That is the question kids will be asking their elders soon if they aren’t already. Terrestrial commercial radio as we once knew it IS dead. The mean-spirited “no fun bunch” has taken over. Corporations are to blame, and the Congress that deregulated radio about twenty years ago a la what Reagan did to the Air Traffic Controllers union in 1980 is also. I used to dream of being a successful music radio Program Director in a big city when I landed my first on-air gig back in 1978. Now I know that dream will never be realized after almost forty years in the business – now mostly relegated to “part-time” status, I’m sad to say.
Recently, one of my favorite FCC Commissioners Michael Copps commented, “a tsunami of media consolidation fueled by the same hyper-speculation that was fueling so many bubbles in so many other industries [where] Stations were gobbled up en masse and totally unrealistic expectations were visited upon both them and even upon the ones who managed to stay unconsolidated.” And furthermore he said at the workshop, “the FCC had fallen “fell under the spell of an ideological deregulatory mind-set that fueled the evisceration or outright elimination of just about every public interest obligation or public interest guideline we had.” Not to mention planned careers like mine. You can read the Commissioner’s complete remarks at FCC.gov.
I had a job interview with a Program Director a few weeks ago. I guess he is close to my age but younger because we both reminisced about the days of editing audio using celluloid tape and a razor blade on those big ten-inch reel-to-reel tape recorders. When I left I wondered how he got his job? Not that he isn’t qualified or anything like that, but I’ve almost forty years in “da bizness”, and can’t even get a sniff to fulfill my career dream? I must have missed something along the way. All of this began to change around seventeen years ago – about the time the computer became commonplace. The bean counters came in over we who had gone to school for/trained in broadcasting. Suddenly we had too many desk jockeys and not enough true disc jockeys. I remember when I always had an eye to the “trades” Help Wanted sections for that next desired location, air shift or a music director gig. I could send a tape, CD and resume and get hired – seeing America the raido way; stations would even help you move ! Not no more – I’m stuck at the scene of my last relocation eight years ago. No more “Radio Ga Ga” ( a song long before Lady Ga Ga burst onto the scene, by the way).
The result is the current vast, cold and cookie-cutter non-creative radio wasteland that discourages a disc jockey’s individualism, and where every genre’s playlist is a replica of the “competing” station over at the next corporation.
Of course another big competitor for radio ears are the I-Pods, Podcasts and other virtual media which I can only wish were never invented pertaining to the number of traditional radio employment opportunities; a no-win situation. Here is a link to a friend and former co-worker speaking upon her being let go fromWBLS FM where she helped me get my audition tape to then Program Director, Frankie Crocker:
Upon my recent prevailing against another unjust firing (when will I ever learn to get out of “radio”) a mentor wrote to me, “”Congrats! I’m glad you won and yours is a victory for everyone who has been made a victim by companies such as Citadel. I hope you get a generous settlement and I’m glad you didn’t let them get away with it.”
“The radio jobs that [we] yearned for thirty years ago aren’t coming back,” a Program Director friend of mine commented to me last week. He has been one of the fortunate few to have been in his chair for about twenty years! My suggestion has long been to bring back the requirement that broadcasters (yes,even DJs) have to pass the minimum Third Class FCC license test. There are three classes of FCC licenses. You would have a better quality of true communicators, and it would weed-out much of the “junk” we currently have over the terrestrial airwaves. I bet people like Rush Limbaugh couldn’t pass the test for one on the first try! LOL
Two of of these major “evil empires” of radio are Clear Channel (the former AM/FM radio and the greediest) and Citadel Broadcasting. Everytime I read a headline like this week’s “Clear Channel Revenue Slips 6% In Q4 ’09” I am happy. I hope one day they disintergrate. Citadel has recently filed bankruptcy, so logically they should not be appealing any worker’s mysterious, curious and cost-cutting dismissals these days – except that they too live in the illogical world of the bottom financial line which dictates that they shouldn’t pay a worker who is partially unemployed and pay into his/her unemployment benefits; yet they would rather dismiss that type of employee rather than create a position where he or she could earn more and get out from under the Unemployment safety net. I was a victim of such a bean counter lady recently. There is no respect for longevity anymore and no willingness to “work with” employees for mutual benefits. My uncle, who just passed away at ninety-two years old was a Jazz fan – he loved WBGO and NPR’s programs – always said, “The larger the company, the more stupid rules.” ‘Nuff said.
We used to lightheartedly say about our being in radio that we were “bitten by the bug” because we had the fever to play music, cut-up, entertain, inform and communicate the truths about our times. That bug led to a fever that is hard to cure, and if you can break it, the residue tastes like that of losing a long-time lover or breaking a drug habit.
pickhitt: an optimistic perspective on the future of traditional radio DJs (at least in the UK) is here: