WOR, the New York radio station whose programming philosophy rests securely on the assumption that 10,000 words are worth one picture, recently launched a campaign that may be unprecedented in the annals of broadcasting - it is entering into competition with night-time television.
The station, which not long ago celebrated its 42d birthday, has for some time been in the small company of broadcasters who feel the human voice can be employed for nobler purposes than time checks and weather watches. Its evening lineup now consists exclusively of a diversified combination of ''talk" programs which, the station's management feels, offer the most effective way of providing the quality which television fare most consistently lacks - spontaneity.
In these days of formula shows, carefully edited tapes and canned laughter, unpredictability and spontaneity are often the elements which 'audiences most miss. No one, for example, needs a crystal ball to know that Perry Mason is going to save his client's cause at the eleventh hour or that The Fugitive will ultimately outwit his pursuers in order to be able to run another day.
"We've been building up to the effort for about a year," vice president and station manager Robert S. Smith, said recently. "Radio has too long been in the background at night. Entertainment is our first consideration, but at the same time we try to insure that our programs are intelligent and informative. In this respect, we feel we're operating in an area from which other broadcasters have defected."
Barry Farber, who leads off the station's nighttime schedule, once demonstrated his considerable linguistic ability by interviewing 22 policemen in as many languages. Out of consideration for his audience, however, he normally conducts his frequently controversial interview show in the
He attributes part of his show's success to the increased freedom enjoyed by broadcasters today as compared with only four or five years ago. "'When I began interviewing," he explains, "it was assumed that there were certain subjects which could not be mentioned on the air. Today I make a point of not asking obvious questions in favor of trying to break new ground. Controversial programs are often the most stimulating, but I don't seek controversy for its own sake."
Vincent Tracy, a newcomer to WOR, conducts a discussion program of a type which the station feels has never before been attempted on radio. Mr. Tracey attempts to throw light on personal and emotional problems which, when discussed informally and in the language of laymen, can be reassuring and illuminating.
Some Help Needed
The program, as he describes it, is premised on the belief that there are people who need help and people who want to give it. A recent guest, for example, Sam Levenson," Mr. Tracy said, "simply recalled the manner in which the traditions and philosophy which he learned as a child served as a guide to him throughout his later life. It was a serious, even inspiring discussion, but conducted in an offhand and humorous manner."
Although his monologues often presuppose an intimate acquaintance with Flexible Flyers, the Chicago Cubs and other arcane aspects of American life, Jean Shepherd in his 10 years with the station has acquired a large and faithful following. His deceptively spontaneous and formless reminiscences are actually the work of a serious performer who understands the resources of radio as an entertainment medium.
Mr. Shepherd, who formerly held down the 11:15 to midnight segment but now signs on an hour earlier, explains the change as resulting from the fact that so many of his listeners are to be found on college campuses. "The station was receiving so many complaints from college authorities that students were having difficulty arriving for early morning classes, the station decided to move me up an hour. Who says WOR isn't on the side of education? Students who have overcut English 2 will have to find a new excuse."
Late Film Competition
Competition for the late show, the late late show, etc., is provided by Tex McCrary and Long John Nebel. A veteran radio-TV performer who estimates he has interviewed some 25,000 people during his career, Mr. McCrary attributes his success to the fact that "what interests me interests other people.''
As a rule, Mr. McCrary prefers to shun controversy. "My philosophy is like that of the late Tex Rickard," he explains. "I would rather promote fights than get in the ring.
One notable exception was a recent interview with Robert Moses. Mr. McCrary began the show by reading off a list of what he felt were the 10 biggest mistakes made by Mr. Moses over the course of his career. For once Mr. McCrary found himself on the wrong side of the ropes.
Long John Nebel
Seven nights a week, beginning at midnight and continuing until the listener falls asleep, Long John Nebel conducts a panel show which for the range and variety of guests and subjects discussed probably has no rival on the air. WOR's 50,000 watts go out to a wide area during the early morning, and the recent announcement that Long John will take his iron-clad vocal chords to WNBC this summer has insomniacs in 27 states wondering how the 36 hours of air time left open by his departure will be filled.
But the question is one the station would prefer not to answer at the moment. "We will say this much, though," a spokesman said recently, the time will definitely be filled by talk." ||
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