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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Why Radio Is Irrelevant

Radio used to be the lifeblood of music.  Airplay on any kind of station, from the smallest college station to the largest 50,ooo watter, meant recognition and an eventual audience for an act.  Not anymore.  Radio using music as it's main programming, like the traditional music industry, is dying a slow and painful death.

How did this happen?  Let's look at some of the causes.

1)  Local radio dies.  It used to be that each area of the country had its own sound by virtue of the fact that all radio was local.  As a result, the music played in Philly would be somewhat different than Miami which would be different from Memphis and so on.  When playlists became virtually the same everywhere, radio lost the edge that made it great - each city's unique playlist.

2)  Big Money buys in.  As radio became more successful during the 70's and the advertising dollars poured in, it became the beginning of the end since it attracted the Big Money station groups who bought up all the small indie stations.  Management became homogenized as did the playlist because of........

3)  The rise of the consultant.  In order to keep those ad dollars flowing, station groups hired consultants to program all their stations with a format that was proven to draw ratings.  Never mind that this destroyed what was unique about the station, or that the format that worked in LA might not work in Kansas.  Once you could hear the same songs in Wyoming that you'd hear in New York City, the element of music discovery was eliminated for the listener.  Radio became the same mediocre programming that we hear today with the same bunch of middle-of-the-road songs.

I've often thought that AM radio could be the saviour of radio because it's doing worse as a whole than FM, so it's able to take some chances as a result.  If a station would go back to the system that caused radio to rise to greatness (giving DJ's the authority to choose their own playlists), you'd see it take off again.  Especially today, people want to discover music but they want someone they trust to make suggestions (which was the basic premise of FM radio during its heyday of the 70's).  You can get that on the Internet, but you can't check the Web while driving in your car.

Recent Arbitron studies have found that 90% of adults listen to at least a short period of radio every day (only 50% of adults watch prime time television).  They're mostly unhappy with what's available to them, so let's give them something worth listening to.

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