Friday, February 11, 2011

Cookie Cutters

By Frank Absher

Recently I found myself in a situation where the only local news I could watch on TV was from New York City. After a couple viewings, I gave up. It was the same reaction I had last summer when I tried to listen to New York City radio.

New York once represented the best of the best. People in the broadcasting business aspired to get there. That market, along with Los Angeles, was where the top talent went.

In the radio business we used to do whatever we could to get aircheck tapes from those two markets. It wasn’t because we wanted to copy what they were doing. Rather, we wanted to hear top talent. We wanted to know what it would take to make it to the top.

When I was presented with the opportunity to go to those two markets I declined for family reasons. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted, but what really saddens me is the broadcast product there today.

Those TV news broadcasts from NYC were nothing more than the sort of thing spewing forth from every local TV news operation around the country. It is formula TV, just as bad for the business as formula radio.

I saw the same sort of packages – reporters standing in the snow with a ruler showing how deep it was; reporters talking with people asking how it felt to shovel all that heavy snow. It was embarrassing to watch.

As a broadcast veteran, I’d like to think that managers of TV and radio today would have the balls to think for themselves instead of giving the keys to a bunch of sanitized consultants. Show me something that gives me a reason to stay with your station. Give me a great jock who is so good I don’t want to turn off the radio because I might miss something.

People in the business today don’t have a great market to look to as “the best.” There are no longer major talents to study and admire.

I’m fed up with the cookie cutter approach to this business: “If it works in Boise, it’ll work in Philly and Fort Wayne (and apparently New York City).”

Reporters, anchors, disc jockeys all become interchangeable. In fact, if television could find a video equivalent of voice tracking so one person would provide a “local” product for several markets, they’d probably embrace it with open arms.

Radio did, and look at how well that business is doing.

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