First of all, let me begin by stating that I got into radio for the same reason as most; the passion for the music(all music) and the love of great radio. The kind of radio that was created in the 70’s and flourished in the 80’s, before stagnating in the 90’s. The new decade began on a bad note. As the internet’s popularity grew so did people’s fascination with getting whatever they wanted-when they wanted it…even if they had to steal it. In 9 years, the only thing that’s changed is the number of people broadcasting the music. Even after Clear Channel’s Pinkslip-a-palooza in the first few years of 2000, radio rebounded recognizing that radio needs to be live and local. What happened? Did we forget, in just 6 years time, that people need their local stations to be “local”? I read a quote from one of CC’s spokespeople after the huge layoffs earlier in the year. It said something to the effect of…”we’re still committed to delivering the best product for our advertisers”. WHAT?!? Since when did the FCC start granting licenses to broadcasters to serve a business’ need to find customers? We are not “playing radio” to bring Joe ‘the locksmith’ a new client. We serve our communities, surrounding the city of license, with content; music, news, alerts, weather, opinions and so on.
Now a new injustice has popped up. Arbitron, after radio’s outcry, has replaced one flawed system for yet another. This system is designed to tell investment companies that people are/are not listening to a given station at a given time during the day. Replacing a (or appx 1700) written diary, with a pager that better records what people are ‘really’ listening to; effectively making stations microcast to 10 people who may or may not be around a radio at a given time. Of those 10 people, 3 of them might be in the core demo that an advertiser might want to draw from. Yes, this is how radio should be…NOT!
I’ve heard all too many times over the last few months, SVPP’s, consultants and GM’s telling their PD’s—in the face of PPM-- to “cut the list”, “play known artists” and “don’t take chances—work from the safe list”! Now, lists that hovered in the 28-33 range are being scaled back to 18-21? Taking country for instance, the ‘Power Artists’- Strait, Urban, Chesney, McGraw, Keith, Paisley, Flatts,…depending on the trending, get preferential treatment. Aldean, Lady A, Zac Brown Band, Luke Bryan, Craig Morgan, they all have to wait till we a station gets through ‘the known’. It’s only now that Taylor Swift has finally gotten to the “have to add” category…after MILLIONS of CD’s sold. Where does that leave Love and Theft, David Nail, Gloriana, Mallary Hope, Easton Corbin, Anthony Smith or the next new artist with a reactive song? If all we ever do is wait for the next McGraw record, where will this format be when he’s gone? Will we retire a space for Brooks and Dunn in 2010? Who fills the hole when Strait goes? Ahh yes, then and only then will it be ‘safe’ to play an artist “not-so-known”.
We have an amazing opportunity to take back the airwaves and create great radio that people want to listen to. I believe in the adage that radio for the people, by the people is more necessary now than ever before. Tell them what’s going on around them, while living in the cities they live in. Breathing in the smoke in southern California, makes the person behind the microphone more relatable to the people who are breathing in the same smoke. Yes, I’m of the school that music radio should inform people of newsworthy items about artists that the station plays regularly or ‘pop culture’ icons. Be bold, take chances, have fun, relate and most of all—serve the audience what ‘they’ want. Forget what the person between the age of 35 and 49, who might have a PPM on …might ‘possibly’ tune out for 3 minutes. We as programmers cannot control their lives. We cannot plan for why they might tune out. We CAN control what they hear when to do tune in…and it should be fun, informative, local and relatable. We play music and music is more broad than 21 songs.