Monday, February 17, 2003

WZZN-FM 94.7's previous incarnation as "The Eighties Channel" reminded me of the stupidest public statements by radio executives. In touting the concept to the press, some high muckety muck from the station told a Chicago Tribune reporter that the '80s was the last time everybody listened to the same music. To avoid using a cruder expression such as, "He had his head up his own ass," I'll just say that the guy clearly had blinders on if he believes that. To put it one way, in the '80s I listened to Hüsker Dü, but I was subjected to Bryan Adams. To put it another way, I didn't hear Neil Diamond, the Chills or Dazz Band on "The Eighties Channel." There was a lot more to the music of that decade than what they played on that station, and the listen audience was already segmented back then.

But obliviousness about '80s radio doesn't just happen in hindsight. In 1989, the New Music Seminar was the most important event in the industry. A panel originally entitled "Does Radio Suck?" was renamed "Why Does Radio Suck?" because, as the moderator pointed out, otherwise everyone would answer the initial question "Yes," and we'd be done in five minutes. So in pondering why radio sucks, a high muckety muck from a Top 40 -- excuse me, Contemporary Hit Radio station bragged that only his format played new artists. Someone from Beggars Banquet quickly challenged this dubious claim, "thanking" him for playing the "new" band Love & Rockets since no one had ever played them before. At the time, L&R were enjoying their first mainstream success with "So Alive" after three albums worth of airplay on college radio.

Most recently, stupidity surfaced in Entertainment Weekly. In response to an article on satellite radio and particularly how it allows DJs more creative freedom than the tightly controlled, market research driven broadcast radio stations, Steve Smith, Production Director/Imagining Director of Clear Channel wrote in. "If you are actually looking for a station that will play Norah Jones, B-Tribe, Ned Otter, etc., then look for you closest college radio station. Give them a good listen. I guarantee you that after 30 minutes of pure hell, you will switch back to a Clear Channel station because we play the hits." Pure hell? Then why do I regularly leave my radio on WLUW, Loyala's station, and only listen to Clear Channel in my car with lots of presets so that I can get away from that "pure hell" after a song or two?

As long as radio is in the business of selling advertising rather than music, commercial radio will, on the whole, suck. It's laughable that radio executives try to pretend otherwise. I've certainly heard good songs on commercial stations, but that's just something squeezed in between the ads.

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