My post on Friday 6/3 [link] was accessed by more than 1,500 unique readers, a big day for my very specialized blog. I received lots of comments, which I posted verbatim. Many of the best comments came from folks who worked at NIS, NBC’s failed 24/7 radio news channel. Here are some of the comments and further context.
Retired VP of Programing
WTOP Washington, DC
When Jim Farley talks I listen. I first met Jim in the 1990s when I was Director of News at PRI. Farley was a consultant during the development of the program that became PRI’s The World. Farley was considered as Executive Producer for The World. PRI missed an opportunity when they didn’t choose him for the gig.
Farley was/is the most influential individual in the radio news biz. He began his career in 1966 as a “copy boy” at 1010 WINS, New York, one of the pioneers of 24/7 radio news. When Farley retired from WTOP in 2013, Jim Russell wrote a tribute to him on his blog [link]:
Farley is known for his one-liners that have inadvertently become his legacy. Sayings, such as, “Get it right, then get it first,” have become the mantras of the newsroom.
“It’s what I’ve been preaching: Radio is the medium of the here and now. You’ve got to reach out through the microphone and grab people by the lapel and say, ‘Hey buddy listen to me!’ It’s storytelling. It’s not reporting, it’s storytelling,” Farley says.
Farley was hired by NBC Radio News in 1975 and was part of the team that created NIS. He was there for every minute of NIS’s life. Here are Farley’s comments about my article:
FARLEY: Lots of inaccuracies here. I was there from the beginning to the end. One example: According to Denmark the NIS staff found out they were “toast” WHEN IT CAME OVER THE WIRES. Ugh. Wrong. The announcement was made in the NIS Newsroom by NBC News President Dick Wald.
KEN SAYS: Other folks who were at NIS at the time confirmed that what Farley said is correct. My assertion that the NIS staff heard they were being cancelled from the news wire is an urban legend. I have changed my original post to reflect the truth.
FARLEY: That scoped version of NIS was definitely not afternoon drive. This sounds like overnights. Drivetimes and other weekday hours had dual anchors.
KEN SAYS: I stand by my assertion. The person who made the aircheck told me he taped it on August 11, 1976 around 6:00pm EDT.
I apparently touched several nerves with this person.
ANONYMOUS: The quote [that NIS was one of the] biggest turds in American radio history should really destroy any credibility of the article to start with. Who the hell writes something like that? Compared to what?
As for the sound, it was equal to all network broadcasts at the time, and yes, in just a few years after RKO pushed everyone to jump into satellite broadcasting it would have sounded a hell of a lot better. The idea that going young would have been better is just ignorant.
KEN SAYS: The comment proves that the “generation gap” is still with us. The anonymous assertion that NIS was equal to all network broadcasts at the time demonstrates why NIS sounded like old-AM radio, one of its biggest faults. The creators of NIS probably weren’t aware that NIS didn’t sound like what people expected to hear on FM radio. In the mid 1970s successful FM stations had a looser, more conversational sound. To younger radio people like me, NIS sounded like it was designed by and for old farts. At that time, NIS was irrelevant noise to me.
The anonymous person who sent this comment seems to still have grudge because RKO pushed everyone to jump into satellite broadcasting and seems to resent the fact that going young was what established FM as the dominant radio platform. Roll Over Beethoven!
NIS Staffer & ABC Radio News Writer & Editor
CHAMBERLAIN: I loved working at NIS (Jim Farley hired me). There was one other technical issue that helped kill it. Just as the net was about to break 100 affiliates - rumor had it that Westinghouse was going to join us - NABET went on strike. Engineering was critical to our operation, and nobody but the engineers knew how to do it. So the quality we delivered to stations was dreadful.
I believe NIS was ahead of its time. The daytime quality if content was outstanding. I was a radio news director of a traditional AM station carrying NBC, but monitored NIS for hours at a time in the Newsroom. The staff quality was high and the presentation excellent. Better signals-and more of them--coupled with marketing money, might have turned the corner. NIS was a well kept secret to most of the nation.
KEN SAYS: It was a “secret” because almost no one listened to it.
I recall hearing NIS on WRC in DC. The need to share the distribution lines with the primary network resulted in this somewhat ridiculous situation: When NBC news sought to broadcast a bulletin, [WRC] would [say] “we interrupt our continuous news coverage to await this special bulletin from NBC News.”
NOW CHIEF CONTENT OFFICER, TECH50+ [link]
KAYE: NIS was a challenging but amazing experience for me as a journalist. I got to delve into topics in depth in ways no other radio format - including NPR would allow. We produced thirty part series on major public policy issues, case in point, "The Cost of the Campaign Promises" in which we analyzed the economic costs of the campaign pledges made by the candidates. No one did that. We did.
And yes, I was the editor on the morning after election coverage when Dick Wald walked into the newsroom and tapped his clipboard on the producer's turret, saying something like, "Boys and Girls, last night NBC had the best radio coverage of an election since the advent of television. But NBC is getting out of the all-news radio business." And that was how it really went.