The new employee was in my office. I’d just hired her to be the all-night jock on the radio station. “Remember,” I said, “Ninety-eight percent of the people listening to you will be alone or might as well be. And remember that they will be listening to you more closely and with more interest that at any other time of the day. You’re in the realm of the nighttime people now.”
These just weren’t words. I’d spent a huge chunk of my career doing all-night shows. It really is a different world. And sadly, it’s slowly coming to an end.
This article in the Guardian looks at things from a UK perspective but the gist of the article apples to North America, too.
Late-night radio has a kind of romance about it. We think of the DJ. A single light in a darkened studio. A lone voice into a microphone, musing, wondering, complaining, banging on. Riffing on obscurities, posing questions and unpicking answers. Perhaps playing a few choice tunes. But mostly talking, because talking is what’s needed in the middle of the night. Talking, and someone listening to what’s being said. Although what’s often special about late-night programmes is that it’s the presenter who is doing the listening, the listener, calling in, who speaks.
There are a number of stations with a strong tradition of good late-night shows: LBC, BBC Radio London, TalkSport, XFM (now Radio X). Most big cities will have at least one, local, post-10pm programme that attempts to connect with an insomniac audience. But if you listen really late at night – after midnight – you’ll find far fewer specialist late-night broadcasts than there were even 15 years ago. Budget cuts mean that local BBC stations can’t afford to employ presenters, producers or engineers between the hours of 1am and 5am. Instead, they broadcast 5 Live or the World Service, or run repeats of programmes that have already been broadcast during the day. Commercial radio often runs shows across the entire network, rather than ones made especially by regional teams. You have to pay people to make them want to give up their sleep.
The internet, too, has changed things. Scheduling is less important than it used to be: a show can be put out in the UK at night, but listened to simultaneously by people in North America or Japan during their daytime.