RADIO, THEN AND NOW
- My trip to San Diego
Mostly, I’ve been listening to Sirius XM as we drove down the coast from Seattle to San Diego. Not that satellite radio is so much better than broadcast. I just like to be able to count on having my classical, jazz, and BBC World Service and NPR channels everywhere. As you can see, I don’t follow pop music anymore, haven’t for years. I must say, when I’ve tuned FM radio — for a while in SF, LA, and SD — I’ve been impressed with the technical quality of the sound. I’ve heard nothing fresh in production or personality. Today, we took a drive around SD, and I switched to FM and surfed, looking for something listenable. I settled on a light jazz mix — not “smooth jazz”; this was actual songs played by artists who were actually improvising, not playing SJ’s basic licks on alto sax against electronic piano and synth. The music stopped, and I was hearing a laid-back jock speaking Spanish. A Tijuana jazz station. Which also played Arabic pop, later. And John Mayer. At least it was a fresh mix.
- THINKING AHEAD
This is what radio’s supposed to be good at. However, we must be realistic. American broadcast radio stations — the AM-FM steel tower kind — have been facing forward, but looking into a rear-view mirror, since the 1970s. Every programming decision has had to be “researched” — run through a focus group, or based only on what’s worked before. People can only report on what they’re familiar with, so when new formats can only be based on familiar elements, you’ll never adopt a “new” idea. Yes, you can be creative with existing elements. But renaming the same old stuff doesn’t produce anything fresh. So, now, in all businesses and many other pursuits, nothing is working anymore. Out of all this destruction, opportunities will arise. Broadcast AM-FM radio is not dead. Amazingly, in spite of IPods, Internet radio, and everything else, American radio is only bleeding badly. Most of the damage of the past ten years has been done by financiers and consolidators. They’ve had to destroy the stations to try to pay for what they bought. Now, maybe soon, they’ll have to sell stations. So far, they’re just trading them among themselves. Soon, maybe, when station prices fall far enough, I hope, real radio people will gather enough financing to buy stations and run them, rather than just cut them, hold them, and wait for a buyer with more money and desire to come along and give you your capital gain. Time’s running out for the arbitrageurs. Soon, maybe, radio will have a future again.
- STATE OF RADIO
I’m writing a novel about a radio guy, and radio guys are living in a novel. About now, they’re living the part where the whole world is falling apart. What should happen next is, the hero defeats the villain and the clouds start to roll away. Sorry, in this novel, no guarantee is offered that a happy ending will follow. However, this is the year of the Great Collapse. Maybe the new financial world will produce a great de-consolidation for America’s radio stations. It’s still a good business, ruined, for the moment, by the 12-year Hubris Era of Wall Street. I really expect radio to survive and thrive. More to come.
- I’m Back
I’ve been away, developing my other site, 3rdActs.com. But I’m still working on the novel, and I still have thoughts about the state of radio in America and elsewhere. So, I’m back and I’ll be posting here again, too. Stay tuned.
- Radio guys, talking trash.
Want to get a feel for how radio people think? Read Sean Ross’s tribute (here) to a now-legendary country station, KPLX Dallas. Sean’s a fine writer, formerly with Billboard, and he’s a radio fan-journalist in the top tier — one of two or three. He now works for one of the major radio biz research companies. You have to be an radio insider to get his references, and that’s his audience — radio guys. Trust me: this article captures all the stuff radio pros value. But the most telling feature of this Web page is the endless string of comments by, mostly, the people Sean’s written about, and, inevitably, the clash of electronic egos. Radio people love their legends, and their history. Don’t try to break into this narrative with news that the Internet is slowly but surely eating their meticulously prepared lunch. The assumption that they’re still in control of the music and its fans will die hard.
- Radio guys running newspapers. [Cringe] Make that “ruining.”
Check out Eric Alterman’s piece in The Nation.
- Chicago Trib editors slip away.
I just saw in the New York Times that Ann Marie Lipinski, the Tribune’s editor, is resigning, saying
“…this position is not the fit it once was.”
Hardly surprising, and not the first Trib editor to “ankle.” (Love that word.) Sam Zell, real estate and radio mogul, who bought The Tribune Company earlier this year, has worked hard to create a hostile workplace for anybody used to the newspaper business and unfamiliar with the inner workings of the radio business.
Sam brought in his wild boy from his Jacor Broadcasting days, Randy Michaels, who brought along his whoopee cushions to corporate executive suites. Zell has set Randy and his gang loose on the newspaper business, which has not been known for placing promotion above content, as radio does. No wonder newspaper people are diving out the portholes. Cutting the budget is one thing. Sending in the clowns is another.
Not that newspapers don’t need a tonic. But the “creativity” that brought U.S. radio to its current pretty pass is not it.
Jerry Del Colliano, radio’s Jeremiah, thinks Zell and Michaels are staffing up to take over the crippled Clear Channel station collection, and their newspaper hijinks are just make-work activity to keep the boys busy until deals are made. I mean, how much harm can they do to the ink-stained corpse. I say, never underestimate the power of radio guys to devalue the china shop to a dollar store. If you get my drift.