Readers respond to Todd Spencer's "Radio Killed the Radio Star."

By Salon Staff

Published October 4, 2002 7:30PM (EDT)

[Read the story.]

Radio is, with record labels as willing accomplices, killing itself. The blame does not lie squarely on the shoulders of programmers.

In my 10 years in radio, I've worked in major, medium and small markets. I am now in a small market, programming a Modern Rock station, owned by a small company, by choice.

I take pride in what my radio station does and umbrage at the arrogance of the speaker at the NAB regarding small market radio. While I play "the hits," I also play unsigned bands, our station fully supports local and regional music, and my jocks have free rein to be as creative as they want. My promotions are creative and local, and always benefit our listeners. We are involved in our community. Our station's imaging and presentation is as sharp if not sharper than some of the larger market stations I've heard (and programmed). I answer every e-mail and inquiry I receive from listeners as honestly as I can, and I try to run my station live. (Small owners have tight budgets, too.) The focus of my radio station is northwest Arkansas and it works.

The suits treat those they haven't axed as mere commodities, to be bought and sold. They privately generalize listeners and jocks as dumb -- like sheep to the slaughter, and they underestimate not just those who turn on a radio, but those still in the biz. They cut programming, but add many to the sales departments.

The biggest problem facing radio today, if you peel back the layers of deregulation and what it has wrought, is arrogance. Arrogance is the thread that weaves tightly through the industry and chokes it.

My market size ranks as #149. Thanks in part to deals with spin monitoring companies like MediaBase, my playlist now goes unrecognized by most trades and record labels because of my market size. In essence, they are saying my listeners don't count. Some labels won't even service my station with product, nor will they call. "The industry" has decided the spins of markets under #140 do not matter. As if the listeners in our college town don't buy CDs! And they wonder why listening and CD sales are down? It isn't all about the downloading, it's about the arrogance!

I, too, have seen many wonderful people lose their jobs over the last couple of years. These good, smart, creative people leave the industry entirely because there are so few opportunities out there anymore. And the people like me, who are still in? We go on faith and hope that one day, radio won't be the monetary toy it is now, and we can get back to doing collectively as an industry what drew us individually to the biz to begin with. We're lucky and grateful to have a gig, and we know it.

The eventual demise of the radio (and record label) industry as we have known it lies within the programming shortsightedness of the suits who don't love the creativity and genuine passion that used to be the thread that wove through the industry. They will say they do, but they don't. Check their budget sheets for proof. There have always been many things one could criticize about radio, even going back to its infancy, but these are by far the darkest days for those who love radio. More and more people will stop listening to homogenized, non-local, primarily voice-tracked fare. Radio will never lose all its listeners. But radio will always carry the shame of what deregulation greed did to it as an industry.

You will excuse me; I need to go find an old rerun of "WKRP in Cincinnati."

-- Margot Smith

I greatly enjoyed Mr. Spencer's article. I'm writing to support his assertions about commercial radio. I am an ordinary listener; I listened to the radio at work. I hadn't listened to the radio in a long time, and I almost immediately noticed the long commercial breaks and the short playlists. Certain songs would pop up three to four times a day. When you're at work, day after day, you can't help but notice this. In addition, after seven to 10 days of listening to most any given station, you felt like you could hear almost their entire playlist "loop." I jumped around from station to station because of this, and with the exception of a change in style, the situation was pretty much the same. It didn't take long before the only radio I could tolerate was NPR. I have been driven away from radio in the car and at work.

It was also interesting to hear what the executives have to say. They seem to believe that radio is "bulletproof," to paraphrase. Mr. Spencer will be happy to know that their comeuppance may be in the mail in the form of MP3s. Whether downloaded or ripped from your own CDs, this technology gives the listener the ability to create a playlist that is probably larger than any Clear Channel station's, and that is tailored to the individual who creates it. My CD-based MP3 player has completely eclipsed the radio at work, in the car and on the road; there are already devices available that blow mine out of the water, and the technology is always improving. Bereft of the local flavor, rife with obnoxious ads, and out of the hands of human DJs, the new, streamlined, corporate model of the radio station will offer less and less compared to an MP3 jukebox. This won't get Mr. Spencer's job back, but he can take comfort in the fact that he is dead right.

-- Christopher Coccio

There is very little local flavor to any radio station. The owners who couldn't compete with decent programming and talent hide behind a bland whitewash of homogenized "formula," treating us, the listeners, as if we were cattle. Local music and bands ... ha ha ha. There is no venue for them. Thank God for the Internet and MP3s. Roll your own, fire up your toonz, and relax to your own beat.

-- Greg Calhoun

It occurred to me the other day that I haven't just sat and listened to one station in the car for ages now. My morning drives are spent switching from station to station as I search for something worth listening to. Something I haven't already heard five times on the drive in. It was a little startling, to say the least, to realize that I often change the station as much as every few minutes. For the entire drive.

Oh man, I wish I lived near a college town again. I'm going to have to start driving to work in silence.

-- E. Meyer

When I was in America and driving a minimum 35-mile commute -- often more -- I never, ever listened to the big stations. I hunted for the college stations, the community stations like WNTI out of northwest New Jersey -- because I wasn't inundated with ads every three minutes, because I could hear music I'd never heard before, because their format was constantly different and interesting. I even shunned NPR because it always had the same navel-gazing Washingtonian bent. So how the hell can radio execs claim that consolidation offers more choice? More choice, when you hear the same songs, played ad nauseam, the same ads, the same DJs? This is one of the most virulent cases of corporate blindness I've ever heard of. And I can only encourage listeners to vote with their fingers, find the outposts of diversity, and forget the boring, repetitive "main" stations. Long live independent radio!

-- Kim Tilbury

When I moved from New Orleans to Houston back at the beginning of 1998 I did not know about the change of law affecting radio that had taken place in 1996. I just knew that Houston radio was terrible. There were eight different stations playing two different kinds of music -- in between the onslaught of commercials. Then I went home to visit and found that my favorite radio stations had been bought. New Orleans' radio was now almost as bad as Houston's.

Radio may have survived the advent of television, but have you listened to a radio soap opera lately? Radio has survived the decades because when new technology came along radio fought back. It changed and competed. Those technologies of today, particularly the rapidly expanding availability of satellite radio, are competing directly for commercial radio's customers. Commercial radio is too busy pillaging the villages to see the barbarian hordes approaching from the rear. And I, for one, am rooting for the barbarians.

-- Wahrena Pfeister

Used to be, stations offered up a variety of music. Some I knew and loved, some I had never heard before and others I might find odd, or even disconcerting. It was wonderful, and when I heard a new one that called to me, I sought out more from that band. Now, music is boring, predictable. Homogenized, sanitized, playing to the lowest common denominator, conjured up by focus groups and foisted on us by corporate radio station looking to push more "product" for less money. The record companies and radio stations have only themselves to blame for what will be the eventual demise of their bloated industry. Local music, local radio, will recapture the magic eventually. Meanwhile, seek out alternatives. There are a few out there.

-- Patrick Major

Salon Staff

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