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interviews were recorded with seed funding from the Sidney
Stern Memorial Trust, The Mosaic Foundation
UPDATE: Interviewed at NAB 2008 Charles Osgood, NAB President David Rehr, & others.
Block - Reporter, Voice of America
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LOCAL RADIO MAKES NEWS
Excerpts from the video interviews:
Ed Pyle, News Director, KNX News Radio, Los Angeles
ON BEING PREPARED: I think the key is to not wait until there’s an emergency or a catastrophe and at the last minute be scrambling, attempting to figure out what do I do now, how do I get the word out now, how do I collect the word to get the word out. I think what you need to do is really what any large or small news operation needs to do, and that is to assemble the contacts that you need in any given emergency. Have a Rolodex, either in a computer or just an old-fashioned card Rolodex or card file, where you keep current the numbers for the police station, the sheriff’s department, the fire department, the dept. of forestry if you’re in an area where there are national forests where there might be fires, for hospitals, for city politicians, anything of that nature where there could be an emergency that would affect those people, or where you might be able to obtain information from key people who could give you an official or even semi-official word on things.
And keep it current, and to the extent possible, get in touch with people and ask them if you can have home numbers. Sometimes public officials are reluctant to do that, but if you assure them that you will use them only in the case of extreme emergency, generally they will give them to you, and as you don’t use them willy-nilly but rather only in extreme situations, their confidence in you will grow and you’ll more and more be taken into their confidence when you need their help.
So the key is being prepared… If it’s something that’s occurring in a school, and we’ve certainly had some school situations, tragedies even…the more numbers you have and the more prepared you are, the greater the likelihood that you’ll get meaningful information and be able to distribute that on the air.
Keep in mind, too, that it’s important to let people know that even if you don’t have information to any great extent, that you let them know that you’re working on it, that you know that whatever has happened has happened, that you give them whatever information you have about the situation, and you tell them you’re working on getting more, and as soon as you have more you’ll pass it along on the air. The worst thing you can do is to say nothing. People are assured when they hear you say that you know something has occurred, even if you can’t give them anything of substance, just letting them know that you’re aware of it and you’re working on it will give them great reassurance and confidence in you, and most likely will keep them tuned to you . . .
One of the key things is to only report that which you know, that which you have been able to confirm. And generally the rule of thumb that I apply is that you either confirm it with a very substantial person involved in the situation, a key person, a fire captain, a fire chief, a police detective or a police official or a city official… not people who say they saw this or they saw that, or some civilian, but some official source… And preferably, you want to be able to have not just one source, but someone who can confirm that which you heard earlier…
You want to be very careful not to report rumors. In fact, I never the use of the word “rumor” on the air at my radio station. If I hear someone use the word “rumor” I immediately go to them and say that’s not acceptable, we don’t report rumors…
ON NEWS FEATURES: One of the things that I encourage in my reporting staff is that first of all you always have some recording media with you. I don’t know a photographer who doesn’t travel around with a camera in his car, or even to the extent possible on his person. And I don’t know why, if you’re a professional person in broadcasting, you wouldn’t carry around some kind of a small recording device… and have it with you because every once in a while you’ll bounce into a story possibility that you never would have anticipated, just as a photographer will happen upon an accident scene or a very interesting photo opportunity. Well, don’t just think of photo ops, think of story ops…. I often tell the story of a trip I was on in New Mexico when I saw a man leading an elephant down the street in this tiny rural town out in the middle of nowhere. That’s the time for you to jump out of your car and go up to him with the microphone and say hey, what’s with the elephant? … So always be ready to find that interesting feature that’s just a sort of serendipity situation that no one would have anticipated.
ON THE IMMEDIACY OF THE RADIO MEDIUM: After having spent many years in all-news radio, at least 18 or 20 at the time, I was in a situation where I had to work in television. And I was working as a producer in television, in TV news, and it was very early in my tenure there, and someone suggested a story, and I said yeah we’ll call Senator so-and-so in Washington and get a comment from him. And the TV person to whom I was speaking said yeah but what video would we use? And I hadn’t even thought of the use of video because it wasn’t important to me in all the radio days I had spent. And the beauty and instantaneous spontaneity of radio is that you don’t need video; all you need is to be able to tell the story, and if you have sound to go with it, that’s terrific.
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING A NEWS CAPABILITY: Now you can go into so many smaller towns and cities and find that there is no news coverage or no news coverage to speak of, or just network news and no local news operation. Well, you don’t build any kind of involvement in your radio station with the community if you don’t have local news…. And you want to get the local feature on the air… you want the noteworthy people, the interesting people in your community, you want to get them on the air, you want to build a sense of community, and I think to the detriment of local radio, it’s not happening as much as it should. When I started in small-town radio, we did all kinds of local broadcasts, local remotes, and we had a huge local listening audience. A lot of that is gone if you don’t have a local news operation.
If you are at all interested in radio and in radio news and in making your station special, whether you’re a news person or a disc jockey or a board operator or whatever, get out in the community and let people know you’re there, let people know about your radio station, let them know that you have interest in the community in which you’re living and working, and get out there and know the people, because they will be the source of a lot of news information that you wouldn’t get by sitting in the station or sitting in your car or sitting at home… get out and get your name recognized, because that’s the way to build a really firm foundation with your community, and there’s no better way to generate listeners and generate sponsor interest, than building a strong relationship with a local community.
Mark Moran, News Director, KJZZ, Phoenix
ON THE INTIMACY OF RADIO: There are scores of local stories that give you what they call in public radio the “driveway experience”… That’s (when) you’re listening to a long story… and the story’s not over yet so you sit there in your driveway in your car listening to this story as the neighbors pass by, wondering why you’re sitting in your car, whether you’re doing something illegal…
I did a story on a woman who was arrested six times in the course of two years for drunk driving, and she happened to write a lot of letters from jail…to a person who happened to work at the station whom I knew very well. And I had a chance to look at some of these letters, and they were just the most powerful, unbelievable things I had ever seen written down. They were about the mundane minutia of everyday life in jail, but they were about so much more, about the hurting of alcoholism, about the abuse she had suffered as a child. So I talked to this person to whom the letters were written and I said do you think this woman would mind reading these letters to tape when she got out of jail? . . .
When she did get out
for her last drunken driving conviction she came into the station and
it was a process of several weeks to have her read these letters to tape.
And we edited this down into a 15-minute, really moving feature piece
of her reading from these letters, and we mixed some music in with it…
you really get a slice of one person’s really incredible struggle to survive
this disease that had her in its grip. It was really a moving piece, that
sort of driveway piece where people were calling and saying I couldn’t
get out of my car, I was just paralyzed, I had to listen to the end of