Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Today's Showgram

I mentioned that I was going to the Chicagoland Record Show last weekend and wanted to share a couple of interesting experiences I had along the way.  

The first room I walked into had a back wall display of "Whipped Cream" album covers! Along with the original Herb Alpert LP were a few of the parody LP tributes on display ... already a good sign that this was going to be a fun show! (I ran into Forgotten Hits Readers Jack Levin and Ron Smith later that morning at the show ... and both commented that they thought the display must have been MINE when they first saw it! lol Wonder where on earth they ever got THAT idea from!!!) 

As for the show itself, the place was PACKED!!! Dealers in two rooms, spilling out into the hallways ... I don't ever remember this kind of turn out back in the days when I was selling at the shows! And it was great to see a WHOLE lot of younger folks there buying vinyl, too! (Two girls, probably about 21 years old, with abundant facial and body piercings and multi-colored dyed hair were carefully examining Frank Sinatra albums, taking the records out of the sleeves to check out the overall condition. It was incredible!)  

While I was there, I picked up two vintage airchecks from Jack, both circa August, 1967 (the same date in fact), each featuring 45 minute segments of both the Ron Riley and the Art Roberts programs on WLS. It's sometimes hard to remember that this is what radio sounded like back then ... and we couldn't get enough! (Of course this was back in the day when WLS offered "personality radio" ... and actually allowed their jocks to talk on the air!)  

However, I was surprised by a few things ...  

I constantly gripe about the repetiveness of radio today yet in both one hour shows I heard "Gettin' Together" by Tommy James and the Shondells and "Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison. (ONE of these songs is still grossly overplayed today ... the other has faded into virtual obscurity.) In fact, Ron Riley did a brief interview with Morrison on his program ... and it can only be described as horrible!!! Truth be told, it's COMPLETELY falling apart ... and probably less than four minutes long. (And Van had to travel live to the studio downtown to do it!) 

I was further surprised by how little music each of these guys played in their respective hours. Maybe four or five songs ... and that was it. The rest of the time was filled with commercials (TONS of those!), on-air banter and lengthy news and sports updates. Both guys were also promoting a live show that weekend featuring The New Colony Six, The Shadows Of Knight, H.P. Lovecraft and The Riddles. In fact, Ron Riley played both "Love You So Much" by The New Colony Six and that week's #1 Song on The Silver Dollar Survey, "It Could Be We're In Love" by The Cryan' Shames during his program. Both hours also featured ads for the brand new Bobbie Gentry "Ode To Billie Joe" album ... and some of those great, classic WLS jingles.

One of the highlights of the hour was hearing a Dusty Springfield "Great Shakes" commercial. (We always hear about those Coke and Pepsi ads that the pop stars of the day did ... but they also hawked any number of other teenage products, too. In fact, there was a Thom McAn ad for Monkee boots, too!

Click here: Dusty Springfield-Great Shakes (Radio Ad) - YouTube  

It was fun to listen to two of my all-time favorite jocks again ... but in all honesty if I took BOTH programs and edited them into a "highlights" reel, I'll bet those two hours wouldn't run more than 15 minutes ... the rest was all "filler" ... and that is NOT the way I remember radio sounding back in the day. The proof, however, is in these programs. And yet back then we just couldn't get enough. 

I'll never forget the first time I mentioned going to sleep with the radio under my pillow in Forgotten Hits some thirteen years ago. All this time I thought I was the only one ... but was soon bombarded with emails from others out there who did exactly the same thing. Didn't matter what your bedtime was ... 9:00, 10:00 ... we just couldn't get enough. So after the lights went out and the parents thought we were asleep in bed, we'd be listening to guys like Art Roberts until their programs went off the air with the radio hidden under our pillow and volume turned just loud enough to allow us to hear a few more of our favorite songs one more time before drifting off to sleep. 

Radio was IT back then ... and we couldn't get enough. 
(Are you sensing a general "theme" here???) 

Today the radio philosophy seems to be "Why bother ... nobody listens for more than 20 minutes anyway" ... and this is just accepted across the dial ... rather than giving ANY consideration or taking any initiative to actually giving the listener a REASON to stay tuned in longer. 

And then, to make matters worse, they insult and punish their audience even further if they DO tune in longer (like the large number of folks who have their radios on during their eight-hour work day) by playing the same songs and artists relentlessly day after day after day. They've FORCED us to make radio the background noise of our day ... rather than programming something that people might actually listen and pay attention to. What a waste of such a powerful medium. 

Radio today appears to offer two sure things ... and they seem to be Steve Miller and "Jack And Diane". What a shame! Back in the day, listening to the jocks was almost as much fun as listening to the music. Today we're lucking if the disc jockey gets off four sentences an hour above and beyond the call letters, time and temperature. If you're going to make it "all about the music", at least program some variety into that music. Personally, I've already HEARD all of the music ... sure, it's the main reason I tune in ... but I'd much rather hear a humorous anecdote or a related experience to a given piece of music from the jocks once in a while ... something to show that they're alive and breathing and relate to this music, too. Otherwise we're simply stuck with narrowcasting robots ... and it's the same on every station. Will somebody PLEASE step up to the plate and make radio interesting and exciting again??? (kk)