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Friday, November 19, 2004


On December 17, 1977, during an appearance on Saturday Night Live, Elvis Costello stopped the Attractions during the first verse of ‘Less Than Zero’ and launched into ‘Radio Radio’. In doing so he pissed off Lorne Michaels, a feat that almost guarantees future success, but mainly he was commenting on a growing trend, a trend that has only gained momentum - the decline of Radio at the hands of corporate ownership.

“They say you better listen to the voice of reason
But they don’t give you any choice
‘Cause they think that it’s treason
So you had better do as you are told
You better listen to the radio”

“You either shut up or get cut up
They don’t wanna hear about it
It’s only inches on the reel to reel
But radio is in the hands such a lot of fools
Tryin’ to anaesthetize the way that you feel”

But Elvis was not the only artist of his day voicing his concern. In 1979 Joey Ramone lamented the state of radio on ‘Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio’ from End Of The Century.

“Do you remember lying bed
With your covers pulled up over your head?
Radio playin' so no one can see
We need change, we need it fast
Before rock's just part of the past
'Cause lately it all sounds the same to me”

And again in ’81 from ‘We Want The Airwaves’ on Pleasant Dreams:

“Where's your guts and will to survive
Don't you wanna keep rock n' roll music alive
Mr. Programmer I got my hammer
I'm gonna Smash my Smash my Radio

We want the airwaves
We want the airwaves
We want the airwaves, baby
If rock is gonna stay alive”

In 1979, Rush chimed in with ‘Spirit Of The Radio’ from their LP, Permanent Waves.

“All this machinery making modern music
Can still be openhearted.
Not so coldly charted
It's really just a question of your honesty, yeah,
Your honesty.
One likes to believe in the freedom of music,
But glittering prizes and endless compromises
Shatter the illusion of integrity”

Neil Peart, lyricist for the band, is talking about more than just radio, but also a trend toward a sort of clinical sterility that comes hand in hand with the advancement of technology in the field of music, or any art form for that matter. His major concern, however, seems to be the impact of big business on music through radio.

“For the words of the profits were written on the studio wall,
Concert hall
And echoes with the sounds of salesmen.”

There are still a handful of ‘real’ radio stations left. There’s only one in the metro New York area, which I know of, and please fill me in if I’m uninformed, but as far as I know WFMU is the last bastion of DJ oriented music in the New York area. Even college radio seems to be on the decline, an institution that was essential to breaking bands like R.E.M. and the Replacements in the 80’s has been shoved even further underground to make room for more Clear Channel and Viacom affiliates. This trend makes little sense to me, particularly in a culture where we have hundreds of brands of toothpaste and deodorant, but an ever-dwindling number of options on the airwaves.

When I was growing up, in the Hudson Valley, we had a number of options. Many of them still exist, but are no longer privately owned, and must now kowtow to a program director who’s sole motivation is to climb the corporate ladder, not to provide quality content for the listening public.

Howard Stern claims that he will bring about the death of radio, terrestrial radio, as it now needs to be termed, through his move to satellite. I do believe that satellite will take off, and I’m sure that Howard will be somewhat responsible for making it happen, at least speeding up the process, but terrestrial radio, our old style radio, is not going to die. There will always be a market for it, particularly in sports and talk radio. As far as music goes, I guess it comes down to taste. If you like the crap on Z100, then nothing is going to change for you. You’re buying what they’re selling, and that’s fine. I want something else, and I may have to join Howard in the sky to get it.

You certainly have a differing opinion on this subject than your brother on this one. I tend to agree with you whole heartedly as far as the content factor, its decline, and it's affect on the industry as a whole, but your brother and others make good points too. The magic of radio used to lie in the localization factor and diversity. Local businesses (the Benny Havens Bar & Grill’s of the world) who could not afford the expensive rates of nat'l television always had the radio as an advertising outlet. The big behemoths still try to give us the allure of localization, but it has become expensive and they have driven local advertising business elsewhere. My idea is that public broadcast radio spectrum should be reallocated much in the same way as the wireless phone segment is with a little twist. The cellular guys had to bid on their spectrum at FCC auctions. The Gov't made sure that spectrum swaths were reserved for minority owned businesses and small business investors, and foreign ownership was forbidden. By way of qualifying bidders into these segments forbidding consolidation, competition and fairness was to be ensured. This approach has had its ups and downs thats for sure, and the verdict is still out on whether it will have its intended desired affect. How my idea for broadcast radio differs is that I would reallocate spectrum into geographic coverage areas and set aside ample freqs for local area coverage only. Ownership of these local bands would be restricted to qualifying independent operators and insulated from consolidation. This would guarantee that local radio stations would always be viable.

Another factor in this discussion is access. Broadcast radio is not only free, but the devices you receive it on are free as well (even your dad couldn't convince the dealership to take the radio out of his new cars). The verdict is still far out on whether or not there is a big enough market for pay radio. Howard's migration will certainly provide a large subscriber infusion, but will it be the force multiplier they’re hoping on in drawing other non-Stern listeners? I don't know (I’m certainly hoping so). Will folks who only spend a small amount of time in their cars be willing to fork over the fee? I don't that answer either (if it’s cheap they will come?). My long term hunch is that once devices emerge that record sat radio broadcast content (a recording radio iPod if you will) it may have the traction needed to propel it into a via able business.

What I think Fred is underestimating is how bad the decline of broadcast radio will be before any new ideas and approaches will be explored. I predict a 1920’s stock market like bottoming out attributable solely to the content homogenization factor will be the unfortunate reality (as a matter of fact, I’m hoping for it too). Yeah, it might be free, but if it's crap, nobody's gonna listen to it anyway, and it’ll serve them right. That’s what I think is happening right now and they will end up like the long distance companies who could see past their billfolds and are now scraping to stay alive. I think he's overlooking the hand that the big record companies have had in f'ing it all up too. With the exception of talk radio and sports, what do we tune in to radio for? Music. If what record companies are producing is crap, radio is not going to make the crap better. It all starts with core content. That is what sat radio has to offer over their terrestrial counterparts, better content. The big question is: Are citizens going to be willing to pay for it? Long term the question is: Will sat radio be able to switch to advertising based business model if the pay per listen thing doesn't work out. It will be interesting to watch happen for sure.

BTW... You forgot "The world is collapsing around our ears. I turned up the radio, but I can't hear it".
"Yo, turn to that station..." My least favorite song on an otherwise great record.
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Good blog but without internet marketing online advertising you have little chance of selling anything.
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