Friday, June 26, 2009
Network Radio and Michael Jackson's Death
Here on the West Coast it was late afternoon on Thursday, June 25, 2009 as the news spread of Michael Jackson's hospitalization and death. Our Seattle ABC and CBS radio affiliates are fairly similar in format (ABC affiliate KOMO is mostly news with a few hours of midday talk, and leverages KOMO's TV news operation for content; CBS affiliate KIRO has a morning news block and then is all personality-driven talk, recently moved from AM to FM, and has no in-house TV news operation), but each supplemented local coverage (local reactions, listener call-ins) with frequent network updates, and each reported the early speculation of Jackson's death (attributing the TMZ website as the source), at least in KIRO's case, just before 3:00 pm Pacific Time.
This was a classic contemporary radio news moment--the talking heads on cable TV (cardiologists, pop culture experts, cable news anchors) speculating while video loops of Jackson highlights/lowlights and LA hospital footage played added little to the facts of the story. Also, given that the story broke late in the traditional workday and/or during the commute home (depending on your time zone), it was a story that could be easily followed in the "dependable portable live audio" (read: terrestrial radio) format. Add to that the abundant and accessible back catalog of Jackson's music for handy use as pre- and post-commercial bumpers, and the radio-friendly equation is complete.
The best coverage of the day came at 5:30 PM Pacific Time, as CBS Radio presented a 20-minute audio special anchored by Dan Raviv, beating the network TV specials by a few hours on the West Coast and including archival audio as well as newly-recorded interviews and reports. I heard much of it, conveniently, in my car. A few hours later, I saw the opening moments of TV specials presented at 9 pm Pacific Time by ABC and NBC; each began with "live" reports from correspondents standing outdoors in Los Angeles that had, from the bright sunshine, obviously been taped a few hours earlier to be "live" for the Eastern Time Zone broadcast.