Monitor Radio goes dark at end of this week
Originally published in Current, June 23, 1997
By Jacqueline Conciatore
Hopes for the continued life of Monitor Radio were raised briefly this month, then dashed when a Boston-based publisher who wanted to buy the service failed to acquire enough station carriage commitments.
Monitor Radio's last broadcast will be a June 28 newscast from 1:01-1:06 a.m. After that, "the newscaster will turn off the microphone, and that will be it," says Marketing Director Sue Schardt.
The Christian Science Church has said it wants to maintain a radio presence, and Monitor Radio Executive Producer Carla Valance will lead the effort to research and develop a new service, says Schardt. Monitor wants the new service to be self-sustaining--unlike the existing Monitor Radio--and has not ruled out a commercial news product.
World Times, Inc., publisher of the WorldPaper, had on June 2 signed a letter of intent to take over the Boston-based public radio service. But after surveying stations by fax and at the Public Radio Conference in Chicago June 6-11, the company decided against the buy.
"We were really working against the clock," said World Times President Crocker Snow in a release from Monitor. "We found that Monitor Radio news programs have lots of support. The level of enthusiasm station managers had for the project was encouraging, but because of the timing, a number of key stations had made other binding committments for July 1."
To bring in underwriting during the start-up phase, World Times needed several key commitments from stations for the first day of broadcasts and beyond, according to Monitor.
The company had intended to produce an in-depth news magazine that closely followed Monitor Radio's format, and to utilize core editorial staff. It had talked with Boston station WBUR about collaborating on a news product.
Monitor supplies public radio stations with three editions, at 5 a.m., noon and in the afternoon. Both Monitor distributor PRI and NPR informed stations they would develop replacements for Monitor's 5-6 a.m. Early Edition within days after Monitor announced it was up for sale. The 5 a.m. slot had scarce news alternatives and gave Monitor its biggest audience.
World Times was focusing on replacing the midday report, Snow told Current. But major market stations already had other plans: WETA in Washington, for example, had committed to carrying PRI's World at 3 p.m.
The WorldPaper is published in six languages and appears weekly or monthly as an editorial supplement in newspapers and magazines in 26 countries. Like PRI's daily news program The World, the newspaper seeks to present the news from international rather than U.S. perspectives, using reporters based around the world. PRI had considered working with the WorldPaper when it was developing its show, says President Steve Salyer. But Executive Producer Neil Curry didn't think a print operation that published monthly would be a good fit with the daily news show, Salyer said.
Snow says World Times has "quite an appetite and interest in public radio," and hasn't lost interest in doing a new program.
Many in the public radio system were skeptical Monitor would find a buyer after the Christian Science Church announced the operation (though not the "Monitor" name) was up for sale. The church has heavily subsidized Monitor Radio over the years, keeping costs to stations extremely low. In recent years it was spending about $9 million and getting less than $1 million back, said David Cook, who edits the Christian Science Monitor and heads Monitor Radio.
Monitor had approached both PRI and NPR about taking over the service, but neither network pursued the option.
Monitor has said it was stopping the public radio operation to devote more resources to its newspaper, which has flagging circulation numbers. The paper's circulation is currently 90,000, according to the Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media.
The church suffered heavy losses when it branched into TV in the 1980s. It is also facing a $55 million capital campaign to bring its Boston-based headquarters up to city building codes.
Monitor has been producing public radio programming since 1984, and currently has more than 200 affiliates. It employs 50 to 60 editorial and business employees, and uses a network of stringers worldwide.
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Earlier news: The Christian Science Church announces it will sell or close Monitor Radio.
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