Baltimore has pretty much become a one-horse town, at least where radio news is concerned.
Wednesday, WPOC-FM (93.1) announced that it was eliminating afternoon news broadcasts to concentrate solely on morning drive-time news. That leaves WBAL-AM (1090) as pretty much the only game in town when it comes to afternoon news. Other stations may read the news off a wire, get it from a news network or pick up national broadcasts, but WBAL is the only station with a staff still gathering and reporting the news during the day and night.
The cutback "reflects what is going on around the nation," says Rick Katz, professor of rhetoric and communications at Towson State University. "Radio has diminished as a source of investigative news.'
That, he adds, is not good for the radio news industry, even for the survivors.
"I think competition as a general rule helps hone news investigation and news delivery," Dr. Katz says.
WPOC's decision came after audience research showed afternoon listeners were less concerned with hearing the news than with hearing more music, says the station's general manager, Jim Dolan.
"On any FM music station, probably 80 percent of the people are really not willing to sacrifice music for the news," Mr. Dolan says. "In morning drive, it's something that's an integral part of their day. But in the the afternoon, music really is the focus. We wanted to make the morning drive-time news product the best it can be." WPOC will broadcast five-minute news reports on the hour, 1 1/2 minutes on the half-hour, from 5 a.m. to 8: 30 a.m. Among the broadcasts eliminated are five minutes at noon and four two-minute reports in the afternoon.
For now, no positions will be eliminated in the WPOC news department, Mr. Dolan says. The station employs four full-time and two part-time news staffers.
Thinking along much the same lines as Dr. Katz, WBAL news director Mark Miller was far from delighted to hear about WPOC's decision.
"I don't want to see any information-gathering source go out of business," he said Thursday afternoon. "It troubles me as a Baltimorean that, if you live in this city, if there is anything that is mildly interesting from a news standpoint, there's only one source to go to for information."
Sadly, he notes, WPOC's announcement continued a downward trend in the Baltimore news market.
"I've been with WBAL since 1979, and back then, it was not uncommon to go and cover an event and have nine radio stations represented there," he says. "It's kind of sad, as an industry."
For Sisters Only
Looking for something to do today? How about stopping by the "For Sisters Only" convention at the Baltimore Convention center?
Sponsored by WXYV-FM (107.7) and WCAO-AM (600), the convention is devoted to issues of concern to African-American women, with a focus this year on health. Visitors will find fashion exhibits; seminars on beauty, health, careers and finances; entertainment and shopping opportunities.
The convention runs today from noon to 8 p.m.
Odd things happen
"The Odyssey" is definitely weird, I'll give it that.
This four-year-old Canadian TV series, airing in this country for the first time beginning at 8: 30 tonight on the Sci-Fi Channel, may be too bizarre for some tastes. The station's publicists say it's part "Lord of the Flies," part "The Prisoner." Fair enough, but there's also a bit of "The Road Warrior" (especially the costumes), "Bugsy Malone" (little kids acting out adult parts), "The Wizard of Oz" (there's no place like home) and even some Homer.
The series' central character is a young boy who falls out of a treehouse, lapses into a coma, and in his imagination wanders through a strange world ruled by a mysterious 15-year-old named Brad (is it a coincidence that's the first name of the show's director?). "The Odyssey shifts back and forth between reality, where young Jay lies in a coma, and fantasy, as he and two companions struggle to get him home.
The show at times is strange just for the sake of being strange, but that's forgivable. The sets are particularly impressive, especially a hide-out in episode three that seems like some demented "Chuck E. Cheese" fantasy. And while you've seen better kid actors, the three principals aren't bad at all.
Kids, particularly, may enjoy the show. It contains no really objectionable material, so parents may want to give it a try. They, too, might get hooked.
On the ocean
Tonight and tomorrow on A&E;, be sure to check out the two-part "Floating Palaces," a look at more than 150 years of oceangoing vessels -- all from the deck of the Queen Elizabeth II as it travels from Southampton, England, to New York City and back again.
Part one, airing from 8 to 10 tonight, tells the story of the thousands of large and small ships that brought immigrants to these shores from Europe during the 19th century. The show includes visits to several of the most popular starting points for those trans-Atlantic journeys, including Liverpool, England; Cuxhaven and Hamburg, Germany; and Cobb Island, Ireland. It also visits the most popular destination, by far: Ellis Island, N.Y.
Part two, airing from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. tomorrow, looks at the luxury liners that dominated the seas during the Atlantic's Golden Age: Titanic, Leviathan, Mauretania, Lusitania, Queen Mary.
Check it out, for a taste of an era we'll never see again.
Pub Date: 4/14/96