I’ve mentioned 1010 WINS on this blog before. For those of you non-New Yorkers out there, 1010 is an AM radio station that was founded in 1924, but adopted a 24-hour news format in 1965. In the fifties, 1010 was one of the first radio stations to play that evil rock-and-roll music, but by the sixties the frequency figured out a format that was far more addictive: news, all day, and all night.
Personally, I’ve always been hip to talk radio, and I even find myself getting all nostalgic for, oh, a nanosecond when someone mentions Rush Limbaugh, only because my grandmother would listen to his rants in the kitchen while preparing dinner. 1010 holds a different, far more tender place in my heart because, as many New Yorkers can relate, it was the station that we listened to in the house while getting ready for school. I associate their trademark ticker sound with scrambled eggs and snow days. I’ve kept 1010 flowing on my speakers in every city I’ve lived in since the dawn of Internet radio. Here in Oklahoma, it is the most consistent reminder of my Manhattan roots, and it helps me feel connected to my mother, who still listens to WINS every morning.
So it seemed only sensible to contact one of their writers to inquire as to the ins-and-outs of writing for the stalwart tri-state station, and post the resulting interview on this blog.
The response I received to my email included the line, “I believe blogs, and all similarly portrayed Internet streams of consciousness, are self-serving and humorless.”
Surprised, sort of, to be met with this variety of Noo Yawk style of friendliness, I decided that I should still post about radio news writing, albeit without any insider information. As for 1010 WINS, you give them twenty-two minutes, they give you the world, but you give them an email, and they give you a piece of their mind.
Journalism for news radio requires unique and well-honed editing skills. It’s similar to penning lyrics to a song, the writer has to keep in mind not only the facts, but the format. Brief, aurally-pleasing, factually-accurate stories need to be written and handed over expeditiously and consistently. I still imagine cigarette smoking men with mutton chops calling police precincts for “the scoop,” using monikers like mac, bub, and chief.
News radio still requires scanning a police report and omitting certain details, while keeping the pertinent information in tact. It’s important to avoid what’s referred to as “cop talk,” or vague conjecture mixed with necessary specifics. It’s also crucial to balance a conversational tone with a command of the story. According to Newswriting for Radio, “Radio reporters need to strike a balance in the language they use. Scripts cannot be ploddingly detailed and dull, yet being too colloquial may lead to sloppiness and lack of credibility.” I wonder how many journalists have to refrain from weaving in the words “schmuck,” “idiot,” and “motherfucking” when writing stories about the economy and celebrities.
Another snippet from the WINS writer’s response was, “Being a newswriter really doesn’t give one credentials for any other job but a newswriter, and there are about four positions available in that field in New York City. I’m no important figure in journalism. Just lucky and stupid.”
Now, while I wouldn’t want to write for the radio in general, it surprises me that there are so few positions in Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs, especially in light of the fact that there are a fair amount of radio stations in the metro area that specialize in news, commentary on current events, or a combination of both. Moreover, for as much as it seems as though traditional media is experiencing a slow death, the Internet has become the go-to outlet where radio stations across the spectrum — including 1010 — can be portable, pervasive, and, most importantly, relevant. So why the gloom-and-doom approach to radio jobs? Maybe the answer comes down to the same reason why nobody is hiring: fear. To welcome in new blood is to possibly pass over the mantle of your job onto someone else. Besides, if you know the secrets of a small industry, why share? Like the Freemasons, Skull & Bones, and the Palladists, there’s a protected code that isn’t to be freely exposed to the (blogging) public.
Although I couldn’t get any personal tidbits of how an employee of one of my favorite news station came to be the emcee of events in my hometown, I can only assume that being a news radio writer requires a degree in journalism, a related Internship, a passion for current events, and a large bottle of melatonin, as the hours can range from vampiric to narcoleptic.
The previous paths of the forefathers of broadcast journalism are varied:
Arthur W. Arundel, the man who founded all-news radio at WAVA Washington in 1960, was a Harvard graduate and returned from both the Korean and Vietnam Wars with Purple Hearts as a Marine combat officer. So the news was probably no great shakes to a man who not only blazed a trail on the AM dial, but also founded ArCom Publishing, Inc.
Gordon McLendon, aka “The Old Scotchman,” produced WNUS in Chicago, another spearhead of the fledgling all-news radio movement in the ’60s. His CV includes a degree from Yale, fighting in World War II, and very brief foray into Harvard Law School before opting to become a broadcast buff. Another credential of his that’s completely badass includes co-producing two movies in 1959: The Killer Shrews and The Giant Gila Monster. I can almost guarantee that McLendon’s legacy of news radio is still making people paranoid far more than his B-movies ever did.
William L. Shirer, known best for being the original “embedded” correspondent by reporting from Berlin during World War II for CBS, attended Coe College in Iowa and was friends with Ghandi.
So if history is to serve as a guide, in order to make a name for yourself in news radio you need a degree from an accredited university and you have to have actually attended a war in some capacity, and it helps to have friends in high places. So even though I don’t have any desire for a career in broadcast journalism, I can find a smidgen of smoggy, Manhattan hope in the 1010 WINS’s writer’s sendoff to his declination to be interviewed: “I still have a place in my heart for struggling writers with enormously unpopular dreams.”
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