was highly entertaining.
I loved to hear from the folks who had made it over the ‘Brussels’ Hill’ as they came back from an outing but wanted me to alert others to take another route. Perhaps the best account of the local roads was the lady who from time to time delivered a baked good from her oven. She would pop into the back door of the studio, thank me for the music I played, and update me on the roads, and then she would be off with her slow walk and careful steps. Some people are nice to the person who delivers their morning paper, but she appreciated her local neighborhood disc jockey.
All those homespun stories made for my on-air conversation as listeners tuned in to hear local radio. Snowstorms made for bustle at the radio station, and we proved that it was equally engaging for the folks who tuned in to listen. That is just one way radio can connect with people.
I wish WIBA had employed that style of broadcasting for Madison today prior to the return of power shortly before 1 P.M.
And so it goes.