Thursday, May 7, 2009

Media: The Plight of Travel Radio

KLAMATH FALLS, OREGON - While approaching this 20,000-person Oregon town near the California border this evening, a radio program ended and it was time to scan the radio dial to find something else. Starting on AM, I found a strong local signal at 960 AM, running the top of the hour news from ABC. Staying tuned in to see what would come on next, the result was silence. Yes, at five minutes after the hour, KLAD 960 AM had an entire minute of "dead air" before Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler" started to play.

We can speculate what was supposed to be on during that minute. Perhaps a local commercial was supposed to air, perhaps a weather forecast was supposed to be played off a tape, perhaps the song was supposed to start immediately after the news. In any event, the "Country Legends" station provided neither local information for a resident of or traveler to Klamath Falls nor its formatted entertainment.

This kind of failure is all too common in radio today. I remember listening to KONA-AM out of the Tri-Cities, Washington on Thanksgiving day once and hearing an entire half-hour of the network feed, including dead air (silence), sports and feature feeds, and actuality (quote) feeds without narration. The lack of production values are not limited to AM; the same thing can happen on FM, and silence isn't any better in stereo.

There was once a time that traveling afforded the opportunity to hear local information and styles not found in big-city radio. I fondly remember hearing a combination of Navajo and English near Tuba City, Arizona in 1991, songs I hadn't heard before on a music station (then KFMJ-FM) in Grants Pass, Oregon in 1984, and surprisingly in-depth farming news on KREW-AM out of Sunnyside, Washington in 1989.

Those times are gone. If a somewhat rural station happens to have good production values, it is likely voice-tracked out of a larger market and has no local character. If it isn't listenable, then it's likely as pathetic as KLAD was tonight. There are likely exceptions out there, but I can't remember the last time I found one. Now, when traveling, if I can't receive a quality big-market signal (say, KCBS and KGO out of San Francisco or WBZ out of Boston), then I often don't even bother scanning the dial, or if I do, I only do it once. Regardless, I almost always end up deciding to listen to a podcast instead.

So, what was the chosen program today at 19:05? There were only two other local and strong stations on the AM dial in Klamath Falls, both conservative talk stations. With Sirius satellite radio available, I chose the BBC's World Today on channel 141. There's a reason why satellite radio sells in vehicles.

1 comment:

James said...

Lance,

Great to read your blog. Keep up the good work.

All best,

James Silver