You bet your Casey-Kasem, Rick-Dees lovin’ asses it is.
Without a doubt, radio is still is among one of the more powerful mediums for introducing the majority of people throughout the world (don’t forget media exists outside the US, folks), to new music, news about musicians and bands on tours, and general entertainment industry revelry. Its almost always free, and accessible just about everywhere humans tend to populate.
(Heck, even my phone, a Sony Ericsson, is a phone/walkman. So, I can get radio on my cell phone, and I didn’t have to pay a friggin’ dime more for the privilege, unlike other carriers who offer a fancy download plan that, in my opinion, just serves to add yet another monthly bill to your cash outlay.)
Despite all those that claim radio is as dead as they claim the entire music industry to be, radio is very much alive and well. It’s different, of course, than it was ten years ago, but it’s still there, and I can’t forsee it disappearing any time soon.
Too often, people mistake change for obsolescence. The type of radio that existed at its inception is a completely different beast than radio as we know it today, and I suspect, the fascinating developments in music, radio, the concert business and everything else affected by the maturation of technology and culture that gets everyone so excited, will no doubt be bandied about as “dead” in another few decades as well. Actually, given its current momentum, it’ll probably happen a lot sooner than that.
So why is radio still relevant? Here are 5 reasons why I believe it to be so, feel free to argue away if you disagree, or call out points you might find valid. I look forward to the discussion. I’m interested in learning as much possible about the realities of this situation myself, so feel free to “call me out” if your own experience suggests it’s necessary.
By the way, I’m interested in interviewing radio veterans from the fifties and sixties about their time on air. If you know of someone interested in chatting for a story I’m working on concerning “race music” during this era, please drop me a line at doc @ music businesspage.com Cheers. Doc
Okay, so here we go:
- The operation of radio is typically overseen by the federal government. As far as I know, governments tend to have a vested interest in maintaining their own structure. Plus, radio serves a purpose in times of emergencies that overshadow the need to play your favorite music.
- Radio sells records. Yup, indeed it does. And lots of ‘em too. Now I don’t care if we’re talking about singles, digital downloads, full-length albums (sic) or “free” records from artists like Radiohead or Trent Reznor, when songs get played on radio, people pay attention. And frequent “impressions” of those songs on our silly little brains that enjoy repetition and reminders about the things we like, drive us online — or into some record store — to buy that little nugget. And that little nugget puts money into the pockets of your favorite artist and the gazillion people behind them including record labels, publishing houses, songwriters, entertainment lawyers. . .everyone. One song adds up, and it often starts at radio.
- Radio is still a business – and they generally adhere to a format. Even JackFM, famous for playing “what they want” is following a very strict programming format. So every time you hear that slammin’ AC/DC song followed by Annie Lennox (a hit is a hit is a hit!), you can bet your radio-format-hatin’ rear-end that several people sat in a room for a very long time analyzing the computer data that tells them about beat counts, song transition, what the consultants say, what the listeners say. . .all to come to the conclusion that Annie Lennox should follow Bon Scott, and that the combination would make you feel happy. Maybe happy enough to keep listening to the music long enough to hear the advertisement that follows those songs. Then, of course, maybe, just maybe you’ll buy the product that is advertised, or visit that service establishment spending their hard-earned money to have you listen to what it is they offer the marketplace. Radio is an economic juggernaut with tons of people and businesses interested in its survival. Think about that. Especially if some day you want to own your own business, or be a performer and hope you sell YOUR wares on radio. Gulp! So don’t “wish it away” too soon.
- Radio is all about reach. Who hears it, how many hear it and where do they hear it. Many critics of radio, look at its quality, or perceived lack thereof, through their own myopic lens (or ear buds. . ). And most of those who dislike radio are so inclined because they can’t relate to the music that’s on the air any longer. They’re either too old (like me in some instances), or their preferred style of music just isn’t played on any regular format station. Styles like death metal, ska, rockabilly and Celtic music come to mind as easy examples. However, projecting their own tastes on an entire entertainment medium, prevents them from looking at radio and the music industry objectively — setting up the inevitable “doomsday” scenarios. Those of us who love Led Zepplin will always love Led Zeppelin, yet Zep will not always be on the radio!I have always found it intriguing to watch how when people of similar positions gather to “discuss” a topic, their shared conclusions never change, and, in fact, often become heightened as a result of their mutual animosities and presuppositions. Its quite a fascinating phenomenon, and one that plays itself out every day in the media, across numerous and varying topic areas. Just turn on the television, and listen to the news about the impending economic doom to get a feel for what I’m referring to. . .listen to it often enough, and talk to enough people who think their in for a rough haul, and low-and-behold, that rough haul becomes a reality. However, if you were to speak to someone benefiting from today’s economy, you’ll have a much different view of what’s “really” happening. 90% of what becomes real is perception, and the supposed “death” of radio is no different. I view these changes more like the “death” of the critics favorite type of radio, the type they grew up with, then the absolute death of a medium.
- Radio is designed to play hits. Sure there are songs tested out that are uncertain winners from a radio programming perspective, but the idea is to play songs that work. . .songs that will sell. YouTube, MySpace and the previously heralded MP3.com (where is it now?), are at the moment at least, marketing tools for unsigned bands to generate a fan base to better their chances of getting signed by, you guessed it, a record label. Like it or not, that’s still the model, and still the one a great number of the talented artists we can find online are pursuing. Making records costs a lot of money folks, touring costs a lot of money, and playing hits costs a lot of money. When you’re the one with a vested interest in profiting from your talent, how much do you want to leave to chance? Can a new band afford to give away their records for free? Come on. Sure, Radiohead and Trent can do it, but they’re already huge money-making artists. The free record is at once a publicity stunt and a way to generate income via different means. If either one of these recording artists were still “starving artists” you can better your bottom-dollar, they’d be gigging till they couldn’t stand anymore, and trying to squeeze every dollar out of every fan they had. That’s the truth. So, artists need radio, just like they need the internet. But in order for radio to need them, they’ve gotta’ be good, they’ve got to be able to write more than two good songs (in other words, generate scale), and the fickle consumer who we hear only buys singles any longer wants them to be good too. So, I don’t think you’ll be hearing any live feeds from YouTube getting piped through your FM dial any time soon, any more than you’ll hear even a small percentage of these most “clickable” of artists getting signed to a record deal, or putting out their own records on their own label. How many true hits are there on MySpace and YouTube, and do you really want to hear the rest on radio?
- Baker’s half dozen bonus: Lastly, for readers of the page who want to work in the music industry, you already know that I believe radio is still one of the simplest entertainment industry workplaces to penetrate as either a career changer, or a newbie with zero experience. There are often so many things to do in radio, and enough turnover at stations, that if you’re persistent enough you could almost guarantee yourself a spot at the station of your choice within a year. Try it, you might be pleasantly surprised.
(By the way, music biz wannabes, stay tuned to Jeff Leeds’ reporting at the New York Times, his stuff rocks, and he’ll keep you very informed for your job interviews.)
Long live radio. . .even those stations we don’t like!
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