Thursday, May 04, 2017

Why radio sucks (one of the reasons)

Been listening to some broadcast media podcasts lately (boy, do I know how to have fun), mostly about the radio industry. Experts and programmers and consultants giving advice – promote your brand, embrace social media, yada yada.

And they all say radio needs to find more talent, people who are genuinely creative and great communicators. They bemoan the fact that these people are hard to find.

But see, here’s the problem:  when I was a kid radio was exciting. Every station had live DJ’s. They had freedom to be personalities. They had distinctive styles (well, some did and then fifty other jocks in smaller markets copied them).  They howled like wolves.  They had an impact. They drew big audiences. They mattered. And it was not unusual for a creative young person (like myself) to want to go into radio.

Today, I don’t know any Millennial who wants to make a career in radio. Why the hell would he?  That's like wanting to be a butter churner.  With so many more options available in video and music and numerous internet outlets where you can get your project – whatever it is – directly out to the public, why would anyone with artistic abilities or a need to express themselves bother with a medium that is dying, eliminating talent, exploiting the talent it has, and none of his peers listen to anyway? What’s to aspire to – being on a morning zoo making bad vagina jokes? Doing voice tracks for seven stations all for the price of being on one? Finding clever ways to say generic things so listeners will think you’re actually in Yakima?   What idiot has stars in his eyes for THAT? 

And these radio conglomerates that are bemoaning this lack of new blood have only themselves to blame. How are young broadcasters supposed to gain experience? No longer are there weekend all-night gigs in small towns? No longer are there first jobs where you can be terrible. If anyone ever uncovers a tape of me from my Bakersfield stint I will have to kill him. And when I play the tape during the trial no jury will convict me.

So where is this talent pool supposed to come from? Who wants to move to Baton Rouge to do Metro Traffic for five stations at minimum wage? Who wants to move to El Centro to do a daily six-hour morning show, three hours of station production, and three hours of going out on sales calls… for minimum wage? Video didn’t kill the radio star. Radio did.

And a final note to these giant conglomerates – assuming you all don’t go bankrupt in five minutes (which you will), there IS plenty of talent out there. Funny, fresh, vibrant, relevant with the rare ability to excite, entertain, and connect with an audience. Yeah, they’re out there. You fired them all.


john not mccain said...

Thank god I abandoned my radio dreams for an exciting career as a legal secretary (another category of job that is going to disappear over the next 20 years).

Friday question:

I was reading in Rob Lowe's first book about his experience being in the cast of a show called "A New Kind of Family." He said that after the studio audience had been there after a couple of hours it was kind of hard to get them to keep laughing. So somebody would throw candy at them and it perked them right up again. Did any of your live audience shows ever need perking up like that?

KCDennis said...

In the name of higher profits, we get corporations, then bigger corporations, then massive corporations, then conglomerates and monopolies. By that time, the golden goose has been slain. Capitalism rhymes with cannibalism, and that's no coincidence.

Bud Wilkinson said...


ScottyB said...

It's almost like they all know the answer, but nobody wants to be the first one to pull the trigger. So they all just end up sitting around the room pissing and moaning.

Mike Barer said...

I think consolidation was the result of too many stations driving the advertising rates down. At least that's how it seems.
I do remember in my college days, a company could own only one AM station, one FM station and one TV station in the same market.
I think the Telecom Act changed that and suddenly you could have several stations under one roof.
I have noticed that radio personalities are not advertised anymore. Danny Bonaduce has been doing a morning show in Seattle for about 10 years, but it is never promoted.
One of the upsides of the decline of personality radio, in my opinion is the rise of nostalgic blogs promoting the old days. Web sites like Puget Sound Media have stories and airchecks from the days when KJR had ratings of 30 percent, or one out of three listeners tuning in to the station.

Ken Copper said...

When radio was good it was GREAT. It's as if all the cool people got drunk at the party and gave the car keys to the dorks who used to fetch coffee and set up remotes. Wait, that DID happen. In the meantime, it's another "fantastic Friday in ______" (insert market here)

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Radio is back! At least it was for me two days ago as I waited for my car to be serviced and spent some time reading, "KHJ - The Story of Boss Radio" by its program director Ron Jacobs. After that, I climbed into my car...and listened to Pandora.

(...and a shout out to Ken Copper, funny, creative morning man at K-BEST 95 in San Diego in the '90's, for whom I fetched coffee...and occasionally played some tunes...)

Richard said...

Friday question....forgive me if you have answered this in the past.

Love Cheers, favorite show of all time. One thing I've always wondered...what do you think happens if Shelly Long doesn't decide to leave the show? Does the show last as long as it did? How do you handle the Sam and Diane dynamic? Curious!

Howard Hoffman said...

Radio stopped being an entertainment medium and became real estate. What was once the home of local personalities and in-town celebrities who cared about their audience is now just a conduit for vapid music gossip delivered from space. Owners just want a fast way to pay debt instead of letting their stations earn it with hard work and hometown talent. Can anyone tell us the last time they heard a station throw a listener party? Tough to do when no one's home at the studio.

blinky said...

I went to the Miami Pop Festival in 1968 when Marvin Gayes hit "I Heard it thru the Grapevine" was number 1 for a month. The big AM station there played it while I was driving thru town. When it was over, the DJ said : That was so good, for a nickel I would play it again. His partner said: here's a dime, keep the change. And they played it again. That could never happen now.

Eric J said...

Five years ago, someone broke into my truck and took my radio. A clean, professional job. I didn't even notice it until later in the day when I looked at the radio to see what time it was. That's how much I miss radio. I've never replaced it.

David Schwartz said...

I worked at a couple of radio stations in California (the Monterey Bay area) during the 70's. I was 18 when I started and it was a blast! There was enough freedom that you really had a sense that you could do whatever you wanted (within reason). We had contests, there was camaraderie between the jocks, it was very exciting for a teenager like myself. I made the same money as my friends who worked at McDonalds, but it was a blast. Since I worked at two stations, I had two names! My own and one that a friend and I picked out of the phone book by mixing first and last names.

The reason I got the job at the second station was because the guy before me fell asleep on the overnight shift (perhaps more than once). The story went that the program director opened up the station and found him asleep, with the station off the air. I stayed awake on the job so I was ahead of the game, and kept it until I moved away to continue college! I remember those days fondly and it's sad that they're unavailable to new people coming up.

David Schwartz (at KOMY) and Randy Fields (at KMBY)

VP81955 said...

I spent 2 1/2 years at the start of the decade in Lynchburg, Va., one of those markets where ClearChannel (now IHeartRadio) ran nearly all the stations in town. Right-wing talk (hey, it was Jerry Falwell's base!), bland country and "Top 40" formats, etc. I love radio, but I rarely listened. Alas, not much has changed, even after moving to a town as cosmopolitan as Los Angeles.

Unknown said...

Spot on analysis. Everyone on the programming side could see the talent hole coming. It's here, and it's never going away.

I left radio after nearly 20 years for so many of the reasons you mentioned. It was depressing watching all of the young talent that I started out with slowly melt away because they just couldn't make it on the measly pittance that the industry calls pay. Creative, funny people leaving to sell insurance, because, hey, the new baby actually might need healthcare at some point. (Ask your agent if they can hit the post. I bet he/she smiles.)

For that matter, the State Farm office is probably more fun than the radio station anymore anyway.

All of those people I started out with should be in their prime right now, dominating the airwaves.

For the record, I left radio to become a screenwriter. So far, the pay and benefits are the same.

Thatshowifeelwhatcanitellya said...

THANK YOU!!!! That's exactly what I have been saying for the past 10 years or so and precisely why I ended an amazing 50 year career when I disappeared!

DwWashburn said...

I have a relative who is in small town radio. He wants to know what podcasts you're listening to pertaining to the workings of today's radio. He'd like to subscribe to a couple of them.

Richard Pryor said...

David Schwartz....KMBY was one of the two radio stations I listened to in the '60s. KDON was the other. The DJs were loud, obnoxious and brought a personalization you sure don't have today. In the '60's KMBY was a top 40 radio station located on Monterey's famed Cannery Row. However, this was before the Aquarium and tourist traps; then it was just run down old canneries with hippy shops and derelict buildings. KMBY was located on the top floor of the historic Bear Flag Inn, whose origin was as a whore house back in the heyday of the canneries. Sexual shenanigans continued there in the'60's when one of the more popular DJs was fired and arrested, in that order, for having underage teenage girl fans give him blow jobs while he was on the air. Bob something or other. Advertising was cheap back then on the two top 40 statiions. Around 1968 I ran 30 second ads for around $2 each ROS, a buck more in drive time slots. And they actually got results for our fast food joints in Monterey. I still remember hearing the Rollings Stones SATISFACTION for the first time while driving to work. ANd heard it again and again as the DJs must have played it non-stop for an hour. THose were the days!

Bob O'Brien Leszczak said...

I've been very lucky over my many years in radio. For the most part I've had program directors who encouraged and embraced creativity and "let me be me" even in large and medium markets. Along the way, however, there have been a few on-air PD nimrods who were insanely jealous of any attention and accolades directed towards me (or other jocks) instead of them (not realizing how it benefits them, ratings, and the station in the long run as a whole). You are 100% correct about the voicetracking and low wages of modern day radio. I fared the best during the Clinton administration. It was still financially attractive during that era. What I've found, however, is that an entire generation of DJs have only worked in the "liner card" era and absolutely cannot go beyond what is on the card or the screen. They just don't have the chops, they stumble and fumble when they have to stray from their training wheels, and sadly never will improve. Many stations embrace "bland" because it is easier to replace people as if they were light bulbs. For now, I'm still having fun donning the headphones.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

jon not mccain: I attended a taping of a show in 2015, and the way they kept the audience amped up was:

- recruit college kids excited to get in for free, many of them frequent attendees and big fans;
- toss out candy at regular intervals;
- warm-up guy;
- who runs contests during scene changes (who can do the stupidest dance, etc.);
- pizza and sodas also handed out;
- prizes...



Mike said...

Radio is alive & well here in the land of St George. New talent, etc, apart from "loud, obnoxious and ... top 40" which deserves a special circle of hell.

Did you ever play Microphone Chicken on national radio on the breakfast show, say?

Michael C said...

I know you get asked this a lot but please write a book about your radio experiences. I promise to buy two copies.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, de-regulation. And there's more to come from Trump. Nothing did more to cause unemployment, restrict competition, and ruin a once great industry. Now the internet is pecking over the dead body.

Anonymous said...

"He said that after the studio audience had been there after a couple of hours it was kind of hard to get them to keep laughing. So somebody would throw candy at them and it perked them right up again. Did any of your live audience shows ever need perking up like that?"

A friend of mine, who's in the business, was to appear on a game show with his son. Since I'm well aware of how studio audiences are treated, when he said I should come watch, I tried to get out of it, but since I Lived near the studio, I he wouldn't hear of it.
So they weren't the most efficient production, they began to go long, and my friend still wasn't up to bat. That's when they started throwing candy at us, which really pissed me off. Then a few people tried to leave, and their production assistants begged them to stay in front of the audience, which they did. They had assistants stationed at the exits for this very task.
So, I got up, got confronted by an assistant, "where are you gaining?"
I just said I needed to go to the bathroom, and I'd be right back.
Assistant said, "okay, but make sure you hurry!"
They watched me as I casually walked down the hall, then meandered near the exit.
"Hey!" two assistants yelled, as I bolted out the exit, and ran to my car. They didn't chase me.
Because they went long, my friend and his kid never appeared. Got bumped. An hour after I escaped.
If you've never seen a tv show produced, maybe it's worth it. Otherwise avoid those shitshow.
You're a guest in an asshole's house, more often than not.
If you do go, leave when you want to. Don't let them stop you. If they make the experience unpleasant, you owe them nothing but your scorn.

Liggie said...

The only formats where the talent gets to show their personalities are the ones without music: sports and talk (both political and general). Bonaduce has gained a large audience in Seattle for his talk/conversation format, despite being hosted on a classic rock station. Another example would be "The Philipps Phile" in Orlando.

One telling note: one of the highest-rated stations in Seattle plays soft-rock, and I'll bet most of those rating points come from dentists' waiting rooms and offices with receptionists.

Radio -- and heck, air travel -- were sure better in the old days.

Anonymous said...

It is amazing that I read this post this week...It was 17 years ago tomorrow, that I graduated college with hopes of a radio career...I moved to my dream city and was all set to work 15 hours a week as a V/O artist at a Christian radio station..and then told they didn't have the money to hire me but when they did, they'd call me...they never did...

I have been described by others as having a voice that is a cross between "girl next door" and "slut down the street"..Ah..talent...I have it..but nowhere to use I moved on...and as of this moment I work in dietary in a local hospital..delivering meals to patients....making decent money...and every now and then my "radio voice" sneaks out...and my creative side is used in my blog writing..and I find when I post links to music on my FB page, my posts read like DJ copy....dreams die and then you move on...and your post is a perfect answer to all those who still ask me "Why aren't you in radio???"

VP81955 said...

A tangent, but since today is popularly known as "Star Wars" day ("May the fourth be with you"), I thought I'd share something from my White Sox fan buddy Dan Day Jr.'s "The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog" ( He's done a "what-if" retro-casting "Star Wars" in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, using nine principal characters. Here they are:

Luke Skywalker
James Stewart
1940s: Van Johnson
1950s: Paul Newman

Princess Leia
Myrna Loy
1940s: Ida Lupino
1950s: Debbie Reynolds

Han Solo
Clark Gable
1940s: Humphrey Bogart
1950s: Kirk Douglas

Obi-Wan Kenobi
Lionel Barrymore
1940s: Walter Huston
1950s: William Powell

Grand Moff Tarkin
Basil Rathbone
1940s: Claude Rains
1950s: James Mason

Darth Vader
Boris Karloff
1940s: Lon Chaney Jr.
1950s: James Arness

Franklin Pangborn
1940s: Edward Everett Horton
1950s: Clifton Webb

Billy Barty
1940s: Mickey Rooney
1950s: Peter Lorre

Noble Johnson
1940s: Glenn Strange
1950s: Tor Johnson

Judging from the casts, the '30s "Star Wars" probably would be filmed at Metro, the '40s version at Warners (if Van Johnson could be loaned from MGM) and the '50s version? At any studio that could get the talent.

D. McEwan said...

This column hit home for me. 50 years ago this month it was I began working in radio. I was lucky; I worked with, usually writing for but often performing with also, such giants as "Sweet Dick" Whittington, Lohman & Barkley, and Gary Owens. I no longer even own a radio and can not remember the last time I listened to radio.

But while we were still free to be creative, we did some great stuff.

Andy Rose said...

As a radio junkie myself, I have a lot of sympathy for these complaints. But it's telling that whenever this topic comes up, the people who mourn the decline of DJ-active radio are people like us who used to be DJs. When I talk to ordinary listeners, I almost always hear something to the effect of, "Radio sucks, but at least I hear less of those DJs who never shut up and think they're hilarious." I totally disagree with that sentiment, but the industry exists to serve them, not us.

I certainly wouldn't give conglomerates and deregulation a pass on what's become of the industry, but there are plenty of more significant things to blame, including people's ability to play whatever they want any time they want (to my kids, the very idea of having to wait through something they don't like for something they do like seems ridiculous, and why shouldn't it?) And then there's also...

-Docket 80-90 (and subsequent relaxation of translator rules), which crowded the airwaves with more stations and made it a lot harder to keep up ad rates.
-The PPM ratings system, which made it clearer than ever what a tuneout most DJs are, and also inadvertently incented stations to do 2-3 ridiculously long commercial breaks per hour instead of 5 or 6 brief ones.
-Failure to make radio transmission fully digital, leaving over-the-air radio sounding worse than almost every other audio option.
-The 2008 recession, which cut radio advertising radio almost in half; by the time businesses were ready to spend again, digital advertising had matured and companies moved to them instead of radio.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Hey! Richard Pryor! I feel like Mary Tyler Moore not making it with Elvis during their movie together. Why? Because I worked at KMBY in 1969, and I guess I missed out on all of the adventures. I wanted to work there because Robert W. Morgan pass through a few years before...and, well, I wanted to be just like him. I wonder what kind of nonsense he got involved with??

It wasn't until years later when RWM called the hotline at K-BEST 95 in San Diego looking for our PD (Richbro - a sharp of the best) that I was able to tell him a bit about the old days (which are now "the olden days.")

Ah, radio!

DBenson said...

Good stuff. But who'd do the silent version?

JR Smith said...

When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was work in radio. Luckily, I lived in a small town and got a job playing recorded public service programming on Sunday mornings from 6AM until Noon at our local AM Top 40 station. For the last hour, I got to play records and talk! I was still in high school. I doubt that opportunity still exists anywhere.

My first full time radio job was at an AM/FM station in another small town. I did air shifts, wrote copy, read the news, even created and hosted a one-hour weekly "countdown of the hits" program. Those were the days that you needed to have a First Class FCC license to take hourly transmitter readings and such. Because of that, I had to learn a lot about radio theory and how and why things work around a radio station in order to pass the license test. I did everything at that small station and learned and grew so much. I doubt that opportunity exists in many places these days.

My experience at the small stations and the ability to create a decent demo tape got me a job at a bigger station in a major market. I was on late at night, but the pay was decent and the facilities were awesome.

That job got me a job at an advertising agency writing and producing radio and television commercials. That agency job led to a bigger and better agency job.

Along the way, clients hired me to work in their in-house ad departments and I even started and sold my own advertising agency.

Not entirely, but mostly because of that small AM Top 40 station manager that gave me a job playing tapes on Sunday morning.

John in NE Ohio said...

A couple of comments from someone not in the radio industry.

@Andy Rose - good DJ's were fine. A lot of times, stations/DJs decided that more was better, so the music would completely take a back seat. Jeff and Flash were better on MMS when they had less time to f around and had to play more records. Eventually, they were using the bits that should have been edited out. It's like Ken says, cut, cut again, and then cut some more. Eventually, they were filling so much time "between" records that they didn't cut.

Other general comments -
When I listen to radio, it is almost always XM, commercial free. If it is AM/FM or commercial XM, I often don't change right away when the commercial comes on, but if there are too many, or 1 really annoying one, I'm out. I would never by Zyppah even it worked wonders because that would only encourage those f'in ads. If I was buying ads, I would require a clause that I cannot be within 15 minutes after those ads, because I cannot be the only one that would never hear the ad.

While there are plenty of syndicated crap shows in the NE Ohio market, there still are a number of local DJs playing records, doing sports, or general talk. Jeff Kinsbach is still kicking around, as is Michael Stanley, the descendants of Lanigan and Webster, Triv, plus a couple of stations worth of local talk and/or sports.

Could be worse.

Unknown said...

Ken, what are the names of the radio podcasts you listen to?

Matt said...

Incidentally: some of the worst, most foul language can be heard behind the scenes in most radio stations. I've always loved this juxtaposition irony.

Mark said...

In what world do "capitalism" and "cannibalism" rhyme?

TheLazyComic said...

I started in radio back in the year 19-blum,blum,blum. LOL Like everybody else, I did whatever it took to get my feet wet, moved all over the place, etc. When I got hired by ABC / Disney owned WYAY in Atlanta in 2001, I thought I'd made the big time, finally. Not so. They lied to me all the way. I paid for a move to the ATL for a full-time job with them, and, at the last minute, they decided to have somebody voice-track the shift, and gave me one day on the weekends. Dummy me, moved there with no contract, on Steve Mitchell's first lie to me. Needless to say, it just went downhill from there. I couldn't live on 12 bucks an hour and 4 hours per week. So I turned in my 2 weeks notice after a few months of being there, and sought employment elsewhere... only to have Mitchell tell people I'd quit with no notice, etc. He, and ABC/Disney were blackballing me because I wouldn't play by their crummy rules. (Would you)? I still have all the paper work and audio recordings to back all my claims up. BTW, I was going to sue ABC over lying to prospective employers who would call Mitchell for references. ABC offered me $1,200.00 to settle out of court. A laughable amount, (I didn't accept their "generous" offer... and them making an offer was an admission of guilt on their part). I haven't worked in radio since. I'd rather scrub toilets than work for people like Steve Mitchell and ABC / Disney. Best part is, it's all true, so they can't do a legal thing to me. (Remember, I said, I still have all the documentation on this). Randy McDaniels, TLC.

pete275 said...

Podcasts. That's what the talented people are doing, that's what the new kids are aspiring to be. Who even owns a radio receiver anymore? Those guys don't need to find talent embrace social media, they already have all that. they just need to find money.

Unknown said...

Radio wasn't always like that! I remember back in the early 80 (back when i was a kid) there was a station called ksym. Both them and keda were about the only 2 good stations to listen to in san antonio. Back then there was no internet radio and there was no satellite radio so you didn't have a choice. But even back then there were small town stations such as kwcb (R.I.P.) Back then they were on the air on 94.3 fm and they played country music. Today that station (who's last broadcast frequency was 89.7fm) is no longer on the air. Call the undertaker! Broadcast radio is dead!

Joe Tursi said...

I spent over 40 years in radio as a DJ.what happened to radio,good radio that was entertaining was the "format." It was a recipe for what songs were played and how often. Then it was expanded to included what the DJ said. The theory was that the format completely and concisely stated what listeners wanted to hear It essentially poured Clorox on the creative, the clever and anything unique.What remains is a a juke box and commercials. It amazes me how something so dull can still convince sponsors to spend bucks on it. The fact that Howard Stern has become a success is representative of the lack of talent and the stupid audience attracted.