Today’s Courier Herald Column:
This has been an active year in the Atlanta media market, with changes abounding in personnel and formats at our local TV and radio stations. WGST radio, an AM talk station that had managed to remain a viable talk-news format in the shadow of Cox’s WSB juggernaut abruptly dumped its entire lineup Wednesday as WSB announced the signing of WGST’s flagship syndication of Rush Limbaugh. A station for political dialogue that did a good job of focusing on state and local issues is rumored to be considering comedy or sports talk.
Meanwhile on the FM dial, DaveFM’s owners have decided it too will join the sports talk space, a few weeks after the vestiges of Atlanta’s original hard rock station vanished. 96 Rock, which had recently transitioned to something called Project 9-6-1, has now gone full pop featuring Katy Perry and One Direction. Atlanta, a top 10 media market, now appears only to want to offer several versions of two or three “safe” formats for listeners – and advertisers – to choose from.
Bigger changes have been made with key personalities. Earlier this year, WSB radio talk show host Neil Boortz announced he will retire upon the inauguration of whichever President we elect this November. Boortz has been on Atlanta radio since 1969. To put that in perspective, that is the year I was born and the year man walked on the moon. I’m old and I have gray hair. Boortz is a living institution.
On WSB’s television station, Anchor Monica Kaufmann Pearson signed off from her final broadcast this summer, having been on the air at the same station since 1975. She too has been part of Atlanta and Georgia’s news for literally as long as I can remember.
Change is a constant part of life, but the changes we’re seeing in the Atlanta market reflect a growing reality of how we receive our news and entertainment as much as the fact that people tend to move on over time. Our viewing and listening habits are changing, and advertisers are aware of this. Without advertisers, those who provide us with valuable public services are left as non-profits. Investors generally don’t appreciate the term “non-profit”.
As the Atlanta media market has grown, the connection to individuals within the market has been somewhat lost as well. A viewing audience of 5 million people plus is hard to localize. Folks with ever shrinking attention spans are not likely to wait through a story about a distant suburb while waiting to hear news about their own.
Program directors are constantly attempting to find the calculus of mixing the right amount of stories or news that will impact and interest the widest section of viewers. Those viewers, meanwhile, have many more options to choose from that don’t involve regular programming. Internet based options such as Hulu and Pandora have allowed consumers to find programming that matches their specific tastes at the same time the legacy broadcasters are trying to figure out how to be more general. It’s a difficult business model to solve.
So why is all of this in a column about Georgia politics? In some way, it is one difference that continues to separate Atlanta and its people from the rest of the state. More rural communities outside of Atlanta still have radio, TV, and newspapers that can focus on local viewers where they live. As such, our smaller towns still have media institutions that promote a sense of community. Meanwhile, half of our state lives in a largely homogenous doughnut surrounding the capitol city yet feels little or no connection to each other.
There’s quite a bit of local pride remaining in much of Georgia’s other cities and towns. There are media institutions there to help bring and bind them together. In Atlanta, however, we have twenty versions of pop music and an increasing number of places to call and vent about Saturday’s game. And a bunch of people who live near each other, are demographically similar, and think regionalism is the spawn of the devil.
Atlanta remains a town where people live closer and closer together and remain further and further apart.