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Tuning in Black Information Radio

I’ve been staying in the San Francisco Bay Area this week and stumbled upon an AM talk radio network that is new to me: the Black Information Network. The format mirrors that of conventional 24-hour all-news stations like KCBS, Los Angeles’ KNX, New York’s WINS or Philadelphia’s KYW, with regular headline news, business and entertainment segments alongisde breaks for local weather and traffic. But that’s also supplemented with short segments on Black history and other topics for Black audiences.

A quick search informed me that it’s actually owned by iHeartRadio and went on the air June 2020 with 15 stations, now up to 31. I found BIN while tuning around the dial on 910 AM Berkeley, in the East Bay of the San Francisco metro. Even before hearing an ID the station immediately stood out from the sports talk and conservative talk that otherwise predominates on the AM dial.

One striking difference is a lack of conventional commercials. Instead, corporate sponsors are identified in a manner more like public radio underwriting. IHeart CMO Gayle Troberman told AdExchanger that they limited the sponsors to just 10, in order to “ensure that our journalists don’t have to write sensational headlines and be motivated to drive clicks[.]” In the same interview BIN CEO Tony Coles said they’re doing some custom branded content, which it seems isn’t too different from what you more often find in podcasting, even on shows from public radio organizations.

I’m surprised I missed BIN’s launch last year, but perhaps it was better to stumble upon it and have the pleasant surprise. Though different in approach and tone than what many folks from progressive community radio might prefer – it is definitely more mainstream – in my listening the emphasis on Black issues, history and culture is nevertheless front and center, and the network does not shy away from the politics of race. The mix is lively and useful.

Although still a national, rather than local, endeavor, It’s good to hear commercial radio try a new approach to news, an area that has seemed drained of investment as the “news” portion of the “news/talk” format on most stations has been pushed definitively to the conservative talk side, with most of the news limited to top- and bottom-of-the hour headlines and maybe some limited drive-time programming. I am curious to learn how this network evolves, especially if it expands to more cities.

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