Fabulous At 50: WCBS In New York City

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(By Deborah Parenti) One of Radio Ink’s 2017 Best Program Directors, Tim Scheld, has been programming CBS News’ flagship radio station, WCBS in New York, since 2004. What’s it like to sit in that seat as the legendary station celebrates 50 years of covering the Big Apple? Let’s find out…

Radio Ink: You joined WCBS as a reporter in 1987, when radio was the first source of news for listeners in the morning. How have digital and social media changed radio’s role?

Scheld: Radio is, and has always been, the first source of news and information for listeners. With the flood of information delivered to consumers today, there is great value to the packaging and organization of news content that local stations do so well. Our challenge is showing young people the relevance of that product

We’re a station that produces and shares audio and video stories in more places than ever before. We use our digital site to feature videos and audio content and tease that content with Instagram videos. We share links and stories on Twitter and Facebook and have our own YouTube channel to house long-form video content. These platforms allow us to expand our brand and attract the next generation of listeners, going where the audience is.

Radio Ink: How has programming a News station changed in your years as PD?
Scheld:
The biggest change, and one I find energizing, is the rising level of involvement in the sales side that is required. A significant portion of my day is spent brainstorming with the sales team, generating ideas that create new partnerships for the station. We don’t succeed without recognizing the needs of sponsors and delivering ideas that help their brands grow while also making ours stronger.

Radio Ink:  There’s a lot of criticism today of “mainstream media.” As a “mainstream” radio news operation, what’s your take on this?
Scheld: I don’t think there is any question that many in the media and the pollsters misread the political climate in the country during last year’s election, so some criticism isn’t unfair. But by and large, responsible local journalism is alive and well. I’m encouraged to see the important stories being covered by local radio daily across the country.

At WCBS, we’re in the midst of a several-month series of special reports on the rising use of opioid drugs. It’s a major crisis in our community now, and I’m proud of what we’re delivering. That’s the power of radio news, chasing down stories that matter to listeners’ lives.

Radio Ink:  How do today’s reporters differ from their predecessors?
Scheld: The good ones are still filled with curiosity and passion, and tell good stories that matter to the lives of people in our community. What makes them different are the tools available in telling those stories. We have a reporter who covered the Chelsea terror bombing in Manhattan last year with a Citibike and a smartphone. I’ll never forget watching his Facebook Live video of the mayor’s news conference. At the risk of sounding old (I’m 57), I remember when using cellphones in the field was a novel idea. Technology has been breathtaking to watch.

Radio Ink:  Who have been your most interesting interviews?
Scheld: Two of the most interesting were Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. I’ve enjoyed talking to Charlton Heston, Ted Williams, and Barbara Bush. Rudy Giuliani on the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks was moving. And I will always remember getting to know and interviewing New York City Police Detective Steve McDonald. Steven was paralyzed by a teenager’s bullet in a shooting in Central Park more than 30 years ago. His story of forgiveness and his spiritual journey touched countless people around the globe. Steven passed away this past January.

Radio Ink:  WCBS is celebrating 50 years in a city where news never sleeps. In addition to 9/11, what stories stand out as proud moments for the station and its service to its audience?
Scheld: 
As a reporter, I will always remember the triumphant welcome Nelson Mandela received when he visited in 1990. I also remember the calm, steady voice this radio station was in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, one that surfaced again when all hell broke loose years later on September 11.

More recently, our staff showed the power of local radio in the coverage and aftermath of Super Storm Sandy, from which many are still recovering. Radio was a lifeline for the community as much of the area was without power for over a week. Those were proud days and a reminder of why we got into this business.

Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink. She can be reached at [email protected].

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