June 09, 2005

Of Software and Slavegirl...

On Radio-Info.com's San Francisco board, "slavegirl" posted the following comment today:

A Silicon Valley CEO asked me tonight what I thought the biggest problems were inside any given radio station. (Besides the obvious fear so many of us have about losing our jobs, lack of marketing, stifled creativity or finding new developing talent)

While I understand her point, for some reason the entire discussion thread got me worked up, and I had to throw my twelve cents in. (I had an extra dime to spare).

This was my reply:

Aside from this thread belonging in a different category (something under Radio Pros, perhaps?), I think it's funny that you guys are talking about things that really don't have anything to do with radio.

RCS Selector SoftwareRadio isn't about how good your software is, regardless of whether you're using you're using the oldest or newest version. It's about the people -- the people you have working on the station, and the people you have listening to the station.

(I'm an outsider, by the way. I don't work in radio. But I'm you're scariest monster: a listener who truly cares.)

Radio stations over the past several years have forgotten that they need to develop talent. Radio personalities used to work their way up through the minor leagues, working in Sioux Falls and Omaha, then Portland or Fresno, and maybe Phoenix or Sacramento before moving up to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Now it sounds like stations will hire anyone who is willing to take whatever they're paying them.

I could name every disc jockey on every station in the Bay Area ten years ago, plus every sportscaster and nearly every newsperson, and I'm not exagerrating. I could probably name ten people working in Bay Area radio today.

Back in the "old days" -- the Eighties and Nineties -- the people on the air were going into radio because they loved radio. Nearly all of them were fans of somebody they loved to listen to on the radio, and that person inspired them to want to be in radio, too.

On the other hand, radio started getting more and more people in management -- as general managers, in particular -- whose background was not in radio. They were well-educated, sharp people, but they could have been working in any business -- a manufacturing company, an airline, an accounting firm -- because it was "managing" that they cared about, not radio.

As a result, we don't have a new generation of personalities like Dr. Don Rose, Frank Dill, Don Sherwood, Gene Nelson, Jim Lange, Carter B. Smith, Tom Donahue, Bobby Ocean, Dan Sorkin, Terry McGovern or Mike Cleary. (If you're sitting here saying "who?" go here and have a listen.) You're getting mostly bland sound-alikes, or people who are flavor-of-the-moment and won't be in the business five years from now.

I'm not an old fart. I listen to every station in the Bay Area. Yes, there are good people working in radio here. But the fact of the matter is that the people running the stations have no sense of programming, and no sense for show business (and that's what the real business of radio is).

I would listen to country music on the radio, if the person hosting the show was fun to listen to. I would listen to classical music, if the person hosting the show was interesting to listen to. I would listen to Lite Rock or Hot AC, Hip-Hop, Dance or Classic Rock -- if you made it harder for me to turn off my radio.

I don't want my radio to be an iPod. My iPod is my iPod, the same way my TV is my TV. I want my radio to be my radio. Find me some kid in Billings, Montana, who is working his a** off, trying to be a radio star. Find me the programming genius stuck in Lewiston, Idaho, who can't get out because all of the stations in the big city are programmed by a committee in New York. Find me the guy who used to "play radio" with a transmitter kit he bought at Radio Shack, doing a show for the neighborhood kids, who doesn't care if the software at your station is buggy or the studio air conditioning sucks -- all he wants to do is entertain.

When you make radio RADIO again, then you'll stop worrying why people are buying satellite receivers and iPods, and you'll start finding listeners who love their radios again.

(...A little help getting off the soap box, please?)