WHYN employed three full-time newspeople, and all of them (news director Denise Vozella, Sid Whitaker, and Bill Erickson) have been offered jobs at Metro's Hartford newsroom, which will provide news for WHYN.
WHYN's Gary James tells NERW that "this is an opportunity for the WHYN listeners to get even more local coverage because of the resources of Metro," and he says that while the WHYN/Metro news staff will be based in Hartford, they'll still do street reporting in Springfield and have an office at the WHYN studios.
Other Springfield-area radio listeners aren't quite as optimistic; recently-retired WHYN anchor Ron Russell (DeMatteo) tells the Springfield Union-News that the change feels "like a death in my immediate family." And while WHYN management says listeners won't notice any difference on the air, NERW has learned that the current WHYN news staffers aren't in any hurry to accept Metro's job offers in Hartford, meaning WHYN listeners could soon hear a new set of voices at the top of each hour. NERW has also learned that Hartford's WTIC (1080), targeted as one of Metro's likely clients for the Hartford newsroom, has decided to stick with its own news operation because of concerns about the depth and quality of Metro's offerings.
NERW's editorial opinion: This is undoubtedly a good business deal for WHYN and Clear Channel, which get to replace the personnel and equipment costs of running a newsroom with a flat fee payment to Metro. WHYN may even be right in claiming that most listeners won't notice that anything has changed right away. But in the long run, this is bad news for the Springfield community and for radio news in general. WHYN has always been the pre-eminent radio news operation in Springfield, with quality local reporting and deep ties to the area.
WHYN management may be deeply convinced that its reporters will be able to function effectively while based in Hartford; certainly they're making a lot of promises about maintaining a street presence in Springfield. But we've seen Metro in action over the last few years, ever since ARS closed the newsrooms at WRKO (680) and the former WHDH (850) in Boston and farmed the news product out to Metro. Metro succeeds by keeping costs low and by consolidating resources for multiple stations. That means that the reporters and anchors who now focus solely on Springfield could find themselves providing news for New Haven (where local media circles are already buzzing about a possible Metro contract at Clear Channel's WELI (960), another venerable and highly-respected newsroom), Bridgeport, or Norwich, while still trying to gather and report Springfield news. NERW suspects that within a year or two, the opportunities that Metro's newspeople have to report from Springfield will probably disappear as their workload grows.
Another thing we've noticed about Metro's news operations: a near-total lack of original reporting. Most of the news heard on Metro's Boston clients comes from TV, the newspaper, or wire services (although Metro tends not to subscribe to the AP wire). Radio's strength is its ability to be first with the news, something WHYN has excelled at through the years. Radio is of no value to the listener if it's rehashing the news they've already seen on TV or read in the morning paper. In all the time Metro has operated a Boston newsroom, we've never seen a Metro reporter out on the streets.
This is also bad news for radio listeners elsewhere in New England. WHYN's newsroom has long been an important source for the Associated Press, as well as for other radio stations (WBZ in Boston, for instance, has a long relationship with WHYN and often uses its reporters as Western Massachusetts stringers) and for the ABC Radio Network.
And it's saddest of all for news consumers in Springfield, who lose one of just four major local newsrooms (the others are the Union-News, WGGB-TV, and WWLP-TV). No matter how good the intentions, the fact remains that you can't cover Springfield as well from 45 minutes away as you can from the heart of downtown. There's no substitute for being there -- driving the city's streets every day, listening to the scanner traffic, reading the newspapers, and interacting with the locals. That's much harder to do from across the state line. Westfield's WNNZ (640) now becomes the only Springfield-station with a local, full-time news presence, and while it tries hard, it's still a smaller shop than WHYN ever was.
Finally, there's the whole issue of newsroom consolidation in general. Radio news thrives on competition; it used to be that the most important thing about getting a story on WBZ was to beat WEEI and WHDH (and vice versa). When everybody's operating out of the same newsroom, that competitive drive can't help but disappear. And there's no question that radio news is losing its ability to attract quality talent. As newsrooms close and jobs disappear, there are fewer and fewer places for young journalists to hone their skills -- and consequently more reasons for them to choose careers in TV, print, or on-line journalism instead.
It's an ugly time out there in radio news, whether you're a listener or whether you work behind the scenes. What's happening at WHYN is just one small symptom of the disease that's killing the industry.
Soapbox mode off, and on with the rest of the week's news:
Down the Cape, it was a great spring for classical WFCC, which tied for first place 12+ with AC WQRC. Talker WXTK was third, with classic rock WCIB, CHR WRZE, and standards WOCN following. The rest of the top 10 were AC WCOD, rocker WPXC, AAA WMVY, and rocker WKPE. Satellite-fed rock WWKJ and standards WJCO brought up the rear. WCIB led the 18-34 and 25-34 demos.
Checking things out in Providence, CHR WPRO-FM rose more than two points to land at a solid number-one 12+, followed by winter #1 WWLI and oldies WWBB. Standards WLKW pulled in a hefty chunk of older listeners, enough for #4 12+, followed by rocker WHJY, hot AC WSNE, and talk WPRO. Country WCTK, classic rock WWRX, and dance/CHR WWKX brought up the rest of the top-10. WWKX was off more than a share, with a lot of the listenership defecting to dancer WDGF, which doubled its winter book. Top-rated Boston station in Providence was classical WCRB, which landed at #13 12+, possibly helped along by its Newport translator.
More ratings news next week!
Radio with pictures: WBZ-TV 4 has been seen with yet another new variation on its logo; gone is "News 4 New England," in favor of "News 4 CBS Boston." Channel 4 has also picked up EXTRA! to fill the 7 pm slot vacated by Dan Rather when the CBS Evening News moved to 6:30 last week. WHDH-TV 7 has added reporter Craig Steven from sister station WSVN in Miami. And Channels 4, 5, and 7 will all be adding new viewers a few hundred miles away. The cable system in St. John's, Newfoundland has been granted permission to add Boston's big three in place of the Detroit stations it had been carrying. Meantime, local programming continues to vanish from Boston University's WABU-TV (Channel 68); it's cancelled the "Consider This" talk show that once ran five nights a week.
Out west, Northfield's WNMH (91.5) has added legal IDs to its satellite CHR summertime programming, with a liner announcing the "91 and a half days of summer" -- which, interestingly enough, is almost exactly the correct length of summer...
Brian Dodge has applied for renewal for his network of translators across northern New England, but he may not have anything to carry on them. Capital Media Corporation, the owner of WHAZ (1330 Troy) and WMYY-FM (97.3 Schoharie NY), has sent Dodge a letter informing him that his permission to rebroadcast WMYY on his translators is being revoked at month's end. Gary Kenny, the nominal owner of W221AP (92.1 Westfield), has been sent a letter saying his permission to relay WMYY is denied immediately, because the station was allegedly operating from the top of Mount Tom with more power than authorized. Much more on this one next week...
A few towers have vanished from the Connecticut skyline. The two towers of the old WQQW (1590 Waterbury) have been removed, leaving the single stick of WWCO on the site they once shared. And WTNH (Channel 8) has removed its old tower from its hilltop site outside New Haven now that the new tower is up and running.
And that's it for this week...see you next Thursday!