By Corey Deitz
January 28, 2014
Tonight (1/28) is the State of the Union Address by President Obama. He will stand in front of both houses of congress and tell our legislators and the people they represent, the state of our union. Most likely, he will state early on that the state of our union is “strong” since that’s what most of these guys say no matter how crappy or great things are going. Well, in the spirit of that speech tonight, I’d like to do a little State of Traditional Radio address.
This is only one man’s opinion but it comes from someone who has been working in the business all his adult life, doing radio shows from Biloxi to Chicago and a host of cities in between. So, take from it what you wish.
Ladies, and Gentlemen, the state of traditional radio, AM and FM, in 2014 is….safe.
There’s great radio out there but not everywhere. There's great radio out there but, not enough. There are too many radio stations but a deficiency of employed radio personalities to make all of them vibrant and compelling. There's a body count out there and a lot of radio's best have been piled up in the unemployment trenches in the wake of Big Radio and its ways. There are too many radio stations with voice-tracked talents, syndicated personalities, and automated programming that cheats local communities out of having a real connection to real people who live and deal with shared joys and concerns.
The state of radio is an ongoing cost-cutting austerity program which continues to rob local listeners of real local radio stations. At least when newspapers began to suffer from falling subscribership and falling revenue the owners put them out of their misery and just shut them down. Today, you can keep a radio station on life-support long after the roster of local talent has been fired, downsized, and bid farewell with a half-hearted severance. And that’s what we have in many places: empty studios with blinking lights and digital VU meters that correspond to remote servers that are running automation software that plugs in recorded voice tracks, commercials, and music that has been scheduled by another piece of software.
The robots have actually taken over. They are just disguised as humans.
Syndicated programming has its place. Automation has a place. But, just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
Several large companies now control the bulk of commercial radio stations in this country. You can thank your politicians in the mid 1990s for thinking it would be a real good idea to change the rules and allow a few companies to buy up all the radio stations they could cart off, like some sort of "all-you-can carry-radio-pumpkin-patch." The politicians pandered to businessmen who had skin in the game and the F.C.C. pandered to the politicians by forsaking the public trust.
You own each of those radio stations. Well, the public does. Yet, many of these stations do little for you. The F.C.C. was supposed to be the guardian of your radio frequencies and be a stewart on your behalf. But, that agency has revised the rules and regulations and made them so ridiculously lame, it has allowed Big Radio to serve up cloned programming across the spectrum. Over all, I’d say you’ve been let down by your elected representatives and their appointed cronies.
For a while, online radio was exciting and offered a certain promise that traditional radio was quickly abdicating. But, it didn’t take long for Big Radio to jump into that game, too, as well and it is slowly suffocating the smaller players.
Big Radio also chased out some of its best talents like Howard Stern, Opie & Anthony, and <b>Bubba the Love Sponge</b>. These were the kinds of talents that kept the business exciting. When Howard Stern began on Sirius Radio in January, 2006, it was the end of a great era in commercial radio. The personalities who made it most interesting simply vanished - and Big Radio was left with a growing army of servers, software, and digital files.
During the past few years the people left in radio doing personality shows have been put on notice by social media bullies who threaten to destroy anyone who says something politically incorrect or worse yet: executes a stunt where something out of the ordinary happens that couldn’t even be anticipated. Stunting in radio has dropped dramatically and everyone is too ready to issue an apology. Management doesn't want anyone who dares to go over the line. It just wants people who will get in line. It makes for mediocrity.
Radio was more fun when Howard Stern was being outrageous, the F.C.C. was fining him, and the company that employed him stood their ground and backed him up. Today, radio is playing it safe.