Thursday, August 23, 2012

Don't make Usher introduce his own songs

I have one of the most useless talents of all-time. I’m really good at talking over the instrumental intros of records and finishing my sentence just before the singing starts. :08 second intro, :21 second intro – makes no difference. I can nail it. And without looking at a stopwatch or a countdown clock, thank you very much. If there are punctuated shouts in the intro (the Stones and the Boss do this a lot), I talk up to those too. I was the Blue Man Group of radio.

And at one time that was a highly respected skill… among radio people. I don’t think listeners really gave a shit. If I was funny and identified the artist they were happy. But fellow disc jockeys appreciated the timing. I’m sure Benihana chefs bow to the one who can flip discarded shrimp tails into his pocket.

Radio did teach me brevity. When you’ve got a funny concept but only a :16 second intro, there’s no wiggle room. You’ve got to construct the joke to fit :16 seconds exactly. And you learn to really polish your delivery. If you have too many words you wind up rushing and the comedy goes away. If you have too few words you finish your punch line early and then there’s four seconds you’re just standing out there with your whistle in your hand. You develop pace, tailoring your rap to the groove of the song. All of this is great training for a comedy writer.

But forget it because it’s all dead. Stations don’t have disc jockeys anymore. And if they do they’re generally not live or they’re Ryan fucking Seacrest (as part of his mission to take the job of as many workers in as many fields as he can).

Their “shows” are a series of pre-recorded voice tracks. There’s no call for talking up to vocals anymore. It’s like being a newspaper typesetter or Kathleen Turner’s body double.

Could personality disc jockeys work with today’s listeners? Sure. Who wouldn’t want a little entertainment on top of their tunes? But it’s a moot point because three companies own every radio station and they’re all looking to operate on the same budget as a lemonade stand. (Someday soon internet radio will be readily accessible in your car and a lemonade stand will be worth more than Clear Channel and Cumulus. I anxiously await that day.)

But terrestrial radio, as we know it today, has changed the music scene. The absence of disc jockeys also means there’s no one to tell you who sang what. You hear a new song you like, you don’t know who sings it. That’s problematic for the artists too. Listeners can’t buy your song if they don’t know whose name to type in. You can’t expect people to whip out their Shazam app every time you get an airplay.

So artist now have been forced to announce themselves in their songs. Usher springs to mind. He’ll sing “Usher, Usher, Usher” at the top of a song. And have you noticed that Lady Gaga manages to get “Gaga” into every song? Million-dollar talent are reduced to wearing Applebee’s name tags. “Hi, I’m Usher.” I say stop that nonsense and leave the introductions to the professionals!

I miss being able to talk up records. I worked hard to perfect that skill. And it’s a shame to just let that very special gift go to waste. So anybody in the West Los Angeles area, if you have a Springsteen cover band, please let me jam with you – and by jam I mean talk over the intro of Hungry Heart. I’ll get your name in, the bowling alley we’re playing in, and even a plug for Fall League sign-ups – all in :19 seconds. Trust me – it will MAKE the song!

48 comments:

JJadziaDax said...

I hate to say it but identifying new songs are what SoundHound and Shazam are for :-/ Both are smartphone apps that can hear music (SoundHound can even listen to you hum a tune) and identify the title, artist, etc., and provide the lyrics and links to purchase it. Sometimes a song is too new and isn't in their database yet (think the indy songs you here in tv shows) but most anything on the radio they can id for you.
Granted this leaves out those who don't have smartphones...

Michael Rafferty said...

You are exactly right, Ken. Radio is killing radio. The only way terrestrial radio can compete with satellite and internet radio is localization. We used to listen, not just for the music, but to hang out with the jock for 4 or 5 hours. And they would read the commercials live and make them fun and interesting. Fun and unpredictable radio has been replaced with safe and sanitary radio.

JJadziaDax said...

*hear dammit

MikeBo said...

A olsooplmen, Ken. It's a wall of sound with music by anonymous. Another information source that went away when LPs gave way to audio tapes and discs were liner notes. Treasure troves of info about music and artist. Crib sheets for young DJs like me who made it sound like they had earned a Masters Degree in Music. Sadly, radio just a'int anymore.

Anonymous said...

I **HATE** djs talking over the music. The song starts when the music starts not when the singing starts. That being said, I agree with the more general point about the radio industry.

Anonymous said...

Not only do DJs not identify songs, but radio stations themselves are running less IDs and more dead segues per hour. The theory is that there's no need to run an ID when the PPM ratings meter already knows what's on. Like you said, I believe there are (or were) a lot of elements on the air that really only impress other radio people, but I think on a subliminal level, fun and exciting personalities along with imaging and jingles make a better listening experience for the audience. I hear plenty of announcers talking up songs, but they lack the excitement of the glory days of Top 40. Everyone's trying to keep it real. You can blame Howard Stern for that. His delivery and approach to radio has crept in to all other formats and dayparts. Radio is still show business and should act and sound like the life of the party. I'd rather hang with that funny Beaver Cleaver at a party instead of that stoned Jim Ladd. -SL

Roger Owen Green said...

I too HATED the DJs talking over the intros of the song, as tho the intros weren't part of the song. that's why I always LOVED Aretha's Since You've Been Gone or Melanie's Candles in the Rain. ONE NOTE and they are off.
Of course, some DJs would talk over outros too; didn't like that either.

Dave El said...

Another skill lost is timing a record to end before a news cast or other satelite program. A couple of stations I've listened to jump to nationwide shows (a dance mix show and Delilah...and that's where I stop listening to either of these stations.) Both stations play whatever song comes up next and just jumps out at some random point. When I worked in radio, I had a whole list of 2 minute songs I could fill the time with in a pinch to time up to the newscast or whatever. ("Holiday Road" by Lindsey Buckingham was a fave. It was short and had a long instrumental fade out.)

Harley Davidson said...

There are lemonade stands worth more than my internet radio station. It doesn't matter because I still get to talk up the vocals!

dan said...

The artists working their names into their songs is really a pet peeve. But now, I guess I understand what they're doing. So maybe I'll give them a pass. As for MIA DJs, we're lucky that CBS-FM in NYC is one of the stations bucking that trend. They took a top 10 Oldiest station and inflicted that JACK-FM format on us a couple of years ago. Fired everyone. A year or so later, they had to resurrect the DJs and live format because the station dropped into the bottom of the ratings. They did however screw with the format (no songs older than the 1960s and limited playlist), but the fun and the Spontaneity have returned and they can break format: tributes to recording artists who pass away, or an hour of "earth-moving" songs to mark the NYC earthquake last year.

Carol said...

I was pretty good at the intro thing, too, during my college radio days.

My other favourite thing to do was to manage to seemlessly merge the end of one song with the beginning of another...when two songs are perfectly compatible, and they cue together perfectly, I always felt like I'd earned my keep.

The other little known DJ skill is to introduce the songs in clever ways, not just saying 'that was U2, and now here's The Clash.' (I was in college in the 80s)

PS I'm listening to Sirius right now, and there is a DJ but she gets on my nerves, because she doen't have a very good voice, and tends to babble like an idiot. The art is lost.

deanareeno said...

Count me as another who can't stand when radio DJs talk over songs. I want to hear the entire song. Who the hell cares what the DJ has to say?

Could you imagine if, for example, Ryan Seacrest talked over the non-dialogue parts of the intros and outros of scenes in an episode of M.A.S.H. or Frasier?

I stopped listening to standard radio many, many years ago, and don't miss it at all. Yappy DJs is one reason.

I continue to listen to lots of music.

Brian Phillips said...

Dear Dan:

You must be peeved at Bo Diddley:

Bo Diddley
Hey! Bo Diddley
Diddley Daddy
Bo Diddley is Loose

...to name a few. Some artists were sly about putting their names in the song. "Back in My Arms Again" mentions both Flo(rence) Ballard and Mary Wilson.

As for talking up to the introduction of records, Charlie Tuna had the same talent. Case in point, "Nobody" by the Three Dog Night has an instrumental intro, and he spoke over it saying this:

CT:...and does anybody play more hits than I do?

3DN: "Nooooo-body..."

404 said...

Count me as one of those who detest a DJ talking over the beginning or ending of a song. Hate it hate it hate it. And I'll admit, I can't stand my DJs to try and be funny or have a personality. Just play the song, tell me who it is, and play the next one, dammit. Anything else makes me cringe. I don't know if that's because I don't like it in general, or because I'm just used to hearing crap DJs who don't know what the hell they're doing.

We have one radio station here in Charleston that does have a little song ID at the end of every single song they play, which is kind of nice. Of course, they play crap so I'm not interested. But it's the thought that counts.

John said...

I don't mind the DJs talking over the intro and outros at times. But what really annoyed me back in the late 60s-early 70s (and what got a lot of people over to FM aside from the better sound quality) was the jocks who got the idea in their heads they were not just important to the songs, but as important as the songs. They wouldn't just talk over the intros and outros; they'd come on and make quips in the middle of the song.

WKRP did an episode once where they showed the future of the station being completely voice tracked, with Herb Tarlick as the only remaining employee. Parody then, reality at most stations now, but even though it would be better to put personality back into radio, there still has to be a little self-restraint and realization you're never going to be the main reason why people are listening to the channel if their goal isn't to listen to the music in the first place.

T. Thompson said...

What Dave El said. Back in the "good old days" before voicetracking, I was inordinately proud of being able to hit a network join down to the millisecond by timing every talk break, stopset, etc., and being able to do base-60 math in my head. One of those talents that, the better you are at it the more invisible it is. I used to console myself with the thought that the reason no one knew how good I was at it was BECAUSE I was good at it. No one notices it unless you screw up. Kind of like an air traffic controller...

Can I throw in a Friday Question here? I was watching MASH the other day, and the Season 4 episode "Hawkeye" was on, where Hawkeye gets a concussion in a Jeep accident and has to keep talking to a random Korean family to stay conscious. Aside from the astounding talent on display from Larry Gelbart and Alan Alda, I'm curious as to the story behind that episode--how/why does an episode that is essentially a 25-minute monologue come about? What circumstances lead to a show like that getting pitched, written and shot? How do the other regulars feel about it, especially on an ensemble show like MASH? From what I've learned about TV production from this blog, it seems like an episode like this is an extraordinary (and potentially risky) undertaking. Thanks!

Brian Phillips said...

When I look back on this era, I can get nostalgic about it, not having been a DJ outside of college and also not hearing it on all sides.

Back-announcing was not necessarily the order of the day on many stations. It took me no less than a decade to find the song "Oh, Let it Ride!" by _____, only to find that the band I was looking for was Shoes and the song was "Tomorrow Night" and I found that out by buying one of their records because I heard critics mentioning them positively.

Here in Atlanta, we still have at least one "old-time" DJ on a major station and that's Youngblood:

http://www.kiss1041fm.com/staff/youngblood/

And yes, there were/are DJ's that barged in on the middle of songs. Back in the 80's, I remember visiting family in NY and I was listening to a Reggae station. In the middle of the song, the DJ came in and said, "Sort of cooool and deadly, y'know?" That genuinely cracked me up, but I'm sure the artist might not have laughed as hard as I did.

Internet radio has spawned two types of listening experience, the endless jukebox, which tells you nothing and is song after I.D.-less song or you have the folks that collect music, but don't have "radio voices" or great personalities. At least the music can be interesting.

I have had a show on rockinradio.com for six years and we do jock our tunes. My show isn't live, but I'm the guy that puts it together. When I do, boy do I love Google. Records in my collection that have been mysteries to me now have information attached to them. Sometimes, I've even gotten a chance to speak or write to the artists themselves

As for SoundHound and Shazam, play one song not on iTunes and both apps can get thrown for a loop and not a cool, funky loop, either.

M4949 said...

I always hated the "talk-over" routine of disk jockeys when introducing a song. It's as if the music doesn't really matter, only the vocals. It's not a skill, it's an annoying habit, part of "old radio". I assume that if you were playing an instrumental song, you could talk through the entire thing.

chuckcd said...

Personally, I don't like records...I mean cd's...make that mp3's being "posted" I don't like someone talking over the music.

I do miss a disc jockey to tell me what song just played. I have to go to the radio station's website and see if they have a playlist for that time and day.

There are very few decent radio stations on the air nowdays. 94.9 from San Diego is one.

Frank said...

I would like to hear Ken introduce the long version of Iron Butterfly's "In-a-Gada-da-Vida".

franko said...

I live in W. LA and have a Django Reindhart cover band. You can come and do the talk-over for us, but we mostly do instrumentls, so you'll have quite a lot of time to fill....

Anonymous said...

Ken! Get a 'Gin-soaked-baroom-queen' here in Memphis and feel free to talk up the Theme from SHAFT!...:-) If the door is locked, the PHAROHs can always get you in (This place is for FUN!)

Willie B

Paul Duca said...

Franko...did you and your bandmates amputate two fingers from your playing hand?

And this talk up I heard done by some L.A. jock circa 1977, on "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing". Leo Sayer sings the first line of the tune "You've got a cute way of talking", and there a pause. At that point the DJ said "Thanks--that's why I'm in a major market". I just CAN'T think of who it was, though...:)

Emmett Flatus said...

"...I was inordinately proud of being able to hit a network join down to the millisecond by timing every talk break, stopset, etc."

Indeed a very satisfying skill except when the Western Union clock jumped ten seconds at the top of the hour!!

Richard Healey said...

I laugh every time Gaga talks her name she sounds stuck on her self.

http://trackmyshows.blogspot.com

YEKIMI said...

I knew the end was nigh when back in the early 80s the edict from on high came down that "you have xx amount of seconds to do the weather, xx amount of seconds to do this or that, other than that, shut up and play the music". Bad idea. Had listeners calling and saying you guys don't ID records anymore and you used to be funny and fun to listen to. Told them to direct their complaints to station management. Within a year and a half we were near the bottom of the ratings pile. A station in my area has the bad habit of playing an instrumental near the top of the hour and could be 3 seconds in or 45 seconds into the song and they barge right in with their news liner music and go to the news. What's so hard about backtiming so that doesn't happen?!?

Blaze said...

Sorry, Ken, but not a skill I can admire. The DJs I always enjoyed understood they were the host, the MC, the introducer of the content. I hate it when the DJ thinks s/he is the content.

Be it radio or a variety show or any such venue, I want a peppy, energetic, articulate MC but I only want them to introduce the next act and get the hell off the stage.

Jon J said...

I suspect those who think of DJs as little more than a human juke box rather than a part of the experience didn't grow up listening to stations like WLS in the high energy era of the rock and roll giant radio days. You can probably identify these people now by the earbuds and thousand yard stare.

Neil D said...

One of my biggest disappointments when I first subscribed to Sirius was finding out that there were DJs on a lot of the music stations. I was expecting it to be like the cable/satellite TV music stations where it's just music, with the songs and artists displayed on the screen. Instead I get annoying "personalities" trying to be funny between and over top of the music I came to listen to. Yeah yeah, you're hilarious, just make with the songs, record monkey. (Tip: Screaming "DOCTOR MY EYES!!!" like you've just been had acid thrown in your face is just disturbing, and does not help me ease into some Jackson Browne.)

Sorry Ken. For what it's worth my biggest pet peeve about terrestrial radio was when the announcer wouldn't ID the artist either before or after the song. Especially pre-Google, there were times when literally years went by before I could find out who performed a certain song I liked.

Neil D said...

"been had". English as she is goodly written. My kingdom for an edit feature. Well, not my entire kingdom. But there's a couple of acres over by the treeline I could let go of cheaply.

Blaze said...

@ Jon J....you're getting time and geography mixed up. I did live in the era of Wolfman Jack and the "rock and roll giant days". However, try as hard as I could, my pocket transistor radio (with the earphone) would not reach across 2,000 miles to receive either Wolfman or Ken Levine. So, yes, someone born in the right era in the tiny (compared to the size of the continent) broadcast area of one of these amazing jocks could have a higher appreciation for the "whole experience".

For the rest of us, we loves us our music unyammered, thank you.

Mark P. said...

What I miss most about radio 40 years ago was that we had choices.

If we wanted to hear DJs entertain us, we could listen to AM Top 40. If we wanted them to introduce the song and then get out of the way so we could hear it in all its stereophonic glory, we'd switch to an AOR station on FM.

Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't.

When did Top 40 DJ's ever have time to go to the bathroom?

Neil D said...

@Mark P. "When did Top 40 DJ's ever have time to go to the bathroom?"

Hey Jude, American Pie and Taxi.

Wayne from Maine said...

I've got some air checks of you at 10Q, KFM....BFM, and the whole show, from a couple years ago, when you did LA Legends on K-EARTH. I even have a copy of you doing a 1 night thing at 99X, New York! You were good at it, and your right, it's a lost art. I was good at it at one time, but voice tracking put an end to that! I know a jock, who tracks 4 different stations, useing 4 different names, in 4 different cities! He works for......well I won't name the company......just look at those clouds! But anyway, with all your experiences, did you ever get a shot at writing for WKRP. And if not, why? I would have thought it would have been right up your ally. Was it, I used to do that, now I don't do that, and I'm NOT gonna do THAT! And why did you quit the business? TOP40 was still going strong in the late 70s. Did you see the end of it coming?

Richard Y said...

I never liked talking over the intro and never did it ((late 60s in San Diego) although I did have to do all the timing of the 45 or LPs so the other jocks could yap over the intro. It still anoys me but I do have to give credit to them that can really nail it. Bobby Rich here in Tucson can do it well.

Cap'n Bob said...

You discussed this a few years ago and I stated then that I hated DJ's who yakked during the musical intro. I suppose it would have been less onerous if the guy was funny, but few were.

I asked a DJ about this a few years ago and he said they surveyed the practice. The result was most men hated it and most women didn't care. So of course they kept doing it.

Dave Creek said...

Even as a teen I knew just enough about radio to be able to appreciate the DJ's ability to talk over the intro...but like so many people here, I never liked it.

Kinda like the people who talk over the non-dialogue parts of movies.

XJill said...

1) Like other commenters, I also hate DJs talking over ANY part of the song.
2) I believe 100.3 The Sound still has real, live DJs and they are very good about talking about the records they play. Love the 10 at 10!!
3) Do you at least have begruding respect for Seacrest or do you seriously not like him at all?

Anonymous said...

I hate DJ's that talk up records. I want to kill Kat Corbett on KR OQ. She talks up almost every song played on her shift.

newsboy said...

I guess that's what I never liked about AM commercial top 40 radio...the chatter over the intros and leading out of the songs. When I discovered FM in the late-1960s I rarely went back to the other band -- except to listen to The Credibility Gap on KRLA. And eventually they went to FM, too. Unless I wanted the news or sports, I found no reason to listen to AM. It was sell, sell, sell. They hammered it home. As a gen-gap kid I couldn't relate to it. Later I ended up working in it.

Ken Levine said...

I hope the airchecks you have of me are decent.

Never wrote for WKRP because I was on MASH at the time. I did know the creator, Hugh Wilson. We were on staff of THE TONY RANDALL SHOW together.

Anonymous said...

Back in '83, my favourite radio station, KQAK in S.F., went "Rock of the 80's", and the poor overnight guy, "The Lobster", was LOST; he was 40-something, and pretty much a "classic rock" kinda guy, so all this New Wave/Romantic music was almost completely foreign to him. I was a 15 year old insomniac New Wave/Ro FIEND (still am!) who had already gotten to know him before the format change, so I used to call him MANY times during the 12-6AM shift with requests, which added variety to the playlist he was given. He was grateful, but I felt like I was paying him back for all the great rock music he'd introduced me to before The Change; thanks to his ID's, I'd "discover" a great song/artist and write it down to search for later. He was my friend, though I never met him in person, and I ADORED him. It hurts me that Young People Nowadays don't get to have that kind of love for radio.

Now I feel old and cranky, and I need to hear "Around the Dial" by The Kinks.

Rock Lobster, wherever you are, I miss you and your voice, playing awesome music while I stayed up all night drawing comic books. And sweet mother of Bowie, I MISS KQAK!

Cheers, thanks a lot,

Storm

Dave said...

Ken:

Even though he didn't play a lot of music Chicago's Steve Dahl (who now has a daily podcast), would do entire segements of talking up records. Was a great bid and it made me appreciate the skill.

Dave

WizarDru said...

I'm surprised no one pointed out that many HD radios and car radios now can get the song information over the air. A lot of radio stations broadcast that information along with the song.

That said, I miss the days with jocks with a personality. Some of the local jocks here from Philly ended up on Sirius/XM, where they CAN remind me of the old days. Not talking over songs, but talking about thing. Michael Tearson and Earl Bailey and others. People who ADD content, rather than damage it. It's something that's lacking in regular 'format' radio any more, with only the one public music station from UofPenn being any ray of hope, locally.

Like listening to somebody like Andre Gardner talk about the Beatles, a passion of his. Or when Ginger Baker had a radio show and would have the time and luxury to just talk about music. That's something we've lost.

dan said...

r Dan:

You must be peeved at Bo Diddley


And loathed Big Bopper. And I don't care who was the walrus.

Alan said...

Maybe I'm just fortunate to be in a mid-sized market, but we have plenty of live DJs here in New York's Capital District (Albany/Schenectady/Troy), whether you go for Top 40 (WFLY), country (WGNA), classic rock (WPYX), or various other formats. Not everybody is equally talented, of course, but they are live and local. More song IDs would be appreciated, though!

Question for the audience: what's the correlation between disdain for jocks with personality and hatred of laugh tracks? I have a hunch that there's a sizable overlap, and that many of those people are 35-45 years of age, to boot. (And when I type, "hatred of laugh tracks," I mean not just that they might annoy you, but that you refuse to watch any comedy that employs them.)

SkippyMom said...

My husband was a DJ for years in VA and the one thing that drives him bananas and always has is other DJs/guests/whatever talking over the song. He could nail it just like you did. Every single time.

It's kind of a hot skill. IMO. :)

Amy joe said...

Thanks for sharing the blog.Keep on update the blog.

szkolenia