You and I spend a lot of time talking about ratings. It can make or break a broadcaster. It's the reason we enjoy the radio and television programs available to us; and it's often the reason for the absence of a more substantive television and radio diet.
The ratings game is nothing new. And it predates television. The war has been raging since the golden age of radio.
And wouldn't you know it, in true Southwest Florida fashion, one of the premiere sources for radio's golden age lives right here in our backyard.
Jim Ramsburg's story is similar to many of us who love the industry a little more than we should. I spent my afternoons in front of the TV, he spent his listening to the radio. And just like it inspired me to a lifelong career in television, radio and newspapers, it carried Ramsburg through retirement, and even now, he can't get enough. He's written a book ("Network Radio Ratings — 1932-1953") on the subject and he maintains a growing website, www.jimramsburg.com.
Ramsburg is a self-described "latchkey kid" who grew up in Robbinsdale, a suburb of Minneapolis. His mother, a widow, worked to support the family.
"Radio was my constant companion," Ramsburg said, in an unmistakable broadcaster's voice.
At the University of Minnesota School of Journalism, Ramsburg officially began his 50-year career in broadcasting as a disc jockey and sportscaster at WMMR. Two years later, he was station manager.
Ramsburg found other stints on the radio during summer breaks from school. By 1956, he had worked his way up to the overnight shift at Minneapolis station WLOL.
That same year, broadcast legend Todd Storz started Top 40 station WDGY, serving the Twin Cities.
"I got a call in the middle of the night from WDGY's manager inviting me to join his staff," he said. "He said they'd teach me something — and sure enough, they taught me how to count to 40 backwards."
After 20 years in radio, Ramsburg and his wife, Patty, returned to the Twin Cities and started an agency, Ramsburg Media Services.
In 1998, he retired and made his way to Estero.
He was supposed to be relaxing, soaking up the sun, and complaining about this and that. Instead, he stumbled upon the the ratings books from network radio's golden age in the Nielsen archives housed at Wisconsin State Historical Society.
What is the golden age of radio, you ask? Radio became popular in the 1920s, and the golden age begins there, and ends with the proliferation of TV in the 1950s. The era is often referred to as old-time radio.
From his bio: "It's like I was given the box scores. My job was to determine the nightly, monthly and annual winners and losers, then rank them accordingly. And in doing so I turned up hundreds of stories about the competition that had never been reported outside the industry.
"And because reporting competition within the framework of entertainment is what sports writing is all about, that's how I treated those stories — informally, with headings liberally sprinkled with puns and alliteration. It was fun to write and I hope that readers interested in 'old-time radio' will have fun reading it while learning things about that fascinating period in broadcasting history."
Find out more about Ramsburg's book, read stories and essays at his website.
WINK — 5 or 6?
Richard from Rochester, N.Y., writes: "Always enjoy reading your column during our seasonal stay. Could you please explain why WINK is sometimes channel 5 and other times channel 6? I have never been able to understand that. Thanks."
Understandable. CBS affiliate WINK's cable assignment is Channel 5. TV 6, the CW affiliate, is on channel 6. But both stations are housed in the same building and WINK provides news to TV 6 through a joint operating agreement.
That's nothing new. Even in this market we have a similar situation. Waterman Broadcasting operates ABC 7 and NBC 2 out of the same building and they share news resources.
The main difference, and I suspect the cause of your confusion, is that WINK does not rebrand its news for TV 6. It's referred to as WINK News. So, in the run of a day, you will see the WINK brand all over TV 6.
Further confusing the issue for some viewers, WINK uses only its call letters to identify the station. So when you are watching WINK news on TV 6, you are actually watching WXCW.
I hope that helps clear up the confusion.
By the way, only a handful of TV stations are better known for their call letters. WGN in Chicago comes to mind. Fewer still have dropped their old analog numbers altogether, such as WINK.
Two other interesting points: Although most stations brand themselves by their old analog number, most are broadcasting on different digital numbers. Odder still, for those using a digital antenna instead of cable — digital numbers can be altered. Say CBS 2 is now broadcasting on digital channel 43. The signal can still show up on your TV reading channel "2."
Even odder: Because of the high saturation of cable subscribers in this market, NBC-2, ABC-7, TV-6 and Fox-4 all branded themselves based on their cable allocation; not their analog channel of days gone by or their new digital allocation. I had never heard of that until I moved here.
That's all for this time. Keep your questions coming in: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time, stay tuned.
Bill Green is a Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com journalist and a professional couch potato. Contact him at email@example.com. Connect with him at facebook.com/billdgreen.