In this week’s issue… Broadcasters continue pandemic scramble – CBC cancels local TV news – Chuck Igo to go – Townsquare cuts in Maine – WMEX flip delayed again
By SCOTT FYBUSH
*How do you even lead off a column like this in times like these?
We all need to stick together to get through the next weeks, and probably months – and then whatever it will look like as our industry and communities begin to rebuild from all the disruption and damage caused by the need to bring them to a halt to try to save lives.
Here at NERW and Fybush Media, we’re trying to do our best to provide useful information and ideas for you, which is why we’ve launched a new series of Top of the Tower podcasts (in collaboration with RadioInsight) covering as many aspects as we can of the one big question – how do we all survive these unprecedented times?
We launched last week with a very practical question: how do you keep your mics and headphones clean and safe? This week, we’ll show you some ideas for making audio sound as good as it can from locations far outside your regular studio, and we’ll tackle some of the legal questions facing broadcasters right now. And we want to hear your ideas for future installments, too – what issues are vexing you that we might be able to help you solve?
What else does our new reality look like? For the time being, it means we’ll be starting off the column each week with some of the biggest developments as radio and TV in the northeast adjust to the pandemic:
No local news for CBC TV in Canada. While many news operations add broadcasts – NBC, for instance, has added new 7 or 7:30 PM shows at owned-and-operated stations, as well as extending its 11 PM newscasts for an additional 25 minutes and delaying the Tonight Show repeats that usually run at 11:35 – Canada’s national broadcaster moved in the opposite direction last week with the temporary cancellation of all of its local TV newscasts around the country. In place of the usual hour of local news at 6 and half-hour at 11, CBC stations have been carrying CBC News Channel national content, with a promise (as yet only awkwardly executed) to include local content from each newsroom in those national shows.
While the local newsrooms remain open to produce radio and online content, CBC officials cited staffing and safety issues at the national TV master control in Toronto for the move, which is already drawing considerable opposition. Will the CBC be forced to find some way to return those local newscasts to the air – especially in places like Charlottetown, P.E.I., where there is no commercial TV station doing local news?
CBS Broadcast Center remains closed. One of the biggest disruptions stateside has been at the sprawling complex on W. 57th Street in Manhattan, where the CBS Broadcast Center is still undergoing cleaning and disinfection after several workers there became ill. WCBS-TV (Channel 2) anchors spent part of the week doing shows from the sidewalk on 57th Street before relocating to Stamford, Connecticut, where the studio normally used for Yankees pre- and post-game shows on the YES Network has been sitting mostly idle. “CBS This Morning” is now broadcasting from the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theater a few blocks to the east, while Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” remains shut down. CBS Radio News continues operating from Washington, while CBSN and the “CBS Weekend News” are originating from other CBS stations around the country. (This past weekend, “Weekend News” came from KTVT in Fort Worth/Dallas, with a local anchor there at the helm.)
College station shutdowns continue. With almost all colleges now shut down for the rest of the semester, more of their radio stations are falling silent in the absence of students to keep them running. Boston College’s WZBC (90.3 Newton) is on full automation now, for instance, and it’s no doubt just one of many stations that may not return to the airwaves for quite a while now that campuses are locked down and students and volunteers are unable to access studios.
At a few stations, dedicated volunteers are finding workarounds – WRHU (88.7) at Long Island’s Hofstra University is setting up two remote locations that can feed live programming to the station’s transmitter and stream, providing some much-needed musical comfort when it’s most needed.
Going remote whenever possible. As shutdown orders and health concerns increase, broadcasters are clearing out their studios of as many people as they can. Sinclair’s local TV stations, for instance, have gone to single-anchor formats to avoid putting staff closely together at their anchor desks. Radio and TV hosts are working from home or remote locations as much as possible, and that picture has been changing so fast there’s no way to keep up with who’s doing what from where in our usual detail.
Sales down – and staffing, too? As the businesses that usually advertise on radio and TV shut down for the duration, so too do most of their advertising budgets, which means cutbacks in staffing are coming at many stations. As you’ll read deeper into the column, Townsquare has already begun reducing some of its staffing, and we’re hearing it won’t be alone.
How can broadcasters find ways to keep doing what they’re doing, keep staffers employed – and keep revenue as high as possible, considering? We’ll be talking to the experts about that on upcoming podcasts, too.
We have a great lineup of podcasts here on our site. While you’re catching up with your summer reading, don’t forget about your summer listening. Now is the time to make sure you’re up to date with Top of the Tower.
Our latest one features Donna Halper discussing her life in radio, from her time at WMMS when she helped Rush get US airplay, to what she learned from Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg.
Don’t forget you can still visit our store to check out our other great products. We’ll be taking preorders for the 2021 calendar soon. Stay tuned!