Thursday, November 1, 2012

The NAY's

Not everyone responding to our recent rave-out agreed with us ... here are a few of the "NAY's" we received ... (along with a couple of clarifications along the way ... or, as I like to call them, a series of my "You're Missing The Point" comments!)

Well it's time for me to add my two cents, for better or worse. There are many times that I'll feel the way many of you do when that overplayed song comes on the air. There is a silver lining to this redundancy that is of value to the propagating of this thing we love called "Rock and Roll".
Many of these songs came out back when a buck just wasn't the buck that it is today. Those artists should still be getting paid for their efforts of yesteryear. They did, after all, give us most excellent music that revved up our souls and are a large part of the "Forgotten Hits" repertoire.
The kids of today need to be turned on to the old artists with a repetition that will get them into that same groove and feeling we once felt. Thus, the sales of CD's, which will put those new bucks into the artists hands. The old artists still tour (I saw The Moody Blues awhile back, I'm just saying) and are making some good scratch for their old efforts. Younger kids are showing up these days and that is a good thing. This a result of getting hooked on the oldies by radio or by growing up in some potheads' house where this was a staple 24/7. The point here is, that those super songs had the sound and the hooks that made them appealing and compelling enough to make you want to own them or go see the concert.
Of course I don't listen to the radio much unless I'm on a trip and it is usually tuned to a Mexican station that plays American Rock and Roll that is obscure and most of which I've never heard before. Lots of B sides and really good stuff that didn't make overplayed status. I personally don't mind the other stations that play the redundancy, because being a singer, I sing along and tell the bride I can kick Steve Perry's ass on "Lights" or how "Light My Fire" should've been sung. Under her breath I can hear her say "you wish" ... well, 40 years ago maybe. So my not being a radio aficionado doesn't allow me to enter a dog in your hunt, BUT I just wanted to be the Devil's advocate here for the sake of all the geezers that still have the balls to get out there and shake a tail feather. Long live Rock and Roll!!
PS: Off topic, I just want to give Chicago a definite kudos. There are many great groups from the area but in my humble opinion, I have to say that after years of diggin grooves, one person stands out for me, and he is from Chi-town. MARVIN JUNIOR, for me, is the very best soul singer of all time. Oh I know, I have a list of spectacular others, too, but that man is the epitome of power, guts, and soul.
Alex Valdez    

YOU'RE MISSING THE POINT:  I agree ... and there has never been a greater advocate than me when it comes to introducing a new audience to the GREAT music of yesterday ... and I have seen time and time again the incredible response and reaction from these kids as they discover music with a catchy melody, intelligible lyrics (ok, so maybe not "Louie Louie"!) and just an over-all feel-good vibe.  They are NOT going to experience that, however, with radio playing the same two dozen artists 75% of the time!!!  If you REALLY want to build a new audience, they need to experience first hand the musical variety that was at our fingertips every time we turned on the radio back then.  There is more to the music of our generation than Journey, John Mellencamp and Billy Joel ... it's really as simple as that.  So I whole-heartedly AGREE with your sentiments ... they're just not being executed properly.  Meanwhile, the lion's share of music that WE grew up with (from the '50's and '60's) has nearly disappeared for good because programmers feel there's just no audience for it anymore.  As I've stated numerous times in the past, that's programming with blinders on.  Go ANYWHERE where this music is playing today and you will see the kids respond and react to it in a positive way.  (At my daughter's High School Variety Show a week or two ago we saw a young man play a note-for-note perfect version of The Beatles' "Blackbird" ... and watched a quartet of young female singers do a doo-wop medley that consisted of "Earth Angel", "Sh-Boom", "A Teenager In Love" and "Lollipop" ... and the crowd went NUTS!!!)  Walk through a theme park and you'll hear music of the '50's, '60's and '70's playing ... through the speakers and on the rides ... and the kids are happily singing along.  Go to a kid's birthday party and you'll hear it on the jukebox.  Go to the pool in the summertime and you'll hear it blasting through the speakers.  Same thing at the ballpark ... literally EVERYWHERE this music is being played, it is being responded to in a positive light by a young listening audience ... yet radio isn't about serving and building an audience anymore ... it's about the advertising demographic ... and that's all they can see.  (Perhaps those ratings would go up if radio was playing what people really want to hear!  Now I know that that's just an unproven theory ... but I'm saying "Why not put it to the test?")  Even our daughter has made comments about how often they seem to play the same songs over and over again ... and she's fairly new to the whole radio game.  How burnt out is SHE going to be in a few years???  She's already choosing YouTube, Pandora and her iPod over what radio has to offer today because at least through these outlets, she can program some variety into the mix.    And it's become even worse here in Chicago where we no longer have an oldies station.  At 2 1/2 minutes each, you can cram a WHOLE lotta music into each hour ... and feature far more variety when doing so ... now all we get is THEIR version of "Classic Hits" ... by the same two dozen artists, 75% of the time.  If you want to hear THAT much music by ANY artist, just pop their CD in in your car. When I turn on the radio, I want to hear variety!!!  (kk)

Kent - 
I agree with your concept that there's a lot of worthy songs not being played on the radio. I truly miss listening to the radio and remarking "Oh Wow - I haven't heard that song in ages!" 
But I counted 186 songs on your list. If a station expanded it's playlist to, for example, 1000 songs and played them equally, you would still hear one of your overplayed songs once nearly every five plays. My point is simply that if we are going to make a solid argument to the radio stations perhaps there might be a more powerful way. I would start by seeing just how many different songs a station plays in a five-day (Monday - Friday) week. Then exert pressure for them to increase that number. Again, I agree completely with your "rant" but I think we need to strengthen our argument.
Steve Davidson
Scottsdale, AZ    

YOU'RE MISSING THE POINT:  It's not about the song count ... it's about the saturation of the same artists being rammed down our ears 24/7.  (I could easily have added another 50 songs to this list by the same artists ... that isn't the point ... although some songs DO seem to be EXCEPTIONALLY annoying by the sheer number of times they're played each day.)
You'll see arguments below saying that we all have our favorites that we'd rather hear (which would only alienate another set of listeners) ... but I'm here to tell you that I don't care WHICH 24 artists they are ... I don't think ANY group of artists should maintain that kind of radio domination because the end result is that the audience will ... and has ... grown sick of them.  I bought every single one of those songs on my list ... and genuinely LOVED this music ... but radio (through its infinite wisdom of non-stop repetition) has made me HATE many of these songs and artists now.  (In all fairness, as pointed out earlier, it's not the artists' fault ... they created some GREAT music ... but radio has beaten it to death in such an over-the-top, cram-it-in-our-ears sort of way that many of these artists have now become cringe-worthy from the very first note!)  Give some of this music a rest ... rotate it with OTHER songs and other artists that will make us love and appreciate these artists again.  Many of these songs today don't make it past the first three notes before I'm changing the station.  Program VARIETY into your schedule and we can tolerate listening to these artists again.  After turning off oldies like "Brown Eyed Girl" and "Oh, Pretty Woman" for six weeks straight, I've found that I can actually LISTEN to these songs again six weeks later and think, "Wow, that actually sounded pretty good."  It's just when the same music is beaten into our heads over and over again that we react to it negatively.  These are GREAT songs ... but radio has made me HATE them.
I used an analogy the other day that back in the days of Top 40 Radio, we lived with hearing the same songs during every four-hour radio program because that was the format of the day.  But if you're going to sell yourself as "The Greatest Hits Of All-Time" and "The Classic Hits of the '60's, '70's and '80's", your play list library is now open to literally THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS of songs, ALL of which now fit that format and those guidelines ... you're not limited to ANY 40 songs or artists anymore ... so there is absolutely NO reason to beat these songs to death ... because those same 200-300 songs are simply NOT "The Greatest Hits of All-Time."  The greatest hits of the era you're covering encompasses SO much more ... and you're losing your audience in the process by driving them away with the same day in / day out repetition.  (kk)     

Seems to me, Kent, that you're just a tad paranoid about what radio stations play! For starters Chicago AIN'T the only city in the world! Secondly, I presume you think that Forgotten hits is so important in the grand scheme of things, that if you rant enough about playlists and who the RRHoF puts up for inclusion, that those in charge will bend to your thoughts and wishes, and will do what YOU want. Thirdly, FH is a good site, but it's fast becoming the KK soapbox, and it's time you shut up and spread your parish a little further than Chicago, and indeed the USA. There's a whole world out there playing music, and producing good stuff. Buy yourself an internet radio and start listening to stations in Europe, Australia, and the rest of the world. You're fast becoming a bloody bore!   
G Van Win (UK)   

YOU'RE MISSING THE POINT:  Based on the response we've seen so far, if there's a "majority of one" here, it's more likely you than me. As stated in our "soap box" piece, this problem isn't confined to just Chicago ... it's nationwide ... and, from what we've heard from many of our readers, WORLD WIDE as well!  It's a full-blown epidemic of cookie-cutter programming.  Sure, Internet Radio is an option ... but not in my car. I'd just like to know that for the brief hour each way to and from work the possibility exists for me to hear something OTHER than what's on that list.
Maybe you've come to expect such narrow-minded programming living in the UK where for decades and decades the ONLY option was the BBC ... and you learned to listen to whatever was being force-fed to you because there simply was no other option ... it was all you were going to get. But if everyone there in the UK agreed with you, then Pirate Radio never would have been invented and become as popular as it did!!!
My purpose here isn't to sway anybody's opinion over to my side or my way of thinking ... I'm not trying to convert or convince anybody of anything ... my point is simply to say "Hey look ... if you agree with me, and you're as fed up with this situation as I am, then I think it's time we DO something about it." I talk to deejays and programmers all the time ... they either seem to have little or no input in these matters, regardless of how they may really feel about it ... or cite the "research" as stating that this is what the listeners really want to hear. I disagree ... and, from the looks of things, so do thousands and thousands of others out there. All I'm saying is "There's strength in numbers."  I'm just one guy ... I'm not going to change anything all by myself ... and this isn't going to change on its own. So if I can use whatever influence Forgotten Hits may have to spearhead such a movement, I'm all in. My intention isn't to change the way somebody else thinks ... you're all entitled to your own opinion on this matter.  I'm simply saying "If you feel the same way I do about this, then let's DO something about it."  Is Forgotten Hits "so important in the grand scheme of things"??? Probably not.  I guess we'll find out. But at least I'll feel better knowing that I tried. (kk)

Gather around kids as the cranky old man offends everyone (including Kent) with what's wrong with radio and its listeners and even its critics ...
I used to play a fun game with WLS-FM even before the change. If I woke up before the clock radio went off, I'd predict which artist would play. 80% of the time I got the artist right and maybe 20% of the time I'd even have the song right. I had their clocks and library memorized, which wasn't hard to do. Once I woke up to the same song five times in eleven days.
When the new format started, I was able to play the same game within a week. Since then, though, I've switched my clock radio to K-Hits. They play the same songs, but they rotate them less predictably. I'm about to get an I-phone and will probably also get a clock radio / charger for it and wake up to Slacker.
The problem with many radio program directors - and I'm speaking generically here - is that they tend to think of radio as having started when they came to town. They don't see their format, slogans and contests as being stale and boring. To them, they're fresh, new and unique. There's no sense of the past because then they'd have to admit someone before them knew what they were doing. And that would diminish their own sense of self-importance. Make no mistake about it, they think they're the savior of radio when in fact they're one of the reasons for its slow demise. Don't expect these carpetbagger PDs to explore a city's musical heritage. They believe the audience moved to town when they did. They may be willing to hire legendary talent from that city, but they handcuff the talent with their liner cliches and no-talk segues.
The old tried-and-untrue "Listen for xx song, be the xx caller and win!" contest, for example, that many program directors think is so great is actually counterproductive because it encourages the listeners (even those who don't call in) to notice how often songs repeat.
Auditorium research tells them people like "Jack and Diane". It doesn't say how often people want to hear it or John Mellencamp in general. It's a snapshot of the moment, not an indicator of the future. To determine attitudes, you use focus groups and perceptual studies. Likewise, they are not good at predicting the future, only the present. You need a good program director to understand and utilize that information properly.
But the audience is partially to blame. Since every radio station hears "you play the same songs over and over" in their focus groups, they tend to ignore what they hear. Ask the average listener and they'll tell you - ANYONE can program a radio station. Just play THEIR favorites. Because they ("and all their their friends") like it, so EVERYONE will like it. Hear that often enough and you'll understand why stations say, "We're professionals. Don't try this at home, kids."
There's a fine line between giving feedback and an amateur condescendingly telling a professional how to do their job. People who wouldn't tell a doctor, plumber or auto mechanic what to do think they know SO much more than a radio professional.
Calling, writing and e-mailing a station becomes ignored because they have always heard those complaints. If they look the other way at scientific research imagine how they feel about such unscientific "research." Even if the audience isn't "crying wolf" that's the perception because listeners
have always cried it yet continue to listen.
Good auditorium research DOES include songs the station isn't playing. Occasionally you'll find a gem. But the vast majority of the time the new songs are rejected by the very same people who tell you that you're playing the same songs over and over!!! If there's a consensus that the audience wants to hear something else, trust me, the station will jump on it.
It's impossible to play a large enough library of songs to avoid hearing "you play them too often" without playing too many songs the mass audience doesn't doesn't know or remember. (And yes, multi-million corporations with limited channels are interested in mass audiences, not niche segments. That's one advantage satellite and Internet companies have.) No one ever gets upset at hearing their favorites too often - only the marginal tunes or the ones they dislike. (WLS-AM used to play the five biggest tunes every hour-and-a-half). Ron Britain told me people would complain when he was at WIND playing 3,500 songs that they played them too often. If you played 10,000, though, your audience would be
miniscule because the unfamiliar songs would cause tuneouts. And there would still be just as many people complaining that you play the same songs over-and-over as they notice ones they don't like appearing again. Even a great "forgotten hit" will cause tuneout unless you can give the audience the background of the tune and artist as a buffer to its unfamiliarity (one reason why Scott Shannon could play them). But that can't happen with "shut up and play the hits" programming. And that's the point.
Research is great at telling you what songs to play but terrible at telling you how often to play them. So you rely on the program director's experience and knowledge to keep a station with a static playlist fresh. That includes regularly resting some tunes, strong personalities to complement the music,
playing the occasional "oh wow" song, contests that are as entertaining as the music, regularly scheduled features, playing topical tunes and working very hard to keep patterns from forming. I guarantee you my clock radio game wouldn't work with a PD like Tommy Edwards or New York's legendary Joe McCoy. A large number of these real good program directors, though, have sadly moved up or moved on.
In the '60s, almost 100% of the contemporary audience listened to Top 40 radio. By the late '60s and into the '70s, the audience split into Top 40 and Album radio. Oldies stations now don't play the Carpenters, Barry Manilow and Bread because they're trying to find a balance between those two segments. In the '80s it gets worse as you add Alternative stations and a huge number of Adult Contemporary channels to the mix. Is it any wonder stations trying to play '70s and '80s music can't find a large consensus of music that appeals to all these niche segments? Programming Classic Hits is not the same as programming Oldies just with different years. Which is why we need Real / True / Proper / Correct / Classic OLDIES stations and a sales staff that can point out to advertisers the advantages of appealing to an undiluted Baby Boomer audience.
Big radio chains are so in debt that they need immediate results. There's no time to develop long-term formats. Remember "Jammin' Oldies"? It had a very small playlist and played those tunes sometimes every nine hours? There was no vision for the future. The future was "that moment." Their "scorched earth policy" ruined a lot of artists and songs for the listeners. Many Supremes songs are still "burnt out" with listeners thanks to this short-term programming. Trust me, the same thing is about to happen with the artists on Kent's overplayed list.
Don't let ratings fool you. It's a "zero sum" game. In the end, all the shares combined add up to 100%. But 4% of a big pie is not the same as 4% of a small pie. And traditional radio is doing a great job of sending listeners to satellite radio, Internet channels, YouTube and their own MP3s. Clear Channel's Bob Pittman (who gave us "WMAQ's gonna make me rich" and MTV and is one of my early influences) is on a mission to "reinvent radio" by convincing advertisers how strong its numbers remain (remind them
about Baby Boomers while you're at it, Bob). But I hear no talk about improving the product, just its perception. And, by the way, who were two of the artists he used at advertiser functions to grease his message? Elton John and Stevie Nicks. He should have saved the money (Clear Channel is $302 million in debt) and just played one of his Classic Hits stations.
Now get off my lawn, you kids.
-- Ron Smith    

YOU'RE MISSING THE POINT:  The difference between this letter and the one above from the UK is that THIS one offers informed insight into the process of what's going on behind the scenes in radio. I wouldn't presume for a second that I'm qualified to program a radio station ... but I DO know that playing songs by the same 24 artists isn't the solution. In THAT respect, we all seem to agree. That's why other listeners are loading their cars with CD's, listening to their iPods or, in your case, buying a dock that allows you to listen to Slacker / Internet Radio at home instead of what constitutes today as terrestrial radio. (It's also why you changed your alarm clock from WLS to K-Hits!) So on THAT point, we all agree. And yes, when Internet Radio becomes available in the car, I'll drop my case. But in the meantime (and for the benefit of those of us who can't just run out and buy a new car right now!), I'm suggesting a revamping of the "norm". So on this point, we disagree. I believe that a good, solid, on-going coast-to-coast campaign of contacting these stations and telling them that we want MORE from a radio station ... that we want more variety, more substance, more entertainment ... WILL eventually get their attention ... it might cause them to re-evaluate their research ... but it will only work if we do it droves.  And we must send an on-going message.  This has to be a concentrated, universal message, sent to EVERY offending radio station around the country or it doesn't have a chance. Will this happen? Who knows ... 'cause if everybody does it for a day or two and then it tapers off and dies down, any attention you might have grabbed will then be lost again. (And let's not forget ... these guys think that they're doing it right ... they think that they're giving us exactly what we want ... and that they're presenting it better than anybody else on the dial. I'm talking tunnel-vision to the max here!!!)  But if we can get some media coverage out of this ... get a few "Friends of Forgotten Hits" to cover this as a human interest story and help us get the word out ... then at least we can raise awareness and let folks know that there is a campaign out there to try and set things right again.
Based on the responses I've seen, it would seem that MOST people out there seem content to simply turn off their terrestrial radios and listen via the Internet instead ... they've already given up ... and I suppose ultimately I may choose to do the same. But I haven't forgotten how much listening to the radio meant to me. Sure, back in the day of Top 40 Radio, these stations only had a play list of maybe 60 songs ... the current 40 hits, a batch of oldies and maybe a couple of new premiers ... and we listened to it and we accepted it ... because that was the format of the day. We waited for that brand new Beatles song to be played every hour (and even switched the station, hoping we could catch it in between again on another channel!) But we were also constantly entertained by the talent on the air in between. We didn't care if we heard the same songs every four hours then because that's what radio was ... that WAS the format.  (We didn't care that we only had three TV stations either, remember???)
But today ... if you're going to present yourself as the "Classic Hits Station" playing "The Greatest Hits Of All-Time", then you should at least acknowledge the fact that there were more than 300 Hits during the era you're programming ... and more than 24 artists that made those hits. Wanna do The Greatest Hits of the '60's, '70's and '80's??? Fine ... then take 100 songs from each of those years and start off with a library of 3000 songs ... mix 'em up and rotate 'em so we get to hear equal portions of each decade ... pick the biggest "tried and true" hits and long-time favorites ... throw in a couple of surprises from each year ... and have a go at it. Even if you played 15 songs per hour, it'd take you 200 hours before you'd have to repeat a single one. (Now we both know that won't ever happen, but it gives you some idea as to what the scope of this could be!)
Rank your songs as heavy, medium and light rotation ... and then play a mix of EACH every hour ... your heavy repeaters will still pop up often enough so as not to alienate any listeners ... and every one else will be rewarded with a "wow" song every now and again. (Hmmm ... may I COULD program a radio station after all!?!?!?)
Anyway, I've heard all the reasons and excuses why it can't be done ... but I've yet to see anybody TRY it and see what happens. Money and sponsors are a big part of the equation ... you'll get no argument from me there. (Someone else suggested that instead of focusing on the talent that knows how to broadcast these tunes, why not focus on the sales staff that can deliver the sponsors to make this whole idea a running success!!! And they very well may have the best point of all!)
Will we change anything? Probably not ... but at least we're giving it our best shot. (kk)

Comparing programming a radio station to performing medical surgery really isn't really a fair comparison.  The doctor's purpose is to save lives ... radio's purpose is to serve and entertain the public.  If the doctor fails at his purpose, the patient dies.  When radio fails at its purpose, we simply change the station and look for something else.  (One of my favorite lines of all-time came when Larry Lujack was back on Real Oldies a few years ago and read a story about Mother Theresa ... and then equated her efforts to what HE does on the radio, which is basically telling the audience to dial 1-800-MATTRESS!!!)  

Thanks to today's technology, EVERYBODY has become a music programmer.   With iPods storing 10,000 songs ... and iPhone apps like iHeartRadio offering 14 MILLION songs at your immediate disposal, the times have certainly changed.  We don't HAVE to listen to the radio today.  The choices are limitless.  (I made the point the other day that thanks to more inspired programming on cable tv, not one single network drama was nominated for an Emmy this year ... a television first.  Now I suppose we could argue that ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox simply need to add boobs and the F-word to their programming to turn things around, but I think we present a better case ... and have a better chance of selling that case ... by concentrating on radio instead!)
The point many of you seem to have missed while I was up on my soap box is that I'm trying to SAVE radio ... not abandon it.  Read through EVERY comment in this series (yay or nay) and you'll find that each and every one of you has offered and  suggested an alternative to terrestrial radio ... most likely because you've already given up on it.  Carry CD's ... bring along your iPod ... subscribe to satellite service ... listen to Internet stations like Slacker, Pandora, Live 365 and others ... each and every suggestion offered is what to do INSTEAD of listening to the radio!!!  (Not much chance of me swaying anybody over to "my side" if most of you have already given up!)   

MY purpose in all of this was to simply say, "Hey, Radio ... get your heads out of your asses and DO something to save this format ... before it, too, become extinct."  Even the negative comments we received spelled out the fact that these readers have already jumped ship and are now listening to something else.  I seem to be the only one here who is FOR radio ... and what it can be ... yet my bitching has been construed as "negative" when, in fact, I seem to be the only one saying anything positive about what radio could and should be.   

We live in an immediate society now where the entire world (and virtually everything you could possibly want from it) is at our fingertips.  The concentration level of today's listener is pretty much non-existent.  Everybody is multi-tasking and splitting their attention between numerous distractions to the point that they're not really absorbing any one of them.  As such, radio has "dumbed-down" to an audience that THEY think will accept (without any question or hesitation) a steady diet of 24 or 25 artists, 60 - 75 % of the time.    

All I'm saying is that we deserve more than that ... but instead of hearing any positive suggestions as to how radio might improve itself, all we got were suggestions of what to do INSTEAD of listening to the radio ... proving again that MOST of you have already given up.   

So I say unite and revolt ... because radio today is pretty revolting.  Is there a chance we can save radio???  Who knows.  But we'll NEVER know unless we try.   

My purpose here is to motivate radio to step outside the box ... and to motivate YOU to keep after them about it.  I believe there is strength in numbers ... I believe if we make a strong enough, concentrated effort, we just may get their attention ... at least open up the possibility of some discussion as to how radio might change to better serve their listening audience.  Get their consulting groups to kick around a few new ideas ... see if we can get a few stations onboard, which might cause a few others to adapt due to peer pressure ... and try to make radio INTERESTING again!!!  But they need to do so while they still HAVE a listening audience ... and, from what I've seen, there aren't very many of us left!   

(Stepping down from my soap box now ... apologies if we're still boring you!)  kk