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Friday, April 1, 2011

Social Media Experiment: Twitter Takes Over Radio Airwaves

The studios of WAFD in Pocomoke, Md. are empty from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays, as the station turns its airwaves over to an automated Twitter feed.

The studios of WAFD in Pocomoke, Md. are empty from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays, as the station turns its airwaves over to an automated Twitter feed.

Guest: Dave Smith, WAFD station manager

By April Tonta

A small public radio station on the Eastern Shore of Maryland is taking social media to the next level. The station, WAFD-FM, in Pocomoke, Md. has turned over its airwaves to Twitter.

From 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on weekdays, listeners will hear a constant stream of “tweets” to the station.

Station Manager David H. Smith said he was inspired by college students, who are obsessed with Facebook.

“These kids are constantly checking their phones to see what their friends are saying on Facebook. I thought, ‘Why not bring that information to the airwaves?’”

The station launched the experiment on New Year’s Day. The station hired a college student to create a software program that automatically scans their Twitter feed and reads the tweets on the air in an automated voice.

The program, called “Twitter Time,” took a few weeks to pick up steam.

“At first, we had a lot of dead air, with just music playing in the background.” Smith admitted. “But once word spread, people started flooding our Twitter feed, and now we have gone from being at the bottom of the ratings to near the top.”

On a recent day, a reporter heard the automated voice read a stream of tweets, ranging from people making plans to meet at a local coffee shop to rants against the air strikes in Libya.

The small station only has four full-time employees, and it was constantly searching for inexpensive, quality programming that would connect with the college students at the nearby University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) campus.

“Most of the midday NPR programming is geared towards people in their sixties and seventies,” said Smith. “We want to expand our audience to a younger demographic.”

The station has even dismantled its website and now focuses exclusively on Twitter. But the experiment does have its critics.

“What is the value of listening to a bunch of people’s random stream of 140-character long thoughts?” asked UMES professor of communications, Mary Blake. “I think this is a new low for broadcasting and social media.”
But it’s that stream of consciousness that appeals to Smith and his listeners.

“We are democratizing radio in the same way that the web has democratized society. Not everyone is comfortable with that, but it’s the wave of the future,” Smith said.

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  • Private Sector Frog

    Oh boy! Can’t wait to find out what’s on the mind of CashTime94, Money4Tweets4U and MakeMoney0574!! …..Oy!

  • Phil Brett

    Check out http://onthecommons.org/ge-logo-now-tops-washington-monument it had me going for a second. Which is really sad.

  • Dorian

    OK, you “got” me, too — I fell for it, hook, line and sinker! I’ve got to say, it was very well produced, and quite believable. I was right there alongside Robin Young, thinking that society has sunk to a new low, but I believed it! Kind of a sad commentary on how low can we go, so I was relieved to find out it was just an April Fool’s joke. Thanks for the well-done social commentary & social media levity!

  • http://www.willsloan.com/about/ Will Sloan

    That was great. Don’t feel bad Robin! I fell for it too.

  • Yogajavajoe

    I send my girlfriend a faux webpage from CBS.com explaining how her favorite how, CSI, was being canceled. I expect to be punched when she gets home.

    • http://www.willsloan.com/about/ Will Sloan

      Oh man, what was the link. My wife would FREAK out. Hahaha!

  • Jesse

    I’m thinking, “this is the dumbest idea I have ever heard.” Then, boom! Ya got me!

    • http://www.willsloan.com/about/ Will Sloan


  • Ray Weikal

    That’s got to be one of the best punks ever. Well played.

  • Wendy

    i was convinced hook, line and sinker as well! the unfortunate truth is that nothing surprises us anymore– even all tweets, all the time!
    great fun…i have been laughing as i forward the link onto others this afternoon! thanks for the great laugh!

  • http://www.thunderbaymedia.net Derek Cromwell

    argh… I actually believed that! As much as I’m involved in social media with my business I sat there thinking “you know this isn’t a bad idea from a certain perspective if they’re engaging their target audience” and then BOOM. Happy April Fools.


    Honestly I’m surprised now that someone hasn’t done this yet but I bet you they will now. Someone, somewhere is gonna read this piece and go “now why didn’t I think of that?”

  • Wrobinson3

    This didn’t fool anybody on Maryland’s Eastern Shore – because Pocomoke City has no public radio station.

    Use of media to foist an April Fool’s Day joke on unsuspecting readers is immature and irresponsible – and frankly, a tired cliche’.

    Furthermore, invoking the name of a ficticious instructor at (nearby) University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), which has no academic department of communications, unnecessarily undermines our credibility as an institution.

    UMES has a widely respected public radio station on its campus in Princess Anne – WESM, which is known beyond our region for the quality of its jazz programming.

    Humor is one of the most difficult things for a writer to pull off. Your writer badly missed the mark.

    Bill Robinson, director
    Office of Public Relations
    University of Maryland Eastern Shore
    Princess Anne, MD

    • Will

      It seems like you’re the only person that didn’t get a kick out of this, Bill. Just going what you wrote and how it was written I’m guessing you like your humor extra dry? To say it didn’t fool anybody on Maryland’s Eastern Shore is an overgeneralization. Just because you didn’t get fooled or didn’t find it humorous doesn’t mean that this was also the case for everyone else. You’re outnumbered here so it would stand to reason that you’re probably outnumbered anywhere else, including Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

    • beantown dux

      Danger, Will Robinson!

    • Kay in Cambridge

      Now, now, undermines your credibility? Deep breath, Mr. Robinson, and smile now and then.

  • Jim


  • saut

    I’ve heard tweets read on TV news lots of times–some news shows have made it a regular feature–so this isn’t all that far fetched!

  • http://www.facebook.com/chirolisa Lisa J. Geiger

    Oh, this is awesome!!!! Nice works, guys!!! Well done, Jon.

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