Monday, March 17, 2008

Serious quality breakdown

As I listened to the first hour of Science Friday today [Friday 3/14], there was a serious quality breakdown. I have encountered others in my listening. Often, it,seems and old lead-in is used - apparently to avoid doing this live. Today was an especially horrible error - a male voice did what seemed like last week's Winter Storm Warning prior to return to the program. Spoke of snow, schools closing early.... Now, this was difficult to believe but then there are often big swings in weather here and a front was moving in. To make it worse, the next lead-in during intermission, a female voice gave what seemed like the current forecast involving rain. I wonder if someone at the station listens to what is aired. Why did not this next announcement, at the least, apologize for the earlier error?

More importantly, with fund raising coming up, it gives a sense that there might be staff slacking off and using tapes when they are expected to work live. Also, it seems someone there would monitor what is broadcast and make corrections quickly and acknowledge mistakes. Higher quality station work makes fund raising lots easier since the product sells itself. Seems there might be a better balance here. More time on quality, less on fund raising might get the same result.

--Bob in Somerville

[Program Director John Hingsbergen replied:

Thank you for taking the time to write. As both the announcer who made the mistake and the Program Director, I apologize for the error.

The only reason we did not acknowledge it on the air was that I was unable to, in a short period of time, both coordinate getting the correct information on the air and instruct the person who took over to give such an announcement.

Once that next station break passed, it would have been counter-productive to go back and "remind" hundreds of listeners who didn't hear the original of our mistake. That would have been 40 minutes eternity in radio time.

The error was noticed by station engineering and operations staff immediately but the station break was only a minute in length. From there, it was nearly 20 minutes before the next break and we did not want to interrupt programming.

Just so you know, we routinely record some of our station breaks during the mid-day although there are staff here monitoring and updating. Four or five station breaks are recorded at one time in the afternoon to maximize efficient use of our staff. Today was unusual since I had to be out of the office for a meeting and I totally forgot to follow through with the "backup coverage" I had planned.

This was totally my mistake and I am grateful to my staff for both noticing and correcting it. Thanks for your understanding and concern.

--John Hingsbergen, program director]

[Bob in turn replied to John:

I do have some comments as a result of your response.

1) Seems meeting is a broad generalization and that folks working for a salary would be having meetings for some business purpose on company time or would take vacation. To say meeting is to say little about the business purpose of the meeting which would seem consistent with full transparency.

2) You seemed to ignore my suggestion that there may be an imbalance in the amount of time devoted to improving the product vs. fund raising. Or whether it did make fund raising less important when there was a product evolving due to a continuous improvement approach to work. Have you done any research or studied any research on this topic?

3) Your specific comment that a person could not be able to go on air and say something like "oops, that was an error before. Hope none of you rushed home to be there for your children. Someone here dropped the ball and an old tape was used. Please accept our apologies. The weather is not as earlier presented, it is only rain that we will have to contend with and that is later today:" Simple, straightforward and to the point. Now how difficult is that.

I think there is an opague floor when it comes to your understanding the lives of those in the area who do not live the lifestyles of the WMUB on-air employees. Do you even see a life style where a person trusts the local radio to bring accurate, timely information to them? I got the sense of your expression of more excuses than an awareness of the consequences of such an error. After all, you are using the people's controlled FCC airspace and have an obligation for timely, accurate broadcasts.

Thanks for listening,

--Bob in Somerville]

[and General Manager Cleve Callison adds:

I have discussed this matter with John Hingsbergen and am satisfied that his response is the correct one, despite your misgivings.

As a matter of fact I was with John when we were returning from the meeting in question and I can testify to his concern about the error once it was discovered, and his thorough-going efforts to fix the problem. I respectfully disagree with your suggestion that the fundraising meeting was inappropriate for him, or that he should have done it on his vacation time (since I had asked John to attend the meeting, to require such would be illegal as well as unprofessional). You ask for more details for the sake of transparency; but there is another issue here, which is that of donor confidentiality. Suffice it to say that John’s presence at the meeting and his answer were perfectly appropriate.

Having worked with John for nearly 8 years, I can tell you that I have never found a more conscientious program director in all aspects of operations. Since we broadcast 24/7/365, those 168 hours per week add up to around 840 separate ‘breaks’. Slip-ups are regrettable, indeed, but I’m proud of the overall record of consistency we maintain thanks to John.

As for jumping in to point out and correct the error — there’s a case to be made for that if it can be done nearly immediately. That was not possible, unfortunately, in this instance. We elected to provide correct information in the next available break without interrupting the program in progress. Had we done so I feel confident we would have generated a separate set of concerned emails.

Thank you for your suggestions for improvements. We appreciate your wish for WMUB to be the best it can be, and we strive to do just that.

--Cleve Callison, general manager]


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