By Holland Cooke
BLOCK ISLAND, RI — Buzz-of-The-Biz in recent days: WTOP-FM, Washington offers newsroom staffers voluntary separation buyouts. Even radio’s top-billing station – owned by venerable Hubbard – is feeling the pinch. “Welcome to the club,” broadcasters elsewhere shrug.
Disclosure: I programmed that station for seven years in the 1980s, and hired some of the voices still heard there. And in today’s “gig economy,” with remote work now so commonplace, there’s new opportunity for the nimble.
It’s like Uber for newscasters
Too many news/talk stations are down to a single full-time anchor, working morning drive. Then? Some air midday and afternoon newscasts pre-recorded by the morning voice, others merely clear a network on-hour; neither of which fully deliver on promos’ promise that “We’ve gotcha covered.”
For years, several of my client stations have kept-it-local using Remote News Service or Virtual News Center, and RNS founder Lesley Lotto says her subscribers “work with us like we’re the news department, we’re just not down the hall.” And as “business has grown steadily since COVID and with the potential for a recession in the coming months,” her VNC counterpart Joel Dearing says “our anchors and reporters enjoy working from home.”
Some RNS and VNC newscasters are moonlighting after their day jobs; others make their living doing remote local news for multiple markets. Lotto avoids talent “looking to stop over on their way to their next fulltime gig. This is a career opportunity, side-hustle or supplemental gig.”
“We always like to have a good bench.”
With station budgets strained, demand is up, so Dearing is braced: “We could sign a deal tomorrow that will require new talent.” Lotto too is “always looking for talent, but not just a voice. You have to sound like a person, not a robot!” She needs “great references,” and people “people who do not add opinion, ever.”
Think also: vacation relief. And flu. Lesley Lotto says “If your technology goes down, tell me. If you have someone out sick, tell me. If you need a fill-in, tell me.” And Joel Dearing offers “a variety of options to meet the station’s needs. Some stations are good with a dry read newscast, other stations want beat calls, and voicers or wraps in the newscast.”
Pro tip, based on my experience with client stations using these services: Tell them exactly what you need. They want to sound like part of your on-air family, not an outsource. Dearing says “the ‘set it and forget it’ mindset will not produce stellar results.” And Lotto says “sometimes stations are so comfortable with us, we never hear from them, which is nice, but could be an issue too!”
Holland Cooke (HollandCooke.com) is a consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. He is author of and “Inflation Hacks: Save Those Benjamins,” the E-book and FREE on-air features; and “Multiply Your Podcast Subscribers, Without Buying Clicks,” available from Talkers books; and “Spot-On: Commercial Copy Points That Earned The Benjamins,” a FREE download. Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke