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SHRINKING SOURCES OF INFORMATION

Perhaps we have an unusual interest in the subject, but it's hard not to mourn the demise of the news operation at WGR-AM 550 radio. Radio was once a powerful industry in this town and local news was its muscle. Now, each is a shell of what it once was.

That change represents not only a cultural loss for the people of Western New York, but an informational one, too. Although WNED and WBFO retain small news staffs, WBEN-AM now has the unwelcome distinction of being the only Buffalo radio station with a substantial commitment to local news. As of today, when WGR and WBEN change their formats, residents of these climes will have fewer sources for the information they need to manage their lives and influence their community.

The change occurs as Entercom Communications Corp. of Philadelphia puts its stamp on the two stations it recently acquired. Both had operated on news/talk/sports formats, but in an effort to "brand" the stations with their own identities, WGR will drop news and talk to become a strictly sports station, while WBEN will drop sports to concentrate on news and talk.

Of course, Buffalo isn't the only area to suffer from radio withdrawal. Faced with competition for listeners' time from network television, then cable and now the Internet, radio stations around the country are in a scramble. Sales of stations have become more frequent, and news divisions are often the first place new owners look to cut.

But a business need -- even a legitimate one -- does not necessarily intersect with the best interests of a community, and in this case, the public is losing something of value. Who would have predicted this day 30 years ago, when radio in Buffalo was thriving?

Ah, well. Things change. It's a given and there doesn't seem much that anyone can do about this one but mourn and observe that while change may be inevitable, that doesn't always mean that it's for the best or that it doesn't hurt. This one hurts.

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