Saturday, August 29, 2015
There were nights when “Kung Fu Fighting” would come up four times a shift. It was like a drill to my head. I had been flirting with getting out of radio for about a year – maybe try my hand at TV writing if I was good enough and lucky enough to break in – but there was a tugging at my heart. Radio had always been my first love, ever since I was a kid.
I loved the amazing creative disc jockeys like Dick Whittington, Robert W. Morgan, Don MacKinnon, Gary Owens, Dan Ingram, Lohman & Barkley, Bob & Ray, Larry Lujack, Emperor Hudson, Dave Diamond, and of course the incomparable Real Don Steele. Tuning down the dial for non music stations I had Vin Scully calling Dodger games, Chick Hearn calling the Lakers, Bill King describing the Raiders, and dynamic news personalities like Paul Harvey (even I wanted to buy a tractor, he made them sound so inviting).
But I bailed, went into TV and moved on with my dreams. Over the years I’ve kept my hand in radio – weekend disc jockey here, talk show host there, and eventually baseball announcer – but it has always broken my heart to see how the industry has changed, and never for the better.
Once major conglomerates were able to gobble up more than a couple of stations in every market things went from bad to calamitous. Thousands of jobs were eliminated, every corner that could be cut was, commercial loads increased to insane amounts, and the listener was completely disregarded. Profits. Profits. That's all the mattered. Mortgage any future to make a buck today!
What few precious on air personalities we still have are quickly dwindling. And there’s no one new coming up because who in their right mind would want to begin a career in radio now? That’s like hoping to go into the typewriter manufacturing business.
There were a few more casualties last week. KRTH in Los Angeles, a CBS station, after reaching ratings heights with its ‘80s oldies format, just fired three major reasons why people listened to the station. Shotgun Tom Kelly got left go after 15 years or more. The guy has a fucking star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Also dumped were longtime nighttime jock, Christina Kelley (a wonderful talent), and radio icon Charlie Tuna.
Shotgun was given some bullshit title of “ambassador” and will make personal appearances but that’s just nonsense. He won’t be on the air doing afternoons anymore. And by the way, he sounds as good now as he ever did.
Who will replace them? Actually, the question should be “what” will replace them? Generic voice tracks? Or will they splurge and hire some nobody and pay him minimum wage?
It’s disgraceful and it’s an epidemic. Internet radio and satellite radio and podcasts can’t come fast enough. I recently did the Kevin Smith podcast and I bet ten times as many people heard me than if I were on KRTH – and KRTH gets good ratings. And when you did hear me, you didn’t have to suffer through twenty minutes of horrendous commercials, annoying promos, and idiotic contests.
In the past when a great disc jockey got fired he would simply show up elsewhere. But who knows today? Nobody is hiring. They’re all just firing.
It breaks my heart for so many reasons. It’s like, I’m glad I left my girlfriend when I did, but how tragic that she ended up Krysten Ritter on BREAKING BAD.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM