Your local DJ – a few time zones away
Radio stations are axing staff and subbing in syndicated hosts to cut costs.
You could call it the culling of the heard.Skip to next paragraph
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In Boston, a popular AM station has stopped broadcasting live overnight for the first time since 1952. In San Diego, the nation's ninth-largest city, just two major local talk-show hosts remain on the air after cutbacks. And across the country, stations are banishing local disc jockeys to the unemployment line in favor of nationally syndicated hosts like Ryan Seacrest and John Tesh.
There's a common theme here: With all of its costs, live and local radio programming is in decline. In essence, many in the radio industry are concluding that it doesn't matter if the voice introducing the next "seven-song rock bloc" is in the same time zone.
But observers fear radio is dooming itself to irrelevance in a world full of rivals like satellite radio and iPods.
Local programming is the only thing that sets radio stations apart, says radio consultant Donna Halper, an assistant professor at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. "I want something I can't get anywhere else," she says.
The radio industry, just like newspapers and books and other forms of media, is facing an unprecedented financial crunch. Radio advertising revenue dropped by9 percent in the third quarter of 2008 compared with the same period in the previous year, and many radio companies are saddled with huge amounts of debt.
Just this week, the giant Clear Channel Communications company, which owns more than 1,200 US radio stations, laid off 1,850 workers, many of them radio personalities and executives. The cuts account for 9 percent of the company's employees.
Then there's the matter of precedent: Radio stations have been moving away from live and local programming for more than a decade without falling apart. Owners have centralized operations, leaving many smaller stations with few – or any – local radio personalities. Live request shows and call-in contests have become rarer than ever; in some cases, disc jockeys try to fool listeners into thinking they're local even though they prerecord their between-song patter in faraway cities.
Still, many stations tried to remain local, at least during daytime and evening hours on weekdays. But then the economy slumped in 2008, and more cuts came.