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W A B C   R A D I O   N E W S 

- a historical perspective from 1978 -

December, 1978 -- WABC's newscasts are short, tight, and expertly delivered, in keeping with the rest of the programming at this popular Top-40 station known to millions as "Musicradio WABC."  

The newscaster commences his work under the finishing notes of a song...

"Hear It!"
Hear how a WABC newscast sounds in 1978, plus an interview with WABC news director Paul Ehrlich.

A triple fatal fire... it may be arson...  

This is John Meagher, WABC News...

Three adults are dead, a twelve-year-old boy is burned over 50 percent of his body, in a house fire this morning in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Firemen in Bridgeport say there've been a series of fires in the area, this one suspected of being a case of arson.

Despite a tentative settlement with the pressmen, the Times and Daily news are still at odds with the Driver's union. The drivers want the publishers to replenish their pension and welfare fund. The fund was drained during the strike. The publishers so far have refused. They'll talk about it again this afternoon.

Police raided an apartment in Brooklyn's Crown Heights section last night. They report the arrest of two men and two women and the seizure of 150 pounds of marijuana, a machine gun, and a pistol.

The Koch administration says it's not going to enforce new laws requiring that municipal workers live within  the city limits until it sees a Supreme Court ruling. A Supreme Court justice has ruled that the residency law does not apply to uniform city employees.

The greenback... makes a comeback... Here's Bill Larson...

Short Newscast Require Tight Writing

The newscasts at WABC generally run at about five minutes, and those preceding a network newscast can be as short as a minute. "That's all they would give me," quips WABC News Director Paul Ehrlich.

Ehrlich believes that no matter how long or short the newscast, crisp writing is key to getting  a point across effectively.

"Obviously, with a one minute newscast, or a two minute newscast , unless you're going to take the whole newscast for one story, you're gonna tell the whole story in two lines, maybe three,  and try to get seven or eight stories in that one minute. In a five minute newscast, your strictures are a lot looser. Still, we have to be concise. You have to look for the word that will tell a phrase, the phrase that will tell a sentence, the sentence that will tell a paragraph. It's common sense, the only trick is in the execution."

"Some people have that pretty well right off the bat, others learn it through experience and practice.  There's no great trick to it: You write positive sentences, simple sentences, declarative sentences," says the WABC News Director. ("I don't even know what all those words mean," jokes Ehrlich, "but I've heard them so often and I know that's what we do.")

As an example, stay away from parenthetic phrases: "You don't say, 'John Jones, the Mayor of New York City...' explains Ehrlich. "You say, 'John Jones... did...' and then in your next sentence, 'The Mayor did...'"

"You look for tricks that are gonna save you time, but that don't shortcut through anything that's essential. You may have to stop at a certain point and not tell any more, but you have to make sure that you... have told the essence of the story."

Creating a Style that Works for Musicradio 77

Ehrlich admits that running news at one of the nation's premier Top-40 stations does require tailoring news writing and delivery somewhat to the audience, but WABC news doesn't resort to jargon or cuteness.

"[Tailoring to the audience] does not mean that we... try to imitate a rapid-fire, machine-gun paced disc jockey. No. What it means is that we won't give you an Encyclopedia Britannica type language.  I don't think our language is really all that different from Walter Cronkite, for instance."

But he differentiates WABC's style from stations such as WQXR, which he characterizes as "a bit stuffy."

"They use big words," says Ehrlich, reflecting on WQXR.  "We use big words, too -- when they're the right words. But treaties can become pacts, or pacts can become agreements, or whatever."

And, beyond reporting and writing, presentation is a key factor in the popularity of a news format.

"The thing that distinguishes a good news person in New York from  a news person just starting out who hasn't sharpened all his skills yet," says Ehrlich, "is [one] a certain amount of flair... [two] a certain amount of confidence... and [three] quickness. That doesn't mean quickness in one-liners or repartee.  It means an ability to tell something in ... not just the right words, but with a little glamor, or flair -- to make a story a little bit different from the way it is on cold, hard, dry paper. That's experience, that's talent."

- 30 -

See Also:

WABC Picture Gallery - Tons of photographs from the WABC newsroom and studios.

WABC News Format - Broadcast news format from typical morning, Fall, 1978.

WABC Schedules - News schedule and rundowns from a Fall, 1978 morning.

WABC Datasheet - Station stats on staffing, wires, cart machines, and much more!

Visit more stations - Back to the home page to visit more stations' news departments.

WABC Elsewhere on the Internet:

MusicRadio77.com - A "must visit" site that includes scads of air checks, interviews, and remembrances of Music Radio WABC, the greatest Top-40 radio outlet of all time!

WABC Anchor History
- A partial chronology of anchors and personnel at WABC, from Bill Dulmage's site.

WABC and other NYC stations in the 1964 New York City Blackout - A recreation from Broadcast Engineering magazine, by radio historian Jeff Miller.

Today's WABC - WABC is now an all-talk station.

About this report
This research documentary is Copyright 1979, 2002  Martin Hardee - All Rights Reserved. (read more...) Material may be quoted or excerpted for non-profit research purposes without additional special permission. For additional information email martin @ hardee.net.