Magazine article American Journalism Review

Still Tuning in to Radio News

Magazine article American Journalism Review

Still Tuning in to Radio News

Article excerpt

With all the hype about the Internet and alternative media being the wave of the future, one might think radio news is a dying dinosaur. No way.

"Radio news overall is stronger than it's been in 15 to 20 years," says Bernard Gershon, vice president for ABC News Radio. "Radio is still the medium in which most Americans first hear a breaking news story. It's fast, ubiquitous and a growing industry."

Scott Herman, vice president and general manager of all-news WINS in New York City, says, "People are realizing there's a lot of money to be made in radio."

The company Herman works for--Westinghouse--certainly believes that. Westinghouse is on the verge of becoming the biggest radio owner of all time.

When the company purchased CBS last November it added several major all-news stations and the CBS radio network to its stable of all-news and talk stations. Then in June, Westinghouse offered nearly $4 billion for Infinity Broadcasting, which not only owns dozens of stations but also employs two of the most popular personalities in talk radio: Howard Stern and Don Imus. By the time the Infinity deal is completed, Westinghouse will own more than 80 radio stations with combined annual revenues of at least $1 billion.

Westinghouse's hearty investment into broadcasting's pioneer medium was spurred by government deregulation that lifted most of the previous restrictions on station ownership. But even before the Infinity purchase, Westinghouse had made a firm commitment to radio news. In acquiring CBS, Westinghouse secured a lock on the all-news stations in the nation's six largest markets and made no secret of its desire for further expansion of radio news in other major cities.

"The big all-news stations always have been consistent ratings-getters, while other formats jockey for position, and fads come and go," says Herman. "Once you get past the growing pains, all-news is an enormously profitable format."

Because the company now owns two different all-news stations in the New York, Los Angeles and Chicago markets, there has been some speculation that it would combine the operations to save money. But Westinghouse executives are quick to point out that each all-news format is distinct, with only about 30 percent duplication of audience.

And there's more than all-news in the Westinghouse/CBS strategy. Several of the company's best radio properties--such as KDKA in Pittsburgh and WBZ in Boston--are news-talk stations that are highly popular among listeners. …

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