Radio Dead Transmission

This is an essay/in depth version of my Radio’s Dying Gasps post. This latest post was published on Milehive.com a few weeks back.

“We can control the medium/ We can control the context of presentation.” – T. Gabel

You don’t really need a wiki entry to tell you that Top 40 radio acts as” an arbiter and barometer of musical taste.” We just accept that radio has always been a place to go and listen to music. Formats are determined by market demographics. In widely diverse markets you have a rock station, hip hop station, oldies station, pop or Top 40’s station broadcast to the widest array of listeners. We have early commercial radio, pervasive proliferation of the television set and it’s subsequent siphoning off of dramatic content to TV and poor black southern communities to thank for the popularity of rock music.

You also don’t need Sarah Silverman to tell you Radio sucks either, however, radio has been dying a slow death for the past decade (just like the CD), losing ad revenue to companies that have increased their spending online. I’ve always held contempt for the radio system. Pay to play payola was and has been rampant for decades even though its not really talked about much now. Yes, it still happens, just google payola and you’ll find out about some major label (Sony) payola that was swept under the table within the past few years Not that Elliot Spitzer is the most credible person right now but in 2005 he was quoted in the Sony BMG settlement saying, “Sony BMG and the other record labels present the public with a skewed picture of the country’s ‘best’ and’ most popular’ recorded music.” Besides, public airwaves sold toprivate companies to sell products to consumers seemed like an ethically flawed system ultimately.

Santa Monica, Calif.’s, KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic host Nic Harcourt (pictured above) doesn’t see commercial radio getting any better either. “Commercial radio has finessed its approach to such a point where its sole purpose is to sell products and deliver goods to a specific demographic audience. It comes down to selling beer and donut sand burgers. I don’t see that changing. But the good news is that we now have the Internet.”

Harcourt also puts faith in continued technological advances. Entire cities with wireless internet are now possible. Soon the point will tip to a majority of hand held devices that are able to tune into any internet radio program available from around the world-further democratizing a slowly dying corporate system.

Bands have begun to operate differently as a result of the industry shortfall. In a recent Adage article, James McQuivey, a former Forrester analyst, said the days of the big endorsement contracts like MJ or Britney had with Pepsi are gone. The new version looks a lot more like Nascar and I’ll estimate that within half a decade you’ll have bands endorsing dozens of products to offset the lost revenue from things like radio royalties increased touring costs and downloading. Sure, fans will scream ‘sell-out’ till they are blue in the face but any working band out there will counter by showing you their bank statement before and after an endorsement deal. So prior to sending that righteously indignant email to Band Of Horses for licensing a song to Wal-Mart, imagine what it’d be like to get paid the equivalent of 9 dollars a day touring the country in a cramped van and sleeping on a strangers floor.

Besides, there is only ONE Madonna, who can land a 365 contract with LiveNation.

So now brands will become music promotion vehicles and the relevancy of the Radio format drops further. I doubt you heard Sara Bareilles, Feist or Paramore on your local dial before you heard them on their respective television placement commercials. Traditional methods of measuring media’s effectiveness are “reaching a breaking point,”according to Konrad Feldman, CEO of Quantcast, and as a result many Ad agencies are trying to find better ways to spend their clients money for effective advertising. So while most commonly you’ll find more successful media outlets angling toward hyper local markets and niches, floundering media entities will continue to wrap their desperate tentacles around the idea of being everything for everyone.

In another example of Radio’s crumbling empire, EMusic, an online music retailer inked a deal with Avis car rental company to provide content for it’s rental cars, effectively taking control of the car stereo, a place once reserved for traditional radio. Sirius Satellite radio has a similar agreement with Hertz (and an exclusive partnership with Astin Martin) and more and more autos are being manufactured with MP3 players or with a direct connect to a digital device, further shrinking the reach of radio. Just within the past 2 years corporate spending onmedia, which once favored Radio and Television has shifted to stronger showing online, where a company can directly measure the success of anad campaign through trusted analytics measurement.

Radio has helped perpetuate a culture of lame tunes pitch corrected to dust (I’m talking about you Rhianna AND you Britney)! By playing a song so many times consumers are compelled to plug their ears. How can that be an effective way for a radio station to do business? The stations mine a tune until that little flicker of brilliance that made the song catchy in the first place has dulled. If you haven’t noticed, music has become predictable, less dangerous and more disposable as the market where it exists has become less profitable and more stagnant. Why would I buy a song I know they’re going to play 3 more times in the next hour when I can go online to a torrent and download the single immediately? And for those of you, who cry foul at downloading, help yourself to a big scoop of shut the fuck up! The rest of the album sucks anyway right? Do you have any idea how much money it costs a band to make a record? Do you have any idea how much of that money ends up back at the label?

Radio is the product delivery system. So when you change your FM dial and end up with the last 30 seconds of the same song your current station just started playing, it’s not to annoy you, it is because the music is as much a product as the commercials.

We CAN control the medium. Turn off your radio.

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