Back in the 1970s, I took a temporary job helping to prepare the daily news digest for Armand Hammer. That’s right, your reliable right-wing columnist once worked for the old com-symp himself. I reported to a room in the Occidental Petroleum building on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood, and there, with a very pleasant young lady supervising, I clipped stories from wire services that I thought would interest the Great Man and pasted them into a daily news report.
When I say “clip,” I mean it literally. We had half a dozen wire service machines, rumbling and rattling out a continuous roll of machine-typed paper: AP, UPI, Reuters, and I don’t remember the rest; there used to be more such services than there are now. Indeed, smaller radio stations of the time used to be called “rip and read” stations, because that’s all their news departments amounted to. Somebody ripped the latest news story off a wire service machine every hour and read it into a mike.
Today’s wired world disguises the fact that most radio stations are still rippers and readers of news, with the ripping and reading accomplished via satellite and tape. So, as Daniel Henninger remarked in the Wall Street Journal in “2004’s Biggest Losers,” describing the new media landscape after the recent election, “Anyone who can package and drive a particularized version of the news on (the) scale (of Big Media) can move opinion…”
How does Big Media “package and drive” a story? I contend that it’s through radio affiliate networks. This story won’t be popular to tell or sell with the conservative audience, because things seem to look so rosy.
Conservatives have had a good election, media-wise. We can rightly congratulate ourselves for exposing the Memogate fraud of Dan Rather, for helping to keep the Swift Boat Vets’ and POW activists’ stories in the news, and, on election day itself, for exposing the phoniness of the early exit polls and keeping the troops motivated. Much else, too. Conservative opinion magazines, conservative think tanks and foundations, conservative conferences and organizations exist as never before. We’ve changed things. A lot.
Indeed, the macro statistics back us up. As long ago as June 11, 2000, the Pew Research Center reported “Internet Sapping Broadcast News Audience.” The accompanying graph shows, among other things, regular watchers of network news dropping from 60 percent of responders in 1993 to 30 percent in 2000.
In terms of a daily, dominant, big story (remember Abu Ghraib, the 9/11 Commission Report’s “No WMD” distortion, and a host of others), we’re still playing catch-up. We’re still reacting, not acting. Why?
Because ABC Radio News has more than 2,300 affiliate stations around the country. Westwood One, which packages a service that includes CBS, CNN, and NBC radio, has almost 2,750 affiliates. They virtually blanket the nation with hourly and half-hourly 60- and 90-second spots on most radio stations that most people listen to most of the time during the day when most people are where they are most of the time when they listen to the radio: In their cars.
Where does that story come from? Most of the time, from the New York Times or the Washington Post. (The last few days, it’s come from ESPN, but you get the point.)
Against that dominance, at this point, we can only hope for Fox News to catch up. Nobody else has the financial firepower to try. And, according to a story in Radio World Newspaper on January 14 of this year, Fox has commitments from only about 150 radio stations to try the new Fox Radio news service.
It’s going to be a long, long haul. Nobody suggests that the Internet isn’t important. But, for now, in military terms, traditional media holds the high ground, and it’s very high ground indeed.