During this time of national crisis, radio, like all media, must rise to a higher standard. The goal is public service and information.
National Public Radio, heard locally on WNED-AM 970 and WBFO-FM 88.7, provided remarkable and insightful coverage throughout the weekend, when most media organizations were short-staffed or the regulars had time off.
"We have a news imperative," said Jennifer Roth, WBFO station manager, which has suspended regular programming to broadcast news.
In contrast, WBEN-AM 930, the only commercial radio news outlet in the city, failed miserably.
How good was NPR?
During a memorial Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, NPR not only broadcast it live, but had a Catholic monk doing commentary.
How bad was WBEN?
The station continued with its regular weekend talk hosts. That meant WBEN gave us such noted commentators as: the car guy, the psychic and a financial adviser. These uninformed and ill-prepared personalities were suddenly thrust into the roles of geo-political experts. They were assigned the task of trying to satisfy and inform a public desperate for news and perspective.
"Out of respect to the victims, I'm not going to do any readings tonight," said Bernice Golden, WBEN's psychic. Tom Tobjornsen may be good at tuning up motors but knows little about world affairs.
Even worse was Bill O'Loughlin, WBEN's reigning financial guru. O'Loughlin can't seem to get through a show without talking about his car or his girlfriend.
O'Loughlin is a regular advertiser on WBEN and also a news commentator, and that in itself is a major conflict of interest. He has a tendency for ego gratification at the expense of trivializing the news.
One professional assigned to the weekend shift was Tom Bauerle. Yes, the same Tom Bauerle best known for being under investigation by the FCC for using vulgar language on WGR-AM 550, a sports station. During his weekend stint, Bauerle sounded ill-prepared. He talked at length about the historical context of the American Civil War and also read a newspaper column over the air.
Bauerle's performance was typical of what was heard on WBEN all weekend. By not using its regular staff, the station was unable to fulfill its obligation to communicate information on such vital breaking news.
Last week, Tim Wenger, program director at WBEN, went on the air touting wall to wall coverage of the crisis and announced a promotion to distribute American flags for charity. Those flags are a symbol of America. This weekend, WBEN was a symbol of mediocrity.