Radio’s discontent


Slump? What slump? That’s what Rush Limbaugh is wondering. Oh, he sees the slump all right. In fact, he read the recent New York Times article which attempted to explain why radio’s audience is growing (do you believe that one?) and its revenues are shrinking (we’re SURE you believe THAT one).

Rush figured the Associated Press would pick up on NYT and before you know it the average American would think radio is on its deathbed. But he said his own company, Excellence In Broadcasting, is having no problem meeting its financial goals.

“While there are problems, there are solutions to these problems,” he said. “It’s basically called content, content, content.  It really comes down to, if you’re a programmer, to content, content, content.  If you put something out that people want to listen to and you attract a large enough audience that’s loyal and sophisticated enough to understand how all this works, then, lo and behold, the advertisers in that program will have success and, bammo! You’re off and running.”

We know there are still owners and individual stations that get this, but they do seem to be in the minority. For example, one RBR editor moved from the Washington area to a much smaller market during the summer. There he found, to his surprise, WHFS-FM Annapolis! That’s what it sounded like, anyway. Most of you are thinking that the station has been blown up for a few years now, and you’re right. What we actually found is a station that sounds like WHFS circa 1994-95, right down to still playing many of the exact same songs.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, of course, and there is occasionally evidence of a local presence on the station, but mostly its just 90s alternative music with commercials. What we’d prefer is a dedicated on-air personality who knows the music, tells us what the artists are doing now, what current acts are taking the style and moving it forward – even telling us what we just heard.

Without the personality, the station competes with our CD player and iPod. We control the playlist on both. There are no commercials. Guess which of the three gets the least amount of use?

Or take another editor, who’s been logging a few miles in the car lately. His favorite station just went away. Bye-bye! It’s gone. In its place, Grandma is getting run over by a reindeer and someone’s kissing Santa Claus and whatever other nonsense associated with the All-Xmas format is ensuing.

We have thought about this maneuver many times over the years. And for the life of us, we cannot figure out why a successful station would simply abandon its loyal audience for a day, much less a month out the year.
If the station has a live, thoughtful air staff, it would be no problem whatsoever to acknowledge the holiday season a hundred times a day, through normal air chatting, through keeping up with local holiday events and by mixing a few format-appropriate holiday songs into the playlist.

Instead, stations choose to kiss off their core audience? We just don’t get it.

Frankly, we never understood the less talk more whatever concept. Sure, maybe one or two stations in a market should go with it, to serve the discussion-despising portion of the public. But all of them? We always wanted a conversation about the music and about our city.

But the forces pushing less talk won the dial, but it cost the industry its talent pool. Much of the spoken language left is neutered so it will play in multiple markets at once. Radio’s soul has been banished and replaced with a jukebox. The result: Consumers pick the jukeboxes they control, using the playback device of their choosing and cutting radio out of the mix.

Yeah, we know. Air staffs cost money. But maybe the fact that air staffers have almost been hunted to he point of extinction is a big reason why radio has stopped making money.