Friday, August 18, 2006

Why radio sucks

For 26 years KZLA has been the Country Music station of Los Angeles. It has the largest audience of any country station in America. So you would think it was a success.

Yesterday, Emmis Broadcasting (who owns KZLA) changed formats to “Movin’ 93.9” playing something called rhythmic Hot AC (Gwen Stefani, Prince, all your rhythmic favorites, whatever they are.). And as an added bonus, they’ve hired Rick Dees to do mornings.

So why the change? Val Maki, the GM and Emmis executive said their research indicated there was a need for this made-up format.

And then gave the following quote, which in one sentence nails the reason why radio and television broadcasting is in such deplorable shape these days –

“We work for our advertisers. Through our research and other research we know there was a large phantom cume that never got measured in Arbitron, as good as Arbitron is.”


Oh really? No, you don’t.


You have a license to broadcast in the PUBLIC’S interest, not the advertisers. That is a completely unconscionable and revealing statement.

I never listened to KZLA. I don’t have any friends who work there. Country music is not my thing. But for the loyal fans who were totally abandoned after a quarter of a century of support (shades of what CBS did to CBS-FM last year) I say don’t just write angry letters that won’t be read.


Use Ms. Maki’s quote. A broadcast license is a privilege. If the mandate of Emmis Broadcasting is to serve the advertisers and not you, they do not deserve to broadcast on the public airwaves.

And excuse me, you can hear Gwen Stefani on fifteen other LA radio stations.


Chris said...

The corporate parents like Clear Channel don't see their stations as a means to provide the public with music, information, entertainment, etc. They are simply an advertising vehicle like their billboards and if there is anything redeeming about the content it's only to the extent that it keeps listeners from flipping the dial.

James said...

I have been a loyal listener of KZLA since I moved to LA. I was shocked and disheartend when, without warning, the station switched formats. All of a sudden *poof* my morning commute got a little harder.

As someone who's known to be a little litigeous when the mood strikes, I never even thought about challenging the license, but it seems like a good idea to me and I'm going to look into it.

Toby O'B said...

I'm not sure adding my voice would be of any help as I live in NYC, and wouldn't have listened to a country/western station anyway, but for those who did want to make a complaint and a challenge to the license, who do they contact?

Anonymous said...

I agree free radio is a mess. If a show reaches a certain popularity it becomes jam packed with so many damned commercials, it becomes completely un-listenable. This is especially true doing both drive times.

The key to a good radio experience is to find a "gem" somewhere on the dial. That is, great music or talk, with long commercial free stretches.

Not an easy task because these gems usually reside on a weaker signal that fades in and out; and you don’t have to be a Wharton grad to know the whole commercial free thing isn’t real conducive to growing revenue.

I’ve listened to satellite radio and it’s as good as advertised. I just can’t wrap my head around having to pay for good radio. It shouldn’t have to be that way.

Richard Cooper said...

Blatant corporate greed: Screw the artist, screw the public interest! Tom Petty wrote about this trend from his vantage point in the recording industry for his album, "The Last DJ."

mybillcrider said...

This is exactly why I'm an XM subscriber.

odocoileus said...

Clear Channel read the writing on the wall. A format that appeals to working class white folks in LA is dead in the water. There just won't be enough young listeners around in the future - they've fled So Cal for AZ, NV, and the Pacific Northwest.

The smart money is being put into Spanish language Norteno stations. Those listeners are now the truck drivers, construction workers, and auto mechanics in So Cal.


Anonymous said...

thanks for the money quote KL!
betcher ASS I'm gonna use it. Look, I HATED that station but my wife is walking around in a daze. We spend a lot of time in the car and that's what she's enjoyed in the car for years.

Soon it seems all episodic television will be pneumatic young crime investigators and all radio will be interchangable pop.

Last week we woke up and our cable company was owned by another cable company. Yesterday my wife's favorite radio station is not her favorite radio station.
where will it all end?
is this still Ken Levine's website?
got any I.D.?

Howard Hoffman said...

We're proud to say that indeed, we bought this blog from the Levine estate.

Ken will continue posting as "Executive Consultant" while we maintain final say on what and what is not acceptable.

We hope you'll enjoy the changes. Now another 15 commercial-free posts in a row!

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't think to challenge the license because (unfortunately) the change from country to dance will serve more listeners. From the press release:

"The Los Angeles radio market is basically 40% Hispanic, 11% Asian and 8% black, and country fans are about 98% Caucasian," said Rick Cummings, a top executive at KZLA's parent company, Emmis Communications Corp. "My job is to attract as large an audience as possible. KZLA is now playing music that appeals to Hispanic adult women, and that will hopefully attract other suburban women of different ethnicities."

The bigger companies have been protecting their sister stations with selective programming for some time. Unfortunately the loss of KZLA's country is just another example of that trend. (ie, serving Advertisers, not the Public.)

Radio as a local outlet is the only way to go. Satellite and iPods can't provide that.

Either way, it's great Rick Dees will be back on... he's LA through and through. Hopefully he'll talk A LOT and save all dem' dance tracks for after 10am!

VP81955 said...

Hard to believe several formats can't find niches on radio stations anymore, even in the largest markets. New York hasn't had a country music station in years (and the next-closest thing, an AM daytimer in Stirling, N.J., was changed to a religious format a few years back). What's even more surprising is that New York -- home of Broadway, cosmopolitan Manhattan, Tin Pan Alley -- doesn't have a station playing "standards." (To me, that would be comparable to Nashville not having a country station.) Philadelphia lost a similar station two years ago, first to oldies (another struggling genre), then to sports talk.

Thank God for public radio and XM.

Anonymous said...

John, what you're saying is this station needed a program director (huge cume, poor TSL). Yes, I know in today's environment, that's next to impossible.

(Or maybe a weekly top 30 show, "counting up" the hits :)

And XM is not the answer. I've got it on a company vehicle. All it is is a bunch of harddrives with preprogrammed music, and rebroadcasts of NewsTalk and ESPN feeds. BFD. And for $9 a month, too.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a load of crap. I can't wait for your next post: "It's outrageous! I can't believe that bank is charging an interest rate! They should just loan me money for free!"

It's pretty easy to sit there and post on about a large corporation without an inkling of understanding of its competing obligations to the public interest, its listeners, its profts and its shareholders. It's also pretty easy to simplify the obligations of radio broadcasters into the nice-sounding platitude that they "work for the public." I'm sorry to tell you that that just isn't true. While the license is public, I have yet to see any piece of legislation or FCC regulation stating that radio broadcasters "work for the public." To be honest, I'm a little disappointed. As someone who worked on network TV for what seems to be many years, you sure do show a pretty diminished understanding of how such public licenses work. That is, you either completely do not understand or the nature of blogs (and the accompanying feeling as though you need to "rant and rave") has led you to make the most cursory of observations. Either way, I felt the need to correct you. If radio broadcasters "worked for the public," I'm pretty sure Congress would not allow them to be publicly traded. Moreover, if radio companies did indeed "work for the public," then subsidization by the government would eliminate the need for radio to seek out advertisers altogether. Seeing as radio companies are like any other corporation - most of which require a license to conduct such a business - I'm looking forward to your piece on why masseuses shouldn't charge for a massage, or the compelling upcoming tome on why Amtrak makes you purchase tickets.

Feel free to rant and rave all you want on your site - I'm pretty sure both people do enjoy that. But if you are going to advocate pulling a station's license, perhaps you should do your research first.

And by the way, I see that you were responsible for that piece of trash show "Almost Perfect." Is it true the alternate name being thrown around was "Almost Good Enough for Two Seasons"?

By Ken Levine said...

To the previous commenter,

First of all, I have a rule, say whatever you want but have the balls to give your name.

Secondly, you're just plain wrong about broadcasting licenses not being beholden to the public. Ask RKO who lost television licenses for KHJ Los Angeles and WOR New York for playing the same movie five nights a week and being challenged by the public. The only recourse the public has is to challenge licenses.

Thirdly, I'm a big boy. I can take your cheap shots at Almost Perfect.

You're welcome to engage in a debate and offer any view counter to mine, but if you sign in again without posting your name I will delete you.

Anonymous said...

First let me say how much I enjoy your posts, and how much I appreciate the fact that you update your blog regularly. And you're a riot.

Your "Why Radio Sucks" piece reminded me of a comment I read years ago. It's about television, but I think it applies here too:

"Television networks are in the business of delivering eyeballs to advertisers."

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Deregulation has nearly killed creativity in commercial radio, we'd nearly all agree. But take heart. In just two years, we've watched podcasting bloom to create an opportunity for everyone to have their own show. And that's terrific.

Bill Gates said that the real value of computing lies in the software, not the hardware; and I think that the same principle applies to radio.


It's not how the material is delivered; it's the material itself.

If someone wants to succeed in audio service, they simply need to provide something unique - something no one else can do.

Look, I started producing the New Scientist magazine podcast with zero listeners last fall; and two weeks ago, we recorded our one millionth download.

Bill Gates was right. I just followed directions.

Give 'em something they can't get anywhere else.

...and have fun, for goodness sakes.

Anonymous said...

the new Movin 93.9 is "Party Ho" music

John Deckard said...

I was astounded how bad radio was when I moved to NYC a half-dozen years ago. For a while, I thought that rock music in general had gone down the tubes. Then, a friend of mine pointed me to internet radio stations, like KEXP in Seattle.

With the exception of NPR, I've given up on broadcast radio in most, major cities. But let's be hones, radio's been pretty dubious for a while. I don't know anybody who listens to the radio for music anymore. Even on roadtrips, I don't bother.

Fortunately, there are plenty of alternative outlets to find what you want and get turned onto the new stuff.

Anonymous said...

As a 20+ year veteran of radio, I couldn't agree more. Sales departments at radio and television stations see themselves as the true talents. Little things like personalities, music,or what the listener/viewer REALLY wants are just things that get in their way.

John Deckard said...

Happened to glance at my post. "Let's be HONEST" is what I meant. I don't know what it would be like to be "hones", though I'm always open to new experiences.

Anonymous said...

As someone who once hosted the morning show on KZLA, I couldn't agree more that the loyalty should be with the listeners. In particular, KZLA listeners were likely the most dedicated in Los Angeles, mainly because they weren't given another choice. That said, Emmis was the best company I've ever worked for: kind to their employees and seemingly dedicated to their fans. The question is: when you're coming in with a one share EVERY book for years, what to you do? I'm sure what Val meant was that at the end of the's a business. If KZLA listeners weren't filling out Arbitron books, then advertisers won't pay. Lastly, I'm with you... if I hear one more Gwen Stefani song in my car, I'm gonna impale myself, (that may be harsh.)
-Cecily K

Anonymous said...

Media Is all about advertising..e.g radio,television.. etc etc... get with it...

Anonymous said...

Gene said.....
Stop being so naive ,believing that there's any sort of genuine "service" offerrred by dtations to listeners! It's all about the numbers...period. It has nothing to do with listener allegiance etc. As long as ad agencies make buys based on demographics and the young demos continue to grow,things will not change. The only thing more naive is being a DJ and believing that you're not going to end up a gypsy.

Anonymous said...

all radio is like that. Every form of "old media" (TV, radio) works for ad agencies today.

I don't listen to FM radio for two reasons:

1: They don't play what I like
2: They play too many ads.

This is why I use the internet to find my music. Stick it all in your ipod/flash drive and stick it/dock it to your car stereo, and you're set.

SAT radio is ok, as there are no ads and the channels are fairly specific specific, (alt rock, trance, new wave) however I find nothing beats what you've got stored on a device.

steve said...

I like AM radio better than FM myself. I like analog over digital in every area. Movies, music, tv, etc. I think digital ruined radio along with Clear Channel.

Samm said...

To ''Anonymous'' -- perhaps you don't like music, I mean really like music. No, broadcasters do not work for the public, but Radio is meant to entertain the public. Also, I'm pretty sure if we kept Congress out of the equation, it wouldn't suck so bad.

Feel free to rant all you want, but I think your train just left the station... choo-choo on you.