When Radio Was King

70s Radio Tuner webBy Mary L. Collins

This will not be a popular commentary, I know. And yet, I feel strongly that there is more to the story than "consolidation" alone. The instigators of radio's demise are multifold. Here's the story from which my following comments sprang: KGO and the Death of Radio.

So why does this story matter?

For most people under the age of 30, radio DOESN'T matter, and never did. They grew up with technology that allowed them to choose their music and information via download, social media (like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), or via pre-determined, and just as narrow, satellite radio in their cars. They have no recollection of the personalities who ruled the airwaves, or the news men and women who covered town politics, live games, and who left the police scanner on 24/7. They never slip cue'd an album (if they even know what an album is, let alone, slip cueing) and created a mix that was killer. They never tuned in to RADIO when a disaster hit.

Why does this story matter? Because Radio allowed itself to become irrelevant.

I saw radio unravel years before the rug got yanked out from under my feet. Consolidations, dumbing down the personalities to be nothing more than "talking heads" who read pre-determined liners and promotional copy, rather than engage in the news and happenings of their local communities... and talk INTELLIGENTLY about what's going on around them in their own communities. Faking a DJ name and making talent voice track from one station to another to cut costs - it ALL hastened the demise of radio - not just the mergers and acquisitions, still, admittedly, the biggest offenders of all.

Commercial radio handed over news gathering to public radio without so much as a whimper and now complains that public radio has the lions' share of listeners. Why? Because public radio ATE OUR LUNCH and WE GAVE THEM THE SANDWICH. i.e., public radio STILL broadcasts somewhat relevant content.

Music died because programmers took over the language of radio - MUSIC, and decided for us what we would like and how often we would like it. Forget hiring a DJ who knew music, introduced new artists, or those whose music wasn't "top 10", or felt their way through the nuances of a day and played music accordingly. Restrict us to a playlist of 30 songs (at most) and make sure the top hit breaks at 10 past the hour - EVERY DAMN hour of the day.

"Downsize" - one of my favorite words for firing talent. Cheapen the product by limiting the diversity of voices. Pay women less or relegate us to cutesy morning sidekick status. Ugh. And for those who remain, require them to do three jobs but pay them for one - and pay as little as you can get away with.

Turn radio into real estate. Consolidate. Create drama and "engagement" via cheaper and cheaper contests that matter not one whit and that are stratified across your entire network, nationwide. Take away the producers who created interesting programming and commercials that are relevant, entertaining and well written and give us another DJ shouting, selling and cajoling us into buying something we really don't need.

Do I hate radio? Not at all. I LOVE radio and I miss it terribly. I miss the antics, the excitement, the poignancy, the relevance of it. I miss the interviews with INTERESTING artists and newsmakers. I miss the TIMING of radio, the unexpected, laughing out loud or crying inconsolably moments of it. I miss the LOCAL identification to a place, a people, and a time.

I miss being part of it. But not in its current state.

Hats off to all the AWESOME radio people I've known, worked with and learned from; and to all the AMAZING artists I've met, befriended, shared and enjoyed their artistry.

You know who you are. Thanks for what used to be. It was a time, wasn't it?!!

Mary is the founder/owner of Shine Communications. She welcomes your correspondence at mary@shinecommunications.org. Copyright 2016 Mary L. Collins, ShineCommunications.org. All rights reserved.

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