A Perplexing Question for Radio on a Monday Morning

At 7 AM promptly every morning my alarm goes off. Like a lot of folks, my “alarm” is a radio. The Bose Wave radio slowly edges up to the sounds of NPR’s “Morning Edition” and the mumbling mouths of NPR slowly edge me out of this slumber. I get my dose of 5 minutes of news and the mostly coherent chatter edges me out of my sleep. NPR gets a couple of hours of my listening time before I begin my trek battling the morning traffic and start my flip around the dial punching between morning shows, talk shows and amusement once my brain has (more or less) switched on for the day.

Why NPR? Well, it’s the only offering I can find on the radio for news (and I use the term “news” lightly). Here in Austin, the two “talking” stations opt for opinion based talk shows and the rest of the dial is music or wacky morning shows. Call me old school, but when I wake up I’m just not ready for wacky. I want to hear what’s going on in the world and around town. The local NPR affiliate is the only station that fits any semblance of the bill.

Call me wrong (and you’re welcome to), but it seems to me that there is an innate need for the human American animal to have the “news” as a morning partner. There’s the Leave it to Beaver years where dad was seen at the breakfast table with his partner the morning paper. To this day, the first thing I do after getting my morning joe and performing other functions is check out Google or Yahoo news. But I still need more stimuli, and it’s the chatter of the radio. I’m not ready to laugh or active enough to deal with opinion or the wacky chatter of morning radio, I need something else. I need “news.”

Unless you live in New York or one of the other dozen markets that feature an all-news station, your are SOL, or… you listen to NPR. They practically own this space. But they are vulnerable. Along with the “news,” I do have to listen to at least a couple of 5 minute stories about the mating habits of the Peruvian fruit fly or the new opera based on the life of Sigmund Freud. Believe me, I’ve tried other options. I’ve listened to 1010 WINS on the stream, BBC and a multitude of other stations on the computer connected to my radio. I’ve scripted iTunes to wake me up to a different streamer every day, but in the end I always go back to the local NPR affiliate. Why? Because it’s easy. I’ve got enough to deal with in the morning, making coffee and the active waking up activities. I surf my favorite sites, deal with my agenda for the day and I just want the damn radio to come on and talk to me and tell me what the hell is going on in the world and around town.

So what’s the point? The point is that radio broadcasters are missing something here. As more and more folks are casting off the TV and relying on New Media for their video entertainment (and yes, I’m one of them), morning radio news has the potential to take a chunk of this pie. Yea, I know, it’s an expensive format to run. But the fact that commercial broadcasters have essentially left this space to NPR to own in all but the largest markets is embarrassing. There is a niche here for a “network” run by a commercial broadcaster and a couple of folks on the local end for 5 minute cut-ins. And who says that it has to be run like an “all news station.” You could target any demographic as long as you have the talent that can write and deliver the “news” for that gen. But I’m not going to give it all away, you’re the ┬ásmart ones, you figure it out. I’m not awake enough, I’m going back to listening to NPR, I’m still half asleep.

Update: It was announced Monday morning that TRN is set to launch an all news network. Mark Masters, CEO of TRN is quoted: :”There is not enough quality syndicated long-form news radio programming to fill the gap.” Yep.

*John Ford is a Broadcast programming professional with nearly three decades of experience in local and network major market radio Programming and Consulting. Including stints as a VP of New Media Sabo Media, Network Programming and Imaging at ABC Radio Networks, Greenstone Media. Programming, Imaging and Morning/Talk positions at WIOD/Miami, WLLZ/Detroit, KZPS/Dallas, The Edge/Dallas, Zeta 4/Miami, WSHE/Miami and others. John’s also an uber-geek who holds numerous Apple Technical Certifications and enjoys breaking and fixing code and kit. Reach him at hiswebsite