Radio - What?s Happened To It?

Remember when radio stations played great music?

OK, before you accuse me of sounding like your dad, I'll rephrase that. Remember when radio stations played an exciting variety of music and artists and you never knew what they would play and when?

Well my friends if you do remember that, you've probably been around awhile. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, I'll explain.

Years ago, privately owned radio stations and their local disc jockeys would choose the music or content they wanted to play, when they wanted to play it, whatever came to mind. And if someone called the station for a request and it felt right, they'd play that too. What? You mean they don't do it that way now? Well in a word, no. In fact let me add no, no, no, and more no.

These days, the majority of American radio stations are owned by mega corporations like Clear Channel and Infinity Broadcasting. These corporations hire programmers who decide exactly what songs to play and in what order they will be played. Then in many cases they do what is called, "Voice-tracking". Voice tracking is a process where someone records the programming in one city and then distributes it to the many stations owned by the mega corporation throughout the country. So what you hear in San Francisco may be exactly what you hear in New York City or Atlanta. Often they'll throw in content like local weather, traffic and sports to give the illusion that the DJ is local. Fooled ya!

Unlike the FM band, AM radio is made up of mainly news and talk stations and relies on listener involvement as its core strength. AM has been relying more and more on syndicated programming and I have nothing against that for many of the programs are very well done like Clark Howard's informative consumer action show and the Kim Komando Show, another very informative show about computers and the Internet.

But as for FM's move to mass music programming, many listeners have grown tired of the predictable playlists and have turned to ipods, podcasting and satellite radio. Not only does this mega programming squeeze out the possibility of new artists and their music from being heard, but it also makes many stations sound cookie cutter identical. Like a particular Top 40 song? No problem. Just switch to the four or five stations in any given market sharing a similar format and you can be assured it will be played, again and again.

Today's stations still classify themselves in formats like Country, Top 40, and Rock and some are even experimenting with what they call "whatever" playlists trying to mimic the popular ipods and podcasts. But the station's playlists are still preprogrammed into hard drives that spit them out along with the commercials in a precise, predictable, business like order. And although the powers that be tried in vain to slow or even stop the progress of satellite radio, it harkens back to the days when VHS and then later CDs came to be. The bottom line is that if the consumer wants it, it's going to happen.

What will eventually cause conventional radio listenership to decline won't be satellite or mp3 players. It will be the watered down, mass market approach these mega companies are taking. Because they've changed what was once exciting, unpredictable radio into what should now be called the, "FM Bland".

Hal Eisenberg is an award winning copywriter, producer, voice over talent, and owner of The Eisenberg Agency, a full service advertising agency specializing in creative ads that get results. Visit his web site at http://www.eisenbergagency.com; mailto: [email protected].

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