Tuesday, September 23, 2008

WJMA -- Past and Future

There's an interesting correlation between the "golden age" of Radio Orange (WJMA-FM), and the current direction radio needs to move in.

Here's the past:

In the late 1970's, WJMA had a virtual lock on local news. They had two reporters, one who worked primarily in the mornings, the other mainly at night, with an overlap during the day. Between them, they could cover any local government or other important community activity that happened during the week.

They also had five stringers, who phoned in reports from the five surrounding counties. Each stringer gave a weekly report. Each report ran on a certain weekday, so listeners knew, for example, that the Culpeper Report ran on Mondays, the Greene Country Report ran on Tuesdays, and so on.

Arch Harrison, the station owner, offered his own op-ed segment, "Postscript to the News," which ranged far and wide over a variety of topics, of local and national interest. There was a sports director who interviewed the high school coaches of the five counties -- each coach's report airing on a certain day of the week. Sports fans knew that Monday was Orange's Coach K., Tuesday was Madison's coach Eddie Dean and so on.

There was also a public affairs program, "Monday at One," where guests of interest to the community were interviewed -- local politicians, charity heads, visiting dignitaries, event organizers, and others.

Was all that news necessary? You bet. Folks within the listening area of Radio Orange knew that if they passed an accident during the day, they could tune into the next news cast and find out what happened.

Was it worth it for the station? Yes, in many ways. Every single segment -- the county reports, the coaches' corners, the newscast, Monday at One -- all of it was sponsored and generated money for the station. And it built and sustained audiences.

Folks interested in local sports listened to Radio Orange. People wanting to keep up with their community listened to Radio Orange. People wanting to get news before it showed up in the weekly paper listened to Radio Orange.

Here's the future:

All of that valuable content that the old Radio Orange created on a daily basis would be solid gold on a station website.

First off, all of those special segments could live as downloadable audio files on the website -- and they could all be sponsored. They could also be repurposed as podcasts. I would love to subscribe to a "Postscript to the News" daily podcast. And those, too, could be sponsored.

Imagine the "Coaches Corner" as a video podcast (and as a video posted to the website).

Now the old Radio Orange main newscasts went on for a while -- no surprise given all they had to broadcast. A shorter form of the interviews and stories could run over the air, with the tagline for each story being the same: "to hear more, go to our website, WJMA.com/news."

The "Monday at One" segments could also be made  available as downloadable audio -- and if the studio setup was relatively static, a camera or two could be permanently positioned to record the interviews. Not only would video make for much more compelling content (read: more downloads, more traffic, more ad revenue), but there might an opportunity to sell the footage to other news outlets, such as the regional TV stations.

I like to think that if the creative, innovative staff that served the station so well during its golden age was currently producing the same quality content, all of this would have already happened.

So what's happening on the website of the current owners of WJMA? Well, we've been staring at a placeholder with no links for 100 days now.

Sometimes the good old days really are.

- Ralph

Day 100 of the WJMA Web Watch.

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