Thursday, March 31, 2011

What's the frequency, Kenneth? Radio ramblings

Some thoughts on that medium that everyone says is obsolete but listens to anyway…

KGIL, an AM station in the San Fernando Valley is changing its format from “Standards” (i.e. Sinatra and maybe one Peggy Lee record a week) to “Classical”. With all the technology and improved fidelity these days, who’s going to listen to Classical Music on AM? That’s like watching AVATAR on 16 mm.

Morning Zoos are not funny. PARKS & RECREATION did a great bit a couple of weeks ago lampooning your typical Morning Zoo. Two obnoxious idiots doing four hours of fart jokes every day. That kid in high school who mimicked the girl with epilepsy was funnier.


Best syndicated all-night show: Red Eye Radio with Doug McIntyre. Hopefully he’s in your market. The man can talk on any subject. He’s a cross between a 5-time JEOPARDY champion and Jean Shepherd.  Especially knowledgeable in history, jazz, and SHE'S THE SHERIFF. 

What’s the big complaint people have about terrestrial radio? That they play too many commercials. So why do most stations continue to program 18 minutes of them? That’s suicide. Why not limit your spot load to 12 minutes and just charge more? It always kills me that music stations spend so much time on research and so much money on promotions and then just chase away their audience with a relentless bombardment of commercials.

Several years ago the geniuses who ran radio stations determined that the “Oldies” format was dead. Now that People Meters are used to determine ratings and not unreliable diaries, it turns out that “Oldies” is the most popular format of all. It’s that kind of thinking that has led us to Crystal Pepsi, rabbit Jerky, four-track tapes, and Budweiser’s tomato and clam juice beer -- the Chelada.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of radio visionaries, can we finally admit that HD Radio was a fucking bust? That was supposed to be the savior. Do you know one person who has an HD radio? Have you ever even seen an HD radio?   It's right up there with Betamax and the CBS Color Wheel.

Wanna know the future? It’s not satellite. Satellite’s contribution is making Howard Stern a billionaire. And I bet with all his money, even he isn’t shelling out $14.95 a month to hear the same songs he’s got programmed on his Pandora station.

When consumers are able to easily access internet radio in their cars, then the station you run out off an old Dell computer in your closet will be just as valuable as that terrestrial station that Clear Channel paid $30,000,000 for. More valuable because you won’t play18 God awful minutes of commercials.

Speaking of internet radio – I don’t know whether to plug this or disavow any knowledge – but Great Big Radio tomorrow night will be playing an hour recording of me as Beaver Cleaver on B100 San Diego from 1976. It’s a wonder I wasn’t led off in a straightjacket after this show. It airs at 11:00 PM EDT and then again at 11:00 PM PDT.

And I can’t plug internet oldies without a shout-out to Richbroradio.com.  Imagine hearing a Roy Orbison song that isn’t Pretty Woman.

Baseball season begins tonight. Baseball is a sport that’s best described on radio. A good announcer can transport you to a different world. Television assaults you with “whooshes!”, replays, and close ups of coaches spitting tobacco. There are many excellent hometown team baseball announcers. May I recommend a few? Vin Scully of the Dodgers, Jon Miller of the Giants, Howie Rose of the Mets, Marty Brennaman of the Reds, Eric Nadel of the Rangers, Ted Leitner of the Padres, Bob Uecker of the Brewers, Dave & Andy of the Rays, and my excellent broadcast partner – Rick Rizzs of the Mariners.


A rising talk radio star: John Phillips on KABC Los Angeles.

Every radio market has a KISS-FM. Every one, at this exact moment, is playing the same Lady Gaga song.

In his never-ending quest to be Ryan Seacrest, Carson Daly now also has a morning radio show. Wouldn’t it be great if Ryan ever comes out and Carson has to break it to Siri Pinter that he now likes guys?

Glenn Beck’s radio ratings are plummeting. There is a God! May he suffer the same fate as the JACK format.

And finally, a blast from the past: This is classic DICK VAN DYKE SHOW featuring radio. Rob Petrie is a small town disc jockey looking to set a world record as the D.J. who stays awake on the air the longest. Hilarity and brilliant physical comedy ensues. 

48 comments:

Richmond Radio Guy said...

I have to be pseudonymous on this one... as I still work at the stations I'm about to dump on.

There are three stations in the cluster and four air talents.

All three sell 12 minutes an hour (they'd sell more if the clients existed)... a large majority of which are pay-per-response and other shysters.

But my complaint about radio these days goes in another direction: the oldies station has a morning drive guy and an afternoon drive guy. The JACK-like station has a morning drive gal. The country station has an afternoon drive guy.

That's it.

And that mentality is hurting local radio as much as long stopsets and generic playlists.

The one thing that differentiates local radio from satellite, cloud, and iPod music is... local personalities. People you can relate to because they're talking about things you know.

And among the costs being cut in radio are... local personalities. Between the Cheap Channel-style voicetracking farms and long periods of jockless music, there's really no reason to turn on the radio.

And what I don't get is this... stations pile on imaging like cordwood... there's a jingle or imaging voice before every song. *That* is OK. But a local voice a few times an hour isn't.

Go figure?

D. McEwan said...

KGIL, where once, 36 years ago, I worked for several happy, happy years, doing work of which I am still proud, now changes format monthly. It has no identity anymore. What was once the home of Sweet Dick Whittington and Wink Martindale is now something different every time you tune to it, which I have not done in a long, long time.

I don't know what a "Morning Zoo" is, and I'm fairly certain I don't ever want to know either. I'd rather just cling to my memories of Lohman & Barkley, may those geniuses rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

Checked out RichBroRadio . . . Sadly, one of the three working links on this "site" leads you to a page where he tries to sell himself doing exactly what you say is killing the biz.

Harley Davidson said...

Gotta plug my little contribution to internet radio....www.kmen129.com! All 60's, a morning show that plays music, no commercials and me every weeknight at 6pm Pacific Time!

bob Summers said...

I have an HD radio. I think it's pretty cool. I have the little $40 model from Best Buy that's supposed to be MP3 player size and comes with an arm strap in case you're a jogger.

I enjoy the split format capability of it. An area college has the classical music NPR format on the regular side, but on the HD channel, it's a great student run type of organization. Or if you're like me and enjoy a variety, you can switch between different formats on one station.

I think the problem is really in market penetration. Also, you don't really know where to find the equipment. If you could go in the Radio Shack and get a desktop model to put on your desk at work, I think more people would get acquainted with it. But they don't even have those.

Possible Friday question: Why are all those college stations mainly NPR affiliates? I think it has something to do with commercial radio bitching about the stations taking away their bread and butter. Also, I don't think the schools have to put as much at risk as they would with a commercial station.

Bob Summers said...

Another question: Other than his politics, to what do you attribute the slide in Beck's ratings?

When you listen to Limbaugh or Hannity, you know what you're in for. WIth Beck, it seems that one day he's on message, then the next he's on to some crazy tirade about something way out there.

I think Beck is over commercialized. It's always read my book, see my one man show, buy my secret decoder ring.

But there has to be a reason for him to just crash.

Janet T said...

I used to love Mark and Brian @ KLOS when they first began back in the late 80"s. I listened to them via I Tunes radio a few months ago and realized they were still doing the same things.

A woman who works for me listens to a country radio station all day - they play the same 10 songs over and over and over. It is maddening

I cannot listen to commercial radio- mostly because I hate commercials- when I do listen to radio it is NPR only. I can handle the pledge breaks. Of course I DVR every TV show I watch too- just to avoid the commercials

Anonymous said...

Eternal Friction, better known as The Song Vs. The Ad. It's the marriage of convenience that changes spouses (formats) quicker than underwear. Is starts of commercial free as the honeymoon and slowly acquires spots like new additions to the family. The sales department gawks and passes out cigars like proud papas while programming treats them like the bastard child....and the family continues to grow. First it's four minutes and everything goes unscathed. Eight minutes and the growing pains start to occur. Then, 12 minutes and the anxiety flows like a river. Maybe management flexes their muscles again and pushes for sixteen or more minutes before calling in the consultants to put W I'm 2 Fat or K What Happened To Me on a Diet. It may be a successful turnaround or the doctors prognosis may be that's it's too late to resuscitate and time to pull the plug and start over....and radio continues to waddle along like it has for the last 50+ years on the flavor of the day. Would you buy a product from a business that might not be around within the next year? Thank god it's free....The solution? Embracing the :30 or :60 without pushing it into the background or dark basement hoping that child services doesn't recognize that it's missing. But nobody is willing to tackle that effort. Why? We've taught the listener as simplistically as we can: Music Good....Commercial Bad: Dick Orkin and others have gotten it right. And it can be tackled. Until then, I'll look for the next time we all are frustrated and need to vent on how many commercials that damned station is playing while we wait with baited breath for the next station to run 106 days commercial free to kick off their race to mediocrity.

Robala said...

Thanks for posting the Dick Van Dyke Show! Only this week I was thinking about that particular show after watching a wonderful interview Dick Van Dyke gave (where he talks about his early days in radio and that classic episode):

http://emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/dick-van-dyke

Thought you might like the link if you have never seen the interview because he is such an articulate man, who is truly appreciative of writers.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Wait... people listen to AM? And they actually have MUSIC? When did THAT happen? Where I come from, AM is nothing but talk radio by those crazy, uber-Conservative Republicans who are all "Man, we hate losing, let's do what we can to get rid of Obama so we can take complete control of the country again and run it into the ground."

Barry in Portland said...
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Barry in Portland said...
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Barry in Portland said...

Sorry - best Jean Shepherd download site is http://jeanshepherdpodcast.blogspot.com/

bill oxley said...

The radio group I worked for up until today (my choice) announced to the sales staff that unless we could sell our morning traffic sponsorships on our heritage AM News-Talk station, the PD had to fire the traffic reporter!

Oh, and by the way, a few weeks before that the group owner took a $900,000 bonus.

WTF ???

Yep, I miss KGIL and Chuck Southcott, Bruce Wayne, Stan Warwick, Bill Smith, Stan Brown and everyone else.

During that time, I was a college student who actually dreamed of working at KGIL one day, owning a modest house across the street and having a little family.

Fast forward four decades:

Today, I'm chasing voiceover gigs and selling radio promotions for two businesses I created:

www.americasgreatfuneralhomes.com
www.autowreckingradio.com

"...so, see me for all of your burial and fuel pump needs."

Woof.

Steve said...

My wife loves Chelada beer. I took a sip once. I still can't get that pukey taste out of my mouth.

Chris said...

What kills me about radio, even the stations that have a wide mandate (like KEXP here in Seattle) stick to the singles. It's a hot new artist with a hot new album and a hot hot hot new single and that's all they'll ever play.

Of course then I go to work, plug the artist into my boss's Rhapsody account (yes, they're still out there) and hear the entire bloody thing on my own time.

Hrmmm

Mike Barer said...

Internet radio is interesting. The Outlaw Radio is on Saturdays, and originates in Los Angeles, is what I have listened to, but I don't know how it is set up and what kind of audience it reaches. I think it's kind of a radio "Seinfeld" or blog where they talk about whatever is on their mind.

Todd Willaims said...

Ken,
You are so right here...As you know these are many of the issues we cover at Tom's Weekly Pool Hall Saturday nights.
As a radio sales rep of almost 30 years. I must say you hit the nail on the head about spot loads. I'm just sick of us as a industry when we lower the value of our product. Less spots bring higher value and the price goes up. And for those that don't think so........Get out of the biz and out of the way.
It is time to say enough is enough.
Product first, product first Baby!

Charles H. Bryan said...

I'll throw in a mention for Dan Dickerson and Jim Price for the Detroit Tigers. I like their work. Also Pat Hughes for the Cubs -- unfortunately he won't have Ron Santo to work with any longer, but I've heard a few innings with Keith Moreland and I think it'll be fine.

Also, a general compliment to WGN AM in Chicago (which carries the Cubs). I think all of their on air news-talk personnel are local and that makes up a 24/7 schedule. I don't know if any other station (that's more than just headlines, weather, and traffic) in the country does that, and I can remember when WJR in Detroit did.

gottacook said...

Reading these comments, I wonder whether commercial radio station owners simply tend to be gonifs. Seems like it.

Here in the DC area, the news-traffic-weather station is about to switch ownership from one well-known right-wing ownership group (Bonneville, aka the LDS church) to another (Hubbard Broadcasting, Stanley Hubbard's mini-empire based in Minnesota). I don't find this at all a pleasing thought, yet if there were such a thing as a "left-wing" radio station ownership group, I'm not sure that would help matters...

404 said...

Would like to point out that over here east of the Mississippi, it's impossible for us to have a KISS-FM as all of our call stations start with W. I suppose we could have a WKIS or some other such, but not a KISS. Yeah, I'm being picky.

Mister Charlie said...

Great include, the DVD show...a long time fave.

Agree with the spot load b.s.

Anyone can make their own radio station with an mp3 player. It is pretty unnecessary these days except for breaking news.

YEKIMI said...

I'd post about my radio bitches but I don't think the Internet has enough bytes to hold all that I'd have to say.

Phillip B said...

This subject is inexhaustible - most of us have very emotional and long standing connections to radio which provided "the soundtrack of our lives" (or at least our youth.)

Two points - There was a time when every major market had stations like WGN and the old WJR. They were stodgy, middle of the road stations which eventually stopped playing music. But they depended upon news and were where you tuned when the shit hit fan. They were usually the clear channel 50,000 watt stations carrying the local baseball team.

Their decline taken away some of the glue which held those communities together, IMHO. Not everyone actually listened to Wall Phillip, Bob Collins or Spike O'Dell in Chicago - but if they said something interesting you were likely to hear someone quote it at work.

On the other side of the spectrum were the dusk to dawn stations in small rural towns in the Midwest and Plains. They usually started the morning with the farm reports - I spend the early parts of my life well informed on the current price of pork bellies - slid into local news and then something like 'Bargain Counter" where people called with items to sell.

These were the sort of stations which would actively promote the local Kiwanis Fun Fair, and do the endless remotes at the new car dealer, supermarket or car wash in town. They were great for contests with incredibly small prizes - two movie tickets, the concert in the high school gym featuring a band you heard of 20 years before, or a six pack of Hires Root Beer.

Just like the clear channel stations, when the tornadoes hit the next county you wanted to be tuned in.

The larger MOR stations panicked when they realized their average listener was older than 70, the smaller ones when they realized how much money could be milked from the dittoheads.....

Gmajor said...

The one thing that differentiates local radio from satellite, cloud, and iPod music is... local personalities. People you can relate to because they're talking about things you know.

Our local radio station devotes a lot of its airtime to a syndicated national US radio show. While the show is good, and usually interesting, it's generic, and the only times I'd listen to radio is when my iPod isn't with me or I want to hear some local content & people.

I used to live in a big city with a lot of radio competition, and in high school your station allegiance was your statement, your identity, "This is who I am. I'm a ______ FM listener." (Even back in the 80s hardly anyone listened to AM any more.).

And as for DJs, they'd be part of the package. (And it never seemed quite right when they switched brands/stations.) One went away for a while (I think he may have retired), but on a big station anniversary promotion, they brought the guy back and the station was flooded with requests, in particular of a rival station-parodying spoof song he'd done - and I was one of the callers. It was a big deal, but he was a big personality.

Jim S said...

You mean Sinatra isn't classical music?

Anonymous said...

OK, so you spelled JEOPARDY wrong. Otherwise, another GREAT column.

Lou H. said...

Agree 100% about baseball being best on radio. I spend my summer evenings on the sofa, listening to Mets games on the radio. I see the field in my mind. I don't know what 3/4 of the players look like. I only watch TV during the playoffs (since the Mets' season is over by then), and these quick cuts every 5 seconds to the pitcher, the batter, each guy on base, the manager, the random celebrity in the crowd, it's all just a distraction.

WV: florater - what we used to call a valve.

Lou H. said...

The smartphone has completely changed the way I listen to radio. I don't much like the local stations' morning shows. If you told me ten years ago that I could listen to hundreds of Public Radio and Clear Channel stations for free on my cell phone, I would have thought you were crazy.

Michael said...

I'm glad you mentioned Howie Rose of the Mets, but not the Yankees announcers. I would much rather listen to the Mets radio and TV guys compared to their Yankee counterparts.

Anonymous said...

Hey! At least the CBS Color Wheel can be used to light your aluminum Christmas tree.

Steve Michaels said...

Thanks for your ramblings Ken. I agree that radio is shooting itself in the foot. Not only programming wise but technologically wise, even more so. WHY don't we have easy access to radios that pause and rewind like TV? OK, Buick has it, but why not all over? That said, Ken you are RIGHT ON about the internet being the choice of listeners when it becomes easily available on the go. And don't get me started about the mentality of oldies radio. The PPM markets showed it is a viable format, but radio/advertising people still aren't buying it, so it isn't getting sold like it COULD be! And now, many markets are "throwing it away"!

Kathleen said...

My favoite play by play announcer was Ray Scott (60's Minnesota Twins). He communicated more in his dramatic pauses than a gaggle of whooshes and graphics. Low key but powerful. Regarding radio in general, the only commercial station I really like is Bonneville's WKRQ in Cincinnati. But since I'm over 60 and demographically irrelevant, I'm susre a Sales person would be dispatched to my home to kill me so I wouldn't skew their sacred demographic (don't know what that is exactly but I'm sure I'm not in it). And our local KISS-FM is WSKS.

HD Radio® Farce said...

Ken,

You are absolutely correct about HD Radio - it's nothing more than a spectrum-grab by the larger broadcasters, and a potential IPO by iBiquity. Virtually no one is interested, and now, iBiquity and the automakers are under investigation by two law firms.

James said...

I have HD radio in my car. I like it, but yeah, it's not great shakes. It's like a really clean FM signal, which is great when you get it. Otherwise it falls back on standard FM. Most of the time I don't know which mode it's in.

Supposedly you can get extra channels and more stuff. From what I've seen, station clusters are simulcasting other stations in the same group, so you're just getting Blue 92 on 104 AND 92. Woo hoo.

BOB said...

I won an HD car radio from the best known sports station in the world well over a year ago. Never did bother to install it. Couldn't figure out where to put it or why...

99.9999% of Americans said...

What the hell is HD radio?

Buttermilk Sky said...

Wait, somebody is switching TO classical music? I would listen if it were AM, short wave or Armed Forces Radio. That stuff is disappearing faster than newspapers. My cable TV has Music Choice, and I often listen in spite of the lousy sound because the local NPR affiliate is terminally bland.

analee said...

internet radio is really great, its a big help to all.

Anonymous said...

In 1985 I predicted that someday you could listen to your favorite morning show in a different city on your car radio. But I was wayyyyy off in thinking you could do it on a cell phone.

LAprGuy said...

I always enjoy your radio postings. I had the privilege of being in the car last night where Vin Scully was doing the FINAL innings of the Opening Day game on the radio -- what a treat!

Mike said...

Hey, thanks for giving Howie a shout-out! I'm a big Mets fan, and love Howie Rose. He gives great descriptions of what you're seeing, and it's so obvious he's a huge fan of the team, which makes his broadcasts even more enjoyable. Plus, you never know when he's going to bust out with a reference to old TV sitcoms.

bevo said...

On July 24, 2007, I bought an iPod. On July 25, I stopped listening to the radio. I know it works because I run the AUX jack.

As far as I am concerned, you could shut every single AM and FM radio station now and the democracy would stand (actually such a move would help the democracy).

When I was in elementary school, I would listen to Jack Buck on KMOX (IIRC) call the Cardinals. Can't stand the Redbirds but loved Buck's radio work.

Joey H said...

A shout out to your PBP partner and my old college classmate (Southern Illinois University Salukis) Rick Rizzs.

Michael Rafferty said...

Back in the 60's and 70's, Dan Ingram on WABC in New York could make any commercial fun to listen to because you never knew what he would add to it. Often it was hilarious. But it served a purpose. The listener heard the commercial, but it seemed more immediate and entertaining. Bring back personality deejays and live commercial reads...that would be a start.

David said...

Love your writing, Ken. Had to laugh as a recent blog talked of TV writers who include "three percenter" jokes. You just pulled a "three percenter" with your Jean Shepherd reference. Excelsior, Fathead!

Matt Patton said...

Other than soccer (or football, as they call it in the UK), I don't watch sports on TV anymore. But every once in a while, I'll cast around the radio and catch a baseball or football or basketball game. And listen. I grew up in Cincinnati listening to WLW (back when in played music, not right-wing blitherers--oh and for quite a few years, the con-man who claimed to be psychic and was played by Joel Gray in the movie Man on a Swing), and in the late 60's-early 70's, the city had baseball, football, and basketball (the Reds, the Bengals, and the Royals). I've forgotten who announced football and basketball, but Al Michaels was the announcer for the Reds then, and even if you couldn't speak English, you could tell when the game was heating up just by listening to the cadence of his voice--he got me excited about a game that I couldn't play to save my life . . .

The nice thing about internet is that you aren't stuck with the local channels anymore (I think almost all of the local music stations in the Orland/Daytona Beach corridor are owned by Clear Channel, which means the same five songs rotate all day and the DJ's sounds as if they might be computer-generated). For years now, I've mostly listened to shows from BBC Radio. I avoid Chris Moyles, who might as well admit he's a clone of Bubba The Love Sponge, but over the years I've enjoyed everyone from Terry Wogan to Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish. And thanks to the BBC internet media player, I no longer have to be a practicing insomniac . . .

ternic said...

I enjoy the split format capability of it.