Newspapers are now permitted to buy local radio stations. But it’s not happening much yet.
I am the product of a newspaper and its locally-owned radio stations: the Asbury Park Press and WJLK AM-FM in New Jersey. I wrote for the newspaper and broadcast the news on WJLK at about the time Bruce Springsteen was performing down the street at the Stone Pony.
The newspaper/radio station plant was in one building at Press Plaza. The radio studios were on the fifth floor. The radio newsroom and broadcast booth were in the newspaper newsroom on the second floor. WJLK had its own on-air news staff and a news director who reported to the newspaper’s managing editor. We worked alongside the print reporters. By carbon copy, we shared the wires. Every time a print reporter filed a story with the newspaper editor, we got a copy.
We wrote and broadcast 10 minutes of news, sports and weather at the top of every hour. We sent headlines in a pneumatic tube to the DJs upstairs, which they read at the bottom of the hour. We read the school lunch menus at 7 a.m. every weekday morning and the obits at 1 p.m. every day, seven days a week. Just the name, age and community of residence. “The Asbury Park Press regrets to announce the names of the following area residents who have died recently…” It always was sponsored.
We ended every newscast with the tag line, “And remember to read the Asbury Park Press seven days a week.” Every day the newspaper had a prominent ad promoting the radio station’s programming, sales remotes and such. The cross-promotion was constant, and so was the cross-selling. Print advertisers also bought radio air time to promote their campaigns, especially the car dealers. The print and radio sales staff often worked in teams.
As for content, the wall between news and advertising certainly was up, but advertisers were allowed in the building to meet staff, especially the radio staff. The bigger, local advertisers loved local sports and we did plenty of that. “Civilians” get a rush when they meet reporters and columnists they read in the newspaper and personalities they listen to on their favorite radio station.
I left the Asbury Park Press for the AP in Washington and later became an AP broadcast sales rep and AP deputy director in New York, and because of my experience, I did not understand the cobra and mongoose relationship between newspaper and radio. People say there are cultural differences between the two. Yes, it is true. Some in radio view print as elitist. Some newspaper folks distrust radio, thinking radio personalities are unstable and prone to bad behavior. These attitudes can be managed.
It’s time for newspapers to try a radio combination by making smart acquisitions and enforcing some discipline. The same way religious broadcasters can be with their flocks all the time, radio is a way for newspapers to be connected with their readers all the time. If radio budgets are thin, newspaper talent is a way to supplement programming and promote themselves. What about the newspaper sports writer or columnist hosting a weekend (or daily) radio program? How about two or three hours of pre-game on NFL Sundays? There also is real estate, gardening, automotive, legal, financial and so much more, all non-political. And what about the reverse, like a radio sports or other personality writing a column in the newspaper? Broadcasters can write too.
But the way not to do this is to slam the two cultures together and simply tell the management of each to work it out.
I like the Asbury Park model—a print publisher with a subordinate radio manager and specialized sellers who can team up as needed, and not ever sell against each other, but rather sell print/radio packages. As for the news, all of it should report to the newspaper managing editor, who can whip the entire news staff into cooperation.
Radio stations are such a bargain right now. Especially AM radio. Filling the program day with interesting, non-divisive programming is not that difficult. Syndicated sports and late night/overnight programs would fit just fine. That said, a good, locally produced morning drive time radio program with male and female hosts is really important. Make your radio station the “go to” place for information and companionship.
Glenn Serafin founded media brokerage Serafin Bros., Inc. in 1993 and served two terms as president of the National Association of Media Brokers from 2013-2017. He can be reached at [email protected]