It was stated here recently that radio is alive and well. However, regret was expressed that the three allnews stations formerly heard here have now dwindled to one part-time news operation, WTOP.
The new WTOP devotes much of its time to revenue-producing commercials, which are essential to commercial broadcasting, and to talk shows and game broadcasts, which are not. And the "all-news" station fritters away much of the scant time that remains. It airs innumerable announcements devoted to self promotion -- commercials that tell us what a great news service WTOP provides.
About three dozen readers responded to that column. Most agreed with my views, but four disagreed strongly because they like talk shows. Two posed questions, and we can dispose of them first.
A Fairfax reader asked, "How competent is the man who broadcasts the Associated Press stock report you mentioned?"
I'd say Alan Schaertel is quite competent. He has been a broadcaster for years, was once a broker, and has a good understanding of financial news.
For my taste, he is too much attuned to possibly ominous overtones in each day's business news, but time may prove him right and me wrong. Perhaps the sky really is falling.
Schaertel's market report is fed to the network at 15 minutes after the hour. It is broadcast by WTOP on a whimsical schedule that usually ranges between 20 and 27 minutes after the hour. A half hour later, WTOP often broadcasts a stale "update" that is 55 minutes old.
Ruby M. Thornton asked what we can do to have our opinions about programs taken into account.
I think a short, simple and sincere letter is the most effective tool. Address your letter to an appropriate person or company -- to the station manager, or owner, or the network that carries (or drops) a program. Also to the sponsors involved.
These are the people who have a pocketbook interest in pleasing listerners. A phone call might get you a snippy response from an underling who doesn't care whether you listen or don't. A letter will probably find its way to somebody who does care.
Letters sent to newspapers or to the Federal Communications Commission seldom do much good. I can't help you save a program that's being canceled; I can't help you terminate a program that's being continued. And the FCC's right to interfere in program content is so very limited that most of the complaints sent to it are misdirected.
If you fail to write, your views will not be known to those who make their living by pleasing people like you.
Of the four letters that criticized my comments about talk shows, one began with, "I phone in regularly to several of these shows and think they are great. How come you're so busy you don't have time to listen? You might learn something."
I. Moore of McLean sent a postal card that said, "You have done a great disservice to insomniacs and night toliers. Larry King, whom you maligned in your column, is only rude and arrogant to the bores who really have nothing to say anyway. This keeps his show the most interesting on the air. We are grateful that the W.P. is finally giving us a column of radio news. Don't spoil that good turn by harming Larry King's popularity."
Jerry H. Gregory of Annandale wrote: "I enjoy all facets of radio one being talk shows. I've called in mostly to the sportstalk programs. I consider myself well versed in sports especially baseball. I take exception to your rude remarks that talk show participants are inarticulate, repetitive and windup have nothing to say.
"I think you took a cheap shot in your March 5 column when you didn't have all the facts. You, being a veteran newspaperman, 'booted' this one.Did you ever stop to reflect that all your columns were not interesting, informative and woundup saying nothing."
Larry King, the Mutual Broadcasting System talk show host heard on WTOP, wrote: "I have been interviewing people from all walks of life for 21 years. 2 hours of my show each nite (Bobby Seale this evening) is devoted to the interview before we even go to phone calls. Objectively, the responsive caller on our program outnumbers the poor quality caller 10-1. Are most people who write to newspapers -- or read them -- inarticulate?" A postscript added, "The host has a name."
So he has. And he and his supporters have now had a chance to speak their minds without being cut off or argued with.