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Identity theft on Chicago radio?

Here’s an opinion piece from the Chicago Tribune that bemoans the “local airwaves losing their identity to syndication.”

The author is specifically responding to the appearance of Whoopi Goldberg replacing a local personality who, it’s safe to say, few Chicagoans knew and even fewer listened to.

What’s interesting about articles like this to me is that the opinion stands in stark contrast to most of what’s real in Chicago or elsewhere. Pretend, for example, there are 30 local radio stations with four primary daparts each (Morn, Mid, Aft, Eve). That’s roughly 120 on-air personalities – the vast majority of which are locallly based.

You can trot out all the anecdotal evidence to the contrary you want, but there’s still plenty of local talent on the air. It’s just that lots of it isn’t that good. Talent, as ever, is scarce (and radio isn’t unique in that regard – check out local TV and see what I mean). Being local does not in and of itself mean listeners care about what they hear. Being good means they care.

The argument that “radio is a more intimate medium” than television is, I think, correct. But “more intimate” does not inherently mean “more local.” Walter Cronkite was remarkably intimate with his audience in his day (“Uncle Walter”?), just as Oprah is today.

From its earliest days radio has had stars, and many of those stars have been nationally syndicated.

To imagine otherwise, to paint a nostalgic Mayberryish picture of what radio is and was and should be, is the kind of quaint argument that local readers will always agree with…

…even when they go out of their way to shop at Wal*Mart, watch Jay Leno, and listen to Howard Stern or Whoopi Goldberg.

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