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voice-tracking is the symptom, but it's not the disease-- re send

I posted this yesterday but for some reason, it didn't arrive.  Forgive the 
resend (and the comments which follow!):

>Dan wrote:
>Earlier today, I voice tracked 19 hours of
>the "Christmas Music Marathon Weekend" in about 3
>hours.  Certainly beats working on Christmas Day.<<

Ah yes, voice tracking.  [rant mode on] I must admit that I barely 
recognise the industry I went into, not that many years ago.  Station 
owners buy up their competitors and eliminate any alternative 
programming.  We have one company that does the same contest on all of its 
stations simultaneously, except they don't quite tell the listeners in each 
city that the 800 number they are giving out means you are competing with 
millions of people in numerous markets who are all thinking the contest is 
just in their city.   We have a company that eliminates local d.j.'s and 
replaces them with voice-tracking from a city hundreds of miles away, even 
in prime dayparts.  We have many group owners that eliminate most news and 
public service for budgetary reasons, and make PDs program several stations 
simultaneously.   With fewer record companies, and fewer major 
decision-makers, most decisions about music are made even more 
conservatively because the airplay will occur on all the stations of the 
same format in the group... why take chances when you can create one 
homogeneous sound for all your stations?  Yes, local MDs have some input, 
but being too different is discouraged.   I'm not even sure I could run the 
equipment at some of the stations I consult-- what with AudioVault and all 
the fancy shmancy state of the art digital whatever, the old hands-on feel 
of radio has been replaced by the high-tech version.  It was presented as a 
good thing, because new technology often leads to an easier time for those 
doing the day to day jobs... except in this case, the new technology was 
created to eliminate all traces of individuality or personality, and make 
it possible to do without the people in question.   I am sure I will get 
flamed, but as I listen across the country, I hear less and less that is 
unique, less and less that stands out.  Yup, it's smoother and when 
voice-tracking is done well, it's hard to tell the person isn't actually 
there.  And yet, I feel we have lost the soul of our industry-- the people.

Few people on this list mentioned the other problem I see as the year 2000 
ends:  media consolidation has led to a monopoly of the way news is 
done.  In one of life's stranger pairings, NPR and the NAB have united to 
defeat Low Power FM, but that isn't what concerns me. The fact that the 
story was not covered to any extent by ANY of the print or broadcast 
journalism outlets concerns me greatly, as do a number of the consumer 
stories the media now miss because an advertiser might pull their ads.  And 
what worries me most of all is Lowry Mays, who owns over 900 stations and 
was the #1 contributor to George W. Bush's campaign (with Rupert Murdoch of 
the Fox Channel right up there in the top 5).  No, I have never met Mr 
Mays, and I have nothing against him personally.  But having one company 
control so much of my industry makes me very nervous.   And before Dan B. 
begins to flame me, let me finish my point:  it's not about Bush or 
Gore.  It's about 4 media giants controlling media access and thereby 
controlling the way news is done.  Whether you think there is a liberal 
bias or a conservative bias, with four huge conglomerates who not only 
dominate US news but are heavily involved in international news channels & 
satellite as well, it is easier than ever to slant the way you present 
things-- especially given the concern for the feelings of the advertisers 
(or the feelings of the foreign governments where you want to operate your 
cable channel or satellite business).  It's easier than ever to ignore 
certain stories because you think they might be controversial, and it's 
easy to keep the public in the dark as a result.  I can't imagine a time 25 
years ago when CBS news and sports people would have been ordered to wear 
the Nike logo during Olympic coverage,  or when ABC's Barbara Walters would 
have shilled for Campbell soup (and even she even sang their 
jingle).  Robert McChesney, in his latest book "Rich Media, Poor 
Democracy," notes that the allegedly public airwaves are less open to the 
public than at any time in broadcasting history.  It is no longer about 
serving the public:  it's about serving the shareholders.  On air, stock 
reports and business news dominate; but workers rights and news about how 
labour is being affected seldom receives the same attention.  A company's 
Wall Street profile means everything; whether it fired hundreds of people 
(or cut their health insurance) while giving its CEO $650,000 in salary and 
bonuses means nothing. And my point is not about whether capitalism is good 
or bad-- it's about what results from a lack of competition.  We have less 
competition than ever, resulting in pack journalism.  Everybody covers the 
one big story to excess, because news budgets have been slashed and it's 
easier (and cheaper) to go where everyone else, is or to do celebrity 
gossip.  This was the year when "Survivor" and "Who Wants to be a 
Millionaire" vied with Elian Gonzalez and pregnant chads.  News stations 
are now expected to turn a big profit-- and they are not necessarily 
expected to be good at what they do.  This is VERY different from when I 
got into radio-- back then, and it really wasn't that long ago, your news 
department was supposed to be classy.  Yes, there was plenty of rip and 
read, but I am talking about the stations that had a reputation for 
covering news thoroughly.  Can you name any great radio news reporters 
today?  Most moved over to TV, but even there, beyond Ted Koppel or perhaps 
Mike Wallace, what big name journalist strikes fear in the hearts of people 
with something to hide?  Who is the best investigative reporter-- not a 
scandal-monger, but a credible and fearless advocate for the truth?  Print 
journalism still has a few such people, but broadcasting seems to have 
gotten more superficial and more celebrity-oriented.   I commend WBZ Radio 
(and not just because the news director reads our posts) for covering more 
news and being more thorough than many news stations I have heard.  But 
even WBZ is limited by budgetary constraints, with less staff, especially 
on weekends.

What will the year 2001 bring?  I don't know, but I hope I am not seeing 
the end of the industry I grew up loving so much.  Years ago, stations were 
owned by broadcasters.  There was an investment in the community as well as 
an investment in making a profit.  Are there still stations that have the 
freedom to be unique and to carve out their own niche?  Yes, a few, but we 
truly need more if radio is to remain important in the years to 
come.  [rant mode off]