Remember when radio stations played great music?
OK, before you accuse me of sounding like your dad, I’ll rephrase that. Remember
when radio stations played an exciting variety of music and artists and you never
knew what they would play and when?
Well my friends if you do remember that, you’ve probably been around awhile.
And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll explain.
Years ago, privately owned radio stations and their local disc jockeys would
choose the music or content they wanted to play, when they wanted to play
it, whatever came to mind. And if someone called the station for a request and it
felt right, they’d play that too. What? You mean they don’t do it that way
now? Well in a word, no. In fact let me add no, no, no, and more no.
These days, the majority of American radio stations are owned by mega
corporations like Clear Channel and Infinity Broadcasting. These corporations hire
programmers who decide exactly what songs to play and in what order they will be
played. Then in many cases they do what is called, “Voice-tracking”. Voice tracking
is a process where someone records the programming in one city and then
distributes it to the many stations owned by the mega corporation throughout the
country. So what you hear in San Francisco may be exactly what you hear in New
York City or Atlanta. Often they’ll throw in content like local weather, traffic and
sports to give the illusion that the DJ is local. Fooled ya!
Unlike the FM band, AM radio is made up of mainly news and talk stations and relies
on listener involvement as its core strength. AM has been relying more and more on
syndicated programming and I have nothing against that for many of the programs
are very well done like Clark Howard’s informative consumer action show and the
Kim Komando Show, another very informative show about computers and the
But as for FM’s move to mass music programming, many listeners have grown tired
of the predictable playlists and have turned to ipods, podcasting and satellite radio.
Not only does this mega programming squeeze out the possibility of new artists and
their music from being heard, but it also makes many stations sound cookie cutter
identical. Like a particular Top 40 song? No problem. Just switch to the four or five
stations in any given market sharing a similar format and you can be assured it will
be played, again and again.
Today’s stations still classify themselves in formats like Country, Top 40, and Rock
and some are even experimenting with what they call “whatever” playlists trying to
mimic the popular ipods and podcasts. But the station’s playlists are still
preprogrammed into hard drives that spit them out along with the commercials in a
precise, predictable, business like order. And although the powers that be tried in
vain to slow or even stop the progress of satellite radio, it harkens back to the days
when VHS and then later CDs came to be. The bottom line is that if the consumer
wants it, it’s going to happen.
What will eventually cause conventional radio listenership to decline won’t be
satellite or mp3 players. It will be the watered down, mass market approach these
mega companies are taking. Because they’ve changed what was once exciting,
unpredictable radio into what should now be called the, “FM Bland”.