Local Radio is Changing in a Big Way
Whether it’s the Common Ground music festival, a Lugnuts baseball game at Cooley Law School Stadium or a visit to west Michigan from President Barack Obama for the groundbreaking of a new battery plant, one thing’s for sure—TalkLansing will be there broadcasting live.
But the signal won’t come through traditional radio transmitters and receivers. “We use a laptop and some special software and we’re on the air,” says Jim Fordyce, co-owner of TalkLansing, Inc.
“You don’t have to wait until the 6 or 11 o’clock TV news or tomorrow’s newspaper to get the details. Just a few clicks of the mouse and we’re broadcasting live.”
TalkLansing.net is the brainchild of Fordyce and fellow broadcasting veteran, Walt Sorg. “We were tossing around ideas a couple of years ago on how to put the ‘local’ back into radio in the market,” Fordyce recalls. “The needs of the people of Lansing and the state of Michigan just weren’t being met.” He says in the past, radio stations had owners who lived locally. In the 21st century, mergers and buyouts have resulted in the evaporation of local programming in favor of cheaper network syndication. Sorg says the time was right for the jump. “There’s a change going on right now in radio just like the change in the newspaper industry. They’ve moved to the Internet and the same is true for electronic media.”
Fordyce first tested the concept of Internet radio with entertainment programming. MIEntertainment.biz carries everything from local theatre reviews to health advice. “The biggest challenge was teaching adults the technology to use the Internet like their kids can.” Fordyce says the concept was so successful in identifying the untapped niche of potential listeners that the idea for TalkLansing was born. The longtime broadcasters then merged not only mentally but also physically by setting up shop early this year in the same building on Seymour Avenue in Lansing.
“We ended up moving on the snowiest day of the year. I guess that was a signal of things to come,” Fordyce jokes. TalkLansing.net debuted on February 15, 2010, and listenership has grown significantly. Fordyce estimates 60,000 people a month tune in for at least 20 minutes a day. “We have listeners on five continents—not all necessarily listen on a regular basis, but some do. It’s worked out better than anyone had expected.”
TalkLansing.net has carried a minimum of 15 hours of local programming daily. Sorg says that’s no easy accomplishment. “That’s more local news and events than all of the other stations in town combined.” And, he says, more importantly those taking to the airwaves are seasoned professionals. “These aren’t kids at MSU broadcasting from a dorm room. These are well-known local broadcasters, many of whom were left in search of a job due to corporate cutbacks.”
Sorg’s AM Lansing morning show is news-oriented and heavy on political coverage and analysis. By contrast, Fordyce’s MI Afternoon show offers much lighter programming fare than what traditional “talk” stations broadcast during that time slot. That is not by accident.
“You won’t hear any talk show hosts screaming about politics and taxes,” Fordyce says. “We want to give people a break in the afternoon.”
Movies, theatre and food are often the topics of discussion. A midmorning talk segment with Tim Nester and a sports show with “Hondo” Carpenter round out the core lineup. A business show with Lansing entrepreneur Chris Holman, a travel show with the well-known and popular Travel Queen Radio Show with Jane DeGrow, and a dining segment are the latest to be added to the programming rundown. Even the nationally syndicated Thom Hartmann Program has a local flavor. Hartmann grew up in Lansing and began his radio career here.
Sorg admits there have been some bumps in the road. “There has been a learning curve. We break new ground every day.” Sorg says mustering the talent to pull off the concept wasn’t the biggest challenge, but rather mastering the technology to get it done. “We were using technology that had never been used in this way before. We went through a learning curve on figuring out which software to use to get the signal in and out. We knew how to do radio shows, we just needed to learn the technology.”
Ironically, one of the unexpected hurdles involved lining up a network affiliate for hourly newscasts. Sorg says the idea of Internet-based radio was even confusing for different networks. “We eventually went with CNN, but they didn’t know how to charge us since they’d never dealt with anything like this before.” The fiber optic signal, which provides higher quality than most Internet connections, can be picked up anywhere in the world on any Smartphone. Live streaming of the broadcasts can be accessed from your computer even in your vehicle.
Traditional radio stations are starting to catch on to the Internet-based radio concept. “We have requests from them to run some of our programming and have to develop software to make it happen,” says Sorg. WOAP (AM 1089) in Owosso was the first to sign on as an affiliate. Sorg and Fordyce agree future programming will be determined by future needs. “It’ll be based on what the local community members want,” Fordyce says.
Billboards touting all TalkLansing.net has to offer will begin popping up in the Greater Lansing area and don’t be surprised to see more and more remote broadcasts. “We’ve pushed the technology as hard as it can be pushed, sometimes too hard,” Sorg jokes. “But our broadcast signals are more reliable than ever before and we’re learning and growing every single day.”
Walt Sorg and Jim Fordyce, Co-Owners/Partners
617 Seymour Ave.