The Birth Of The All-News Radio Station

By Ken Foote, Director of Programming for CBS 11
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This past weekend, my wife and I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with nationally known news reporter and author Diane Dimond. She has been a favorite of mine for years since she was on Hard Copy and later the FOX News Channel. When we said goodbye to her, it dawned on me that the next blog I would do would be how the all news radio format came about.

From the time NBC and CBS started in the mid-1920’s until the late 1950’s, radio stations received a good portion of their programming from these two companies. While stations certainly had local programming, CBS, NBC Red, and the NBC Blue Networks provided prime time programming for radio and were the predominant suppliers. ABC was founded in the mid 1940’s as a result of a decision in a U.S. Supreme Court case, National Broadcasting Company vs. United States, 319 U.S.190, in 1943. The decision reaffirmed the authority of the Federal Communications Commission to regulate radio networks at that time. As a result, NBC was forced to divest itself of one of its networks and it became the American Broadcasting Company or as it is known today: ABC. The Mutual Broadcasting System (MBS) was a network that had more affiliates than anyone but was not as strong financially.

When television began to grow rapidly in the 1950’s, the original radio network model began to erode and as a result network radio shows were being cancelled by the dozens, many of which made the transition to TV. Radio stations were faced with the question, “what are we going to do now?”  Many radio executives felt that going all-news was a way to distinguish themselves from other stations and compete for advertising dollars being spent with newspapers. By going all-news, they could control their destiny better while charging advertisers premium spot rates.

WINS Radio in New York, which was owned by Westinghouse Electric Company and had been a Top 40 station in the early 1960’s, had some famous owners in its history such as the Gimbel’s of New York and William Randolph Hearst, who gave it the WINS call letters…..”International News Service”. WINS is credited for being one of the first stations in the U.S. to go all news. On April 19, 1965, WINS played it last top 40 song, “Out On The Streets” by the New York girl group The Shangri-Las, and then flipped formats (by the way, that song by the Shangri-Las didn’t even chart on the Billboard Top 40!).

In his autobiography, “As It Happened”, CBS Founder and Chairman William S. Paley, recalled how WCBS Radio in New York went all news. Paley was concerned about the station’s low ratings and believed that with the resources that CBS News had that they could do all news radio better than anyone and could charge rates comparable to what the New York Times did. As the story goes, Mr. Paley summoned the radio division executives for a meeting, along with WCBS station management, to discuss the format change. Supposedly, the radio management did not share Paley’s views, believing that the station would be losing too much money over a long period of time. Paley asked for further information and analysis on this proposal. When the second meeting took place, the studies showed an even greater loss of money. Paley countered that the loss would actually be a profit in a shorter amount of time. After that meeting, Paley concluded that he needed a change in management at both the radio division and the station. Joseph Dembo was the man Paley selected to get WCBS Newsradio 880 going. The new format debut on August 28, 1967……..BUT…….on WCBS-FM……as a small plane crashed into WCBS’s tower and destroyed it. Later on, CBS introduced this format to its other AM stations.

Today, CBS owns nine of the country’s largest all news radio stations in America: WCBS and WINS/New York, KNX/Los Angeles, WBBM/Chicago, KYW/Philadelphia, KCBS/San Francisco, WWJ/Detroit, KRLD/Dallas Fort Worth, and WNEW-FM Washington.   Nearly 50 years later, in spite of the Internet, Facebook, and Twitter, all-news radio lives on!

See you next time.

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