The Song Remains The Same
August 6, 2013
There can be no mistake while listening to the radio these long, hot summer days that music is still playing on the radio. What gives? Wasn't there some paradigm shift moving music to cassettes, then CDs, mp3 players, then iPods, iPads, Pandora, Zunes, that damn song in my head that won't go away? Why are these morons on FM radio stations playing the same crap, er, music that I have on my multi-hundred-dollar device? Um, because it's succeeding.
After a quick review of recent Arbitron numbers here in Los Angeles (the REAL Music City), I've noticed that popular music is heard, by share, at a whopping 51%, and that doesn't even count Jazz, Classical, Mexican/Latino or the music in my head, which, as it turns out, is on the radio, too. Talk radio is somewhere down near my ankles, where it belongs. When FM talk KLSX flipped to Top 40 KAMP and began playing yet more popular music a few years back, they came out of the box with numbers that would slay a bookie.
I posit that there is actually nothing wrong with radio, as many critics, and many of us have surmised. In fact, it's flourishing as the jukebox envisioned by McLendon, Sklar, and Rounds, and other names that look like a law firm.
The two questions I ALWAYS field about radio when taking questions among laymen who decide to bombard me with questions about radio while I'm trying to finish my Subway turkey avocado sandwich are: "Isn't satellite killing radio?" and, "Why do they play the same songs on each station?" After I stab them with a mic that looks like it belonged to Gene Rayburn on Match Game '73, I settle down and get to it. The fact is, satellite IS radio. They're not programmed by extraterrestrials that live on satellites, but by ex-terrestrial radio dudes, for the most part, and use the same research regular ol' radio uses to determine what sucks and what doesn't suck. Like many popular things in life, most popular music sucks and great programmers take the least suckey stuff and rotate it on the air like a centrifuge. They've been doing this successfully for decades because people like their songs, and they like hearing them, a lot (although not often on a centrifuge).
The genius is that radio programmers, if they learned anything from McLendon, Sklar and Rounds and the other lawyers, know that songs burn and good radio folk know when to take them down like bowling pins. (Did I just call them geniuses?) All of this is happening in the face of an alarming personality drain and a stunning lack of promotional activity, and on stations that run over 10 minutes of commercial time per hour! And we listen because the product is still superior than what we could do on Pandora, iTunes, iHear, iHate and iGetSickOf.
This is not to say that radio shouldn't embrace personality once again, localization more often and news and information that isn't some left/right gaggle-fest; you can get that on Facebook now. Radio should do these basics, and from what I hear on the street, they're doing it more and more while understanding that THAT is the way to combat iWhatever, but it seems that playing great songs is still as popular as ice cream.
As artists depend on great songs, it turns out that so do we, and radio still knows how to do that song thang.