I still listen to the radio, sometimes. Often, my inner-puppeteer takes over and makes me say - shout - things into the radio:
“What the #@&% was that?!” or
“Can you actually hear yourself?” or
“Please tell me you’re not that stupid.”
I warn my non-radio friends that I’m no fun to be around when listening to the radio. I listen clinically. It’s the program director in me.
The following may well make me appear as an old coot re-living the “Good Ol’ Days” of radio “when it was a wonderful business.” It was. And, I’m not a coot, thank you. But, things have changed in ways that I really don’t dig. Just bear with me and take it as fact, for the time it takes you to read this, that I know of whence I blog.
A couple of years ago, my nephew, Michael, told me, “I don’t listen to radio, anymore.” We could attribute this to the emergence of digital media; iPod, YouTube and so forth. But, allow me to point out that radio survived TV in the early 1950s when television swept America like wildfire. Radio not only survived, it grew and flourished. And, there were fewer people at that time. So, the “digital took over” argument doesn’t fly with me.
No. Michael doesn’t listen to radio because radio no longer delivers to him what it once did; an experience in entertainment; theatre of the mind; real, human company-in-a-box for that ride to wherever.
What happened? De-regulation. Radio used to have to be responsible first to its local community. In exchange, broadcast companies were allowed, by We The People who own the air, to make money through the selling of advertising. Today, the broadcast companies - actually, custodians and equipment owners - think they own the air. And, We The People have forgotten it’s our property.
This was followed by consolidation, the natural enemy of real competition. As the broadcast corporations grew and swallowed up vast tracts of radio “real estate,” the individual got lost. In order for the mega-corps to manage in their mega-environment, things were tabulated along strictly business lines (though, radio was always and properly a business) to the detriment of a once-upon-a-time radio culture.
It was this culture that had supported, encouraged and given incentive to generations of very smart and talented radio personalities and programmers. It was a culture wherein we were sat-down and taught; “This is what we do. Here’s how we do it. Here’s why we do it this way.” It, via Mike Payne, gave me my first professional radio lesson; “It’s ‘double-u’, not ‘dubya.’”
I should state here that there’s really no end to great radio talent. I hear them. But, they seem not to be properly nurtured. Rather, they’re thrown into a not very well thought-out Big Idea with minimal training, and not by people who actually know. The new people never took the time, apparently, to consult the “old guys” before cutting them loose; to find out what actually made things work so well.
So, we ended up with people who opted to re-invent a perfectly good “wheel.” They felt a need to “innovate” and make changes where no significant change was necessary or warranted. This “innovation” operates with less regard than I hold to be necessary to service a listener and compel him or her to return. And, that’s supposed to be the game; to get as many people as you can to listen as long and often as possible. My nephew no longer feels compelled.
If you read this blog with any regularity, you know about how many times I’ve raved, ad nauseum, about the great stations whereon I’ve graced the airwaves. I’ve raved because those stations worked. KFRC/San Francisco was there for years before my arrival and continued to succeed for years after my departure. 1580 KDAY/Los Angeles succeeded over the long-haul as well. Our core audience eventually moved to the suburbs and that was that. Our signal went, mostly, into South L.A., which has changed a great deal, demographically. But for seventeen straight years it was mostly successful. And, it never lost a dime.
In later years, I worked part-time at a station with a signal you could probably receive on Jupiter. I’m almost serious. I listened to it in three counties. It had a promotional budget to make rich people cry and a program director who knew what he was doing. But, it was Big Corporate. The PD was hamstrung and brow-beaten daily by a general manager of dubious talent and a consultant in another city. Did I mention it also featured a stupid, unworkable format installed by said genius-in-the-distance? That station folded its tent after a year-and-a-half. QED.
What would I do if given the opportunity? (Understand; I do not seek such an “opportunity.” Been there, done that. This is simply my way of barking at the radio.) I would bring back the successful actions of the past. Would it sound like KDAY, 1982? No! I also wouldn’t wear the same clothes as back then, for that matter, nor the same haircut, if I still had hair. I would keep the body in shape, however. We live in a different time and listen to different music. My station would reflect that. I could go into detail about the formatic elements and perhaps I will in the furture.
I’ll tell you this: I would counter-program Big Corprate radio with a vengeance. They can’t turn on a dime. I could. I would have no mercy on the little guys either, for that matter, because I would bring the same “gunslinger” attitude that we brought back in the day; “You’re not us, so you gotta go.” Bang. Of course, they would bring their intention.
It would be quite a game.
(Follow me on Twitter @jjsradioblog)