Monday, June 6, 2005

Here is the News

KMIZ in Columbia recently expanded their early morning newscast so that it now begins at 5:00 AM CST. Never mind that to me 5:00 AM is not early morning but late, late night, it seems to me that they would not have very much of an audience at that time of the night (mid-Missouri is not a metropolitan area where people have to get up extra early for the commute....). Regardless, it is simply one more change in the local news here in Little Dixie that has occured over the many years.

As strange as it may seem, the history of local news on television goes back nearly 80 years. The first local newscast took place on May 10, 1928, on the experimental television station in Albany, New York that would eventually be called W2XB (later WRGB). It consisted of the station manager simply reading the weather and farm reports.

Newscasts on local stations in the late Forties and early Fifties would not be terribly different from that first newscast in 1928. For the most part they would simply consist of an announcer reading the news. As the Fifties progressed, local stations started using film to record news events. Live coverage of news events were still a thing of the future. Newscasts were also much, much shorter in the Fifties. Most local newscasts were only ten to fifteen minutes long. Fifteen minute newscasts persisted even into the Sixties. I remember the midday newscast on KRCG in Jefferson City was only fifteen minutes in length until I was in about first grade. They filled the rest of the half hour with cartoons.

The Sixties would see yet more changes come to the news on local television stations. By the Sixties live coverage of news events became possible even for many local stations. The introduction of the character generator also revolutionised local news. Essentially, a character generator is an electronic device which generates characters and graphics for display on television screens (the storm warnings which run at the bottom of one's screen during bad weather are all created by a character generator). The Sixties also saw local stations increasingly switch from film to videotape. Videotape offered a clear advantage over the 16mm film previously used. Film had to be developed and edited before it could even be broadcast. Videotape allowed news crews to record the news just as it was happening.

The Sixties also saw local newscasts grow in length. As the decade progressed, most stations expanded their newscasts from ten to fifteen minutes to an entire half hour. By 1969, here in mid-Missouri, I think the only fifteen minute newscast left was KRCG's midday news. Since that time, many stations have even expanded some newscasts to an hour. For a brief time in the Seventies, KOMU in Columbia had an hour long 6:00 PM newscast. To this day KSDK in St. Louis still has an hour long newscast at noon. Another change has been the introduction of early morning, local news. Growing up I remember that the earliest local news would be the brief, five minute breaks aired during The Today Show. By the Nineties nearly all of the local stations here in mid-Missouri would have newscasts beginning at either 6:30 AM or 6:00 AM CST. Of course, KMIZ now has a newscast beginning at 5:00 AM CST.

While I must applaud our local stations on the job they do with regards to their newscasts, I do think that some changes could be made to improve things. I mean no offence to KMIZ, but I really see no need for a newscast starting at 5:00 AM CST. Indeed, I think a greater need may be for midday newscasts. Both KOMU in Columbia and KRCG have midday newscasts, but, curiously, KMIZ does not have one. In fact, I am not sure that they have ever had one. I would think that the audience for a newscast would be much, much larger at 12:00 noon CST than at 5:00 AM CST. At the very least there would be homemakers (both male and female), college students, retirees, and people who simply are not at work.

Another problem I have with the local stations is that we simply don't have enough newscasts on the weekends. On Saturday the earliest newscast on all of the stations occurs at 6:00 PM CST in the evening. It would be nice to at least have a midday newscast on Saturday. Sundays are even worse. The local stations only have one newscast each on that day, at 10:00 PM CST at night. For a time in the Eighties, KOMU had a local newscast at 5:30 PM CST on Sunday evenings. Unfortunately, it did not last. At any rate, it leaves me slightly envious of those livng in urban areas. KSDK in St. Louis not only has its hour long newscast on noon weekdays, but a newscast on both Saturday and Sunday morning as well as a newscast 5:00 PM on both days as well.

Anyhow, I suppose I have digressed. The news on local television stations has changed a great deal in my lifetime. Indeed, I have not even addressed the introduction of digital technology and the World Wide Web. I rather suspect that there will be even more new developments in the next 42 years.

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