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.

I looked on the CBS News website to try and find the Raviv radio broadcast to no avail. If you can find it, please let me know. Lastly, as with previous breaking news of this tawdry nature, I didn't even think of tuning in NPR until a few hours later. I wish that wasn't the case!

1 comment:

  1. I was at home working with MSNBC's all Farrah all the Time coverage when the "Breaking News" garphic banner suddenly appeared across the bottom of the screen, and one of their talking heads appeared saying that Jackson was taken to the hospital unconscious. Recalling the Anna Nicole Smith coverage, I've learned that unconscious means dead. And even though L.A. Times was reporting he was in a coma, TMZ had pronouced him dead not 1 minutes after word first came on MSNBC. I had o leave the TV coverage behind at about 4 when I set out in the car heading for Vancouver BC to see my sweetheart and I figured I'd see what I could find on the two stations that are closest to oldies in format, a Bellingham FM Classic Rock Station KISM 92.9 and a Vancouver FM "Greatest Hits of All Time" format (104.9 CKCL)that plays 60s, 70s & early 80s, which has Jackson 5 songs in its rotation. Only the B'ham station had a brief mention. I thought that I would be hearing at least someting by Michael Jackson, or possibly a block of Jackson much like the way Elvis songs took over the airwaves seemingly immediately in the summer of '77. Never ever thought of tuning in to CBS given their thin early afternoon news coverage; the only CBS affilate nearby, Bellingham's KPUG 1170 is all sports and only plays the hourly CBS report. On my way home fro vancouver this morning, I tuned in for the 7 am CBS news b'cast and a commercial ran long over the top of the hour and covered most of the lead Michael Jackson story. Anyhow, the funeral should be quite a spectacle . . .