Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Radio Ga-Ga, Part III

As promised, here is a semi-comprehensive collection of my observations about and opinions of the current state of terrestrial radio.  Being a lifelong fan of this medium, it’s sad to watch it die a slow painful death like this, and I’m not sure what, if anything, can be done to revive it.  I apologize in advance for the length here, but I most definitely have a few issues…

One thing I will never understand about radio is how the morning drive guy at a station often pulls in a six-figure salary, while the overnight DJ who precedes him barely gets paid over minimum wage to do the same job!  Is this a case of sour grapes on my part?  A little, I suppose, but does this make any sense to you?  I’m not saying that the morning drive or afternoon drive people don’t deserve a little more compensation—after all, they’re the bread-winners for the station and pull in the most listeners and all—but the disparity between their salaries and the graveyard shift people and board operators is a joke to me.  Hell, you can make more money being a greeter at Wal-Mart than you can as an overnight DJ on some stations.  Throw me a fricken’ bone here…

I generally despise morning radio shows anyway, thus I’m a bit biased to begin with.  My irritation threshold is much lower than that of most listeners, so take that for what it’s worth here, but there’s just way too much yapping and not enough music during my drive to work.  I’m not that hard to please, really—just give me the latest news, tell me who won last night, tell me where the wrecks are, tell me what the weather’s going to do, maybe tell a joke or two, then shut up and play something!  Rock stations are especially annoying because instead of music, all you basically get in the morning is talk radio, with maybe one or two songs thrown in so the jocks can field calls from a bunch of yahoos with cell phones making inane commentary.  As bad as the local morning shows are, now the big trend is stations switching to nationally syndicated yakkers like the "Bob & Tom Show", and they’re downright pitiful.  Ain’t nothing worse to me than unfunny morning radio people constantly laughing at their own jokes!  And don’t even get me started on that lower form of species known as the Shock Jock—I have no use for human roach droppings like Howard Stern, Grease Man and Mancow Muller, et al.  As you might imagine, my car CD player gets plenty of use in the mornings.

Call me Old School if you want, but I miss the good ol’ days when the music was the star, and you had DJs that who cared about what they were playing.  Guys like Randy Raley, Joe McCabe and even Dick Wilson from the halcyon days of Classic Rock at KY-102 in K.C. are good examples—you could tell they were fans of the music and they were also much more analytical about the stuff they played then.  Today, most jocks are either so jaded or so clueless about music that they could be playing a dial tone on the air, and they wouldn’t care.

Unfortunately, I live in what has to be one of the crappiest big-city radio markets in the country to begin with—I swear, Wichita and Omaha have better stations than what we have here.  We only have four AM stations with decent signals that broadcast 24/7—the rest are all low-power and/or daytime-only stations that you practically have to sit directly under their transmitter to pick up.  We have four all-sports stations here (and only TWO major league teams), none of which are particularly good, and one wastes a perfectly good FM signal for nothing.  Ironically, I used to complain that there were too many Country stations in Kansas City, but now there are too many Rock stations, and none of them get it right!  One plays nothing but current alterna-Rock crap, another plays almost nothing but Metallica and Nirvana, and the two "Classic Rock" stations are so bland, playing the same five Eagles songs, the same five Tom Petty songs and the same five Mellencamp songs, ad nauseam.  The news/talk stations here—all two of ‘em—are both so anally conservative they make Pat Buchanan look like a flaming liberal, so there’s no variety in viewpoints at all.  By the way, if the mainstream media is supposedly so liberal, then why is there this phalanx—not just here, but nationwide—of conservative talk shows all over the radio?  Liberal media, my ass!

Another problem I have with radio stations today is how they sensationalize the routine stuff they do anyway to make it sound like a big deal.  For instance, "Ten songs in a row, every hour!"  That’s pretty much standard on practically every station, regardless of the format—except, of course, at the stations where the DJ can’t count that high.  Or, "Nobody plays more Led Zeppelin than we do!"—they just forget to admit that it’s the same five Zep songs over and over ("Whole Lotta Love", "Stairway To Heaven", "Rock And Roll", "Fool In The Rain" and "Black Dog").  There’s a new trend now with stations trying to impress me by doing a "Lunch Time Shuffle" or "Shuffle Weekend", implying that they play more different stuff at random.  Isn’t that what they should be doing, anyway?  Back when I worked in radio, this was called "rotation"…

Then there’s the issue of "lost classic" songs.  How do "lost classics" become lost in the first place?  Because radio stations never play them!  I’ve never understood why it always takes some special occasion for certain old songs to get airplay on Classic Rock stations, like some annual A-Z chronology or a "Lost Classics Weekend", or the request hour, etc.  Granted, some songs don’t belong in the rotation quite as often as others, but couldn’t we forego a few spins of the Doobie Brothers’ (worn-out) classic "China Grove" in favor of "I Cheat The Hangman" or "Without You" now and then?

Thankfully, some stations still revere songs like these, like K-SHE 95 in St. Louis.  I always make it a point to tune them in on Sunday mornings when I do road trips there because they have a show that features more obscure stuff that rarely gets played anymore.  A good example is a song by Rick Derringer called "Don't Ever Say Goodbye" which I probably hadn’t heard in at least 20 years until a couple years back on K-SHE.  They also played some oddball stuff from Manfred Mann and Little River Band that I’d never even heard before, and it was great!  It’s not always that scintillating, but it’s still refreshing to hear something different in lieu of the same five Bob Seger songs, same five Kansas songs, same five Def Leppard songs, etc.  What do these stations have to lose by going deeper into a group’s catalog of music, anyway?  I find it hard to believe that a station is going to lose listeners by playing "Rock Brigade" now and then instead of "Pour Some Sugar On Me".  If anything, I would think they would gain listeners who appreciate a little more variety within the format.  As a major fan of The Who, I love "Won’t Get Fooled Again" and "Baba O’Riley" to death, but I don’t have to hear them every bleepin’ day on the radio, as Classic Rock stations seem to think I do.  By all means, please feel free to play "Slip Kid" or "The Real Me" instead once in a while!

Oldies stations are just as bad, where it seems like you get nothing but Four Seasons, Motown and the Beach Boys 24/7.  There’s nothing wrong with them at all, but they’re so worn out.  Just once on an Oldies station, I’d love to hear "Indiana Wants Me" by R. Dean Taylor or "The Night Chicago Died" by Paper Lace—hell, even some Osmonds or Carpenters songs would make my day on an Oldies station.  I can’t really comment on Country or R&B stations since I rarely listen to them, but I get the impression that they suffer from the same blandness that Rock and Oldies stations do.  You CANNOT convince me that listeners really want to hear the same blasted songs over and over again, even though that’s what radio station programmers, consultants and managers insist is true.  If so, then why are so many people bagging terrestrial radio in favor of satellite radio now?

In conclusion, I’m beginning to wonder if what the late Freddie Mercury and Queen used to sing is still true:  "Radio, someone still loves you…"