There's no denying that the media world continues to undergo changes at just about every level. And while it's rare, sometimes those stories include what we GetReligionistas call a holy "ghost" -- a nonreported (or underreported) religion angle.
The reality of one such "ghost" shows up over at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where the story of a local AM radio station's pending demise caught my eye. KQV-AM, an all-news station for 42 years, will cease broadcasting at the end of the year, the paper reported.
It wasn't until a reader gets nine paragraphs into the story that some curious words emerge, phrasing from owner Robert W. Dickey, Jr., suggesting there may have been something else involved than just reading headlines and reaping profits:
As FM became the primary radio format to hear rock or other music, KQV in 1975 became one of a number of stations nationally switching to an all-news-all-the-time format. Mr. Dickey’s father, the late Robert W. Dickey Sr., was a station manager who got financial backing from billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife to form Calvary Inc. and purchase the station from Taft Broadcasting in 1982. ...
The news format, due to the salary costs of the necessary number of reporters, editors and announcers involved, is much more costly than music programming on radio, Mr. Dickey said. At the same time, the media industry in general has been suffering from a drop in advertising by major retailers and others. Mr. Dickey said he did not consider a format change at the station because of his family’s longtime focus on delivering news as a mission.
“We perceived the world of reporting on the news as a sacred one,” he said. “What made this worthwhile is not that we were making money, but that we were doing something important.”
Having hung around radio people in New York City at around the time KQV-AM switched its format, I can tell you that few newscasters would've described their work as a "mission" or "sacred." Important, yes. Having an impact on the culture, sure. But a "sacred" "mission"? Not so much.
Moreover, the name of Richard Mellon Scaife, a noted funder of conservative causes and publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a rival to the Post-Gazette, should also have raised a flag. Ditto for the naming of KQV-AM's owner as "Calvary, Inc."
Scaife wasn't profligate with his funding decisions, and Calvary isn't a typical name for a secular broadcasting firm.
Well, it turns out Dickey Sr., whom the paper notes died in 2011, had a strong religious orientation, as an obituary from that time noted:
Mr. Dickey [Sr.] remained intensely devoted to his biological family as well, said his son, Patrick Dickey. Every Sunday when they were growing up, the Dickey children would pile into their station wagon, sitting in order from oldest to youngest, and Mr. Dickey would take them to church so his wife could have an hour and half of peace before heading to church on her own.
He volunteered as a lector at St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland for more than 30 years, his baritone voice earning him a reputation as a formidable reader for Good Friday services.
"He used to scare the altar boys," Patrick Dickey recalled. "It was like fire and brimstone had come upon us."
Let me acknowledge that writing news stories is almost always a challenge: Reporters have a given amount of space in which to work, a set amount of time in which to produce the story, and often there's a lot of information to cram in. The KQV-AM "obituary" rightly discusses the station's past -- during its music-playing days, a young Rush Limbaugh spun platters under the name "Jeff Christie" -- and the changing economics of the news business.
I'm not suggesting that religion or politics colored the news reporting at KQV-AM. Rather, I wonder if the Dickey family -- and the billionaire who funded the initial buyout from former owners Taft Broadcasting -- saw something different in their work because of their faith background.
That's why this reader, at least, wishes there had been just a soupçon more about the Dickey family, its faith links and how those came to bear at a radio outlet soon to be lost to the mists of broadcasting history.
To borrow from the old gospel song Randy Travis shares in the video, the Post-Gazette might want to "turn the radio on." You never know where those airwaves will lead.
Initial image: Vintage-style radio, public domain photo via www.pxhere.com.