How About a Daily Sunset Limited?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working on an interesting project for NARP, the National Association of Railroad Passengers, which, as most of you know, is the only national advocacy organization for rail passengers.
Our project involves sending two pre-recorded 30-second radio spots to several hundred radio stations strung out along the original route of Amtrak’s trans-continental train, the Sunset Limited. By “original route”, I mean from Los Angeles through New Orleans and all the way to Orlando, Florida.
The New Orleans-Orlando segment of that route was discontinued following Hurricane Katrina, and the first spot will advocate restoring that service; the second spot will urge that trains on the entire route be increased from three-times-a-week to a daily service. Because of NARP’s non-profit status, these two spots should be considered public service announcements (or PSA’s) and stations will air them at no charge.
Well, so we hope.
Over the past 20 years or so, broadcasting has changed … a lot … and not for the better. It used to be that in exchange for the right to use the public air waves—meaning the various frequencies over which their signals were broadcast—radio and TV stations were required by the government to devote a certain amount of air time to the public good. That’s why we once got regular newscasts and longer-format programming devoted to current events and community issues. And that’s how this whole business of PSA’s came about. Stations aired spots from non-profit organizations like NARP as one way to fulfill their public service obligation.
The Federal Communications Commission also had rules to prevent one person or one company from dominating the information that was broadcast in any one town or city.
That’s all changed. News has become a joke. Most radio “newscasts” are a mere 60-seconds long so stories of any complexity or importance are simply never aired. And many stations simply opt out altogether. A handful of companies now own as many as five or six stations in the same market. And in Honolulu, two separate television stations now share the same news department and the same newscast is simulcast on both stations.
Some radio stations simply don’t run PSA’s at all. Ironically, that seems to be especially true true for some of the stations owned by religious organizations. There are still plenty of stations who do, however, and I find that reassuring. I’ll post a link to the spots here once they’re produced.