“We can control the medium/ We can control the context of presentation…” – T. Gabel
Radio has been dying a slow death for the past decade, losing ad revenue to companies who have increased their ad spending online. I don’t claim to be an expert on the intricacies of radio but I knew enough in college that getting a degree in broadcasting was a poor choice and quickly switched my emphasis to something more scalable (at least that’s what I told myself at the time). 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. Besides, public airwaves sold to private companies to sell products to consumers seemed like a blatantly flawed system in any context. The sad part about radios decline is the only people that don’t seem to recognize the change in the minds of consumers is people that work for the radio stations, or at least the station owners—cigar smoking, baby-seal-cowboy-boots on a desk made out of elephant tusks grinning maniacally while sipping a tumbler of chilled baby’s blood with a ‘What? Me Worry’ approach to business. You get the point.
My years spent as a music consumer helped me understand how terrible radio is—or at least that time spent skimming channels for interesting content gave me some perspective once I had determined that I despised the ‘format’ before identifying what that ‘format’ was and is. I liked morning shows. They break up the monotony of song repetition. Program directors of local radio shows have made the single a commondity. They are the assholes known as tastemakers. They are the ones making or breaking artists. They’ve helped perpetuate the culture of mediocrity by playing a song so many times consumers are compelled to plug their ears while the stations mine the tune until the little flicker of brilliance in the song has dulled.
Everyone just tunes out. I didn’t discover half the music I listen to by waiting by the radio for a ‘new’ song from a ‘new’ band. Youth will find a way and now that youth has the internet, what is the point of listening to the radio?
That kind of artifice is evidenced in every contrived little between song BS sesh of the ‘disc jockey.’ These guys used to be inspired lovers of music. True aficionados of sound. The original ‘audiophile’ who, with just the right amount of knowledge and charisma could inspire a listener to expand his or her horizons. That was way before my time. Corporate greed has always help perpetuate this system of diminishing returns but until the FCC allowed companies to buy multiple stations in local markets there was a semblance of diversity. Even though that diversity has been suspect. As a result, music has become predictable, less dangerous and more disposable. Why would I buy a song I know they’re going to play 3 more times in the next hour sandwiched between some terrible Seether song and a lame Pearl Jam track from the fucking Ten record?
Then there is the question of relevancy. San Diego’s 94.9 touts itself as a truly independent station. They are probably the best commercial radio station I’ve heard, though I’d still prefer a dentists drill to the radio. They have beaten out Rock 105 AND 91X in San Diego. Most of the songs they play are surprising to hear on commercial radio. Ten years ago I never would have heard “Holiday in Cambodia” on a station other than one broadcast from a college campus. And they’ve won the holiday concert war with the best line-up. Their ‘Holiday Hootenanny’ has Queens of the Stone Age headlining and support from some local hero’s like Pinback and Louis XIV.
I was a witness to the train wreck that was 91X’s Nightmare Before Xmas concert. The station had to have given away hundreds of tickets just to fill SDSU’s Cox Arena ‘pit’ area. You know the ‘pit’ area where you have to pay extra money to STAND. What had initially been planned as a two day festival event with dozens of bands turned into a handful of mid-level bands playing to what I estimated to be a thousand or 1700 people (who knows what the actual count was, I bet 91X won’t tell) Bad Religion, Against Me!, and late 90’s nu-metal band, Seether were the ‘big’ bands of this little holiday party. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some AM! and some BR but can either of those bands pack an arena? Probably not. How about Angels and Airwaves? You would think they could in their own hometown but they didn’t. It was depressing. And of course, between bands and on the promenade fans are exposed to advertisers and you don’t even have the option of ‘changing the station.’
Another local band, The Transit War opened the show. They were great. Those boys have come a long way. But the music isn’t what is in question here. It’s the apparent lack of communication between the station and its constituents, i.e. the listener—not the companies that buy ads. How often do they actually play Bad Religion on the radio or when can you hear The Transit War short of staying up until 1am on Monday morning for the Loudspeaker show? Seeing the military there actively recruiting young male concert goers made me want to vomit and then I dry heaved when I saw some poor schmuck walking around taking pictures with kids in a Geico the Gecko costume.
Against Me’s Tom Gabel lambasted the event from the stage, telling people not to buy anything and had they known, as a band, that the Military was a sponsor of the event they would never have agreed to play. Its rough to issue a Mea Culpa from the stage as you are playing the event but at least he saw through the bullshit and shared his indignation with the audience [make a fist, put your foot down, pout from the well branded stage]. Of course all the overly sensitive people that are in the military or have family in the military will be sending angry letters to 91X bemoaning a point I’m sure they completely missed. But, whatever right? It’s the music business and like Radio’s corporate counterparts in the record industry, they’ll continue to stick their head in the sand and wait for someone to save them. Sort of like a frog in a pot of water set to boil.
AM! did an on-air interview with Kallao and Capone. It was as cringe-worthy in broadcast as I’m sure it was in person. I’ve done my share of interviews with bands and it was really fascinating to witness the interviewers stumble and squirm when the band basically got hold of the reigns and took them to task. Asking Gabel who he was going to vote for in 08 warranted an especially prickly response. He said he didn’t know cause he didn’t know who the nominees were yet. Dead air and back peddling ensued. Nothing better than watching two douche bags choke on their own lack of preparation.
AM! was significantly antagonistic, more so when asked idiotic questions about working with Butch Vig and the ‘White People for Peace’ video. Anyone could ask the band those questions by looking at a bio their publicist had sent. It was amateur hour and it was telling of how unconnected to music people in radio seem to be. Most of the folks that know the most about music are the interns doing work for free and staying late, just for that ‘one chance man. To make a difference and get some real music on the air…’ Ah, the ellipsis of youthful hope trails off into guaranteed disappointment.
As a caveat to Gabel’s quickness to bash the music industry through song and defiantly voice disgust with performing at a concert with active military recruitment, I question the bands willingness to do a performance appearance on MTV’s scripted soap opera, The Hills the night after playing the 91X concert. MTV and MTV2 have aired US Armed Forces ads for years and the show, The Hills is a perfect representation of disposable entertainment. What would have come across initially as some fist pumping ‘fuck the man’ style punk rock angst instead came across as some petulant jerk whining about a system he’s willingly embraced when he signed a contract with Sire. I enjoy the music of Against Me!, but the context of presentation has lost most of its credibility.
How will 91X look in 2008? We’ll lose Cantore who is getting replaced by Adam Corolla in the Mornings in 08’ so if you didn’t get enough irrelevant banter from Adam and Danny Bonadouchebag before they got scratched from what became Sophie, you’ll get a fair amount next year. What other necks are on the chopping block at 91X? They’ve taken a local friendly rock format from sort of mediocre to notably shitty in less than a year. Then they’ve tried to take on the Disturbed/System of Down/Creed style hard rock format of Rock 105 and to no avail. Rock 105 has taken some shots across the 91X deck by declaring some semblance of turf war-like ownership on the ‘rock’ format ‘Rock 105.3. San Diegos ORIGINAL Rock Station,’ says the whiskey voiced announcer.
Alas, like most institutionalized businesses the corporate management never asks the right questions of the right people because they are certain they can provide their own answers no matter how ill informed and misled they are.
We CAN control the medium. But when will the radio accede to a paradigm shift determined by the listeners?