Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Our Radio Discussion Continues

Food for thought ... from every angle ...

I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the “Inside Radio” blog you posted the other day. 
I might have mentioned this before — I went to school with Greg Easterling. 
He and I worked together for a couple years at WPGU when we were both going to the U of I in Champaign.  He was a year ahead of me, if I’m not mistaken. 
If they did a poll of everyone who worked at WPGU in 1977, asking who on the staff they thought would be working in Chicago radio in 2019, I have a feeling Greg’s and my names would not have made the top ten.  He and I were radio geeks, but we kept a pretty low profile back then. 
Greg’s comments were quite accurate.  That got me thinking.  Oldies and classic rock fans and listeners are a loyal and intelligent bunch and passionate about the music.  And they have definite opinions about what they like when it comes to music on the radio.  Someday, perhaps in conjunction with a concert, someone should schedule a Q&A with the artist immediately following the performance — and, at the same time, they should have Greg (or another radio person — I wouldn’t mind doing it) up on stage fielding inquiries from the audience about radio.  I’ve noticed that most of the questions and complaints about radio focus on the same things (e.g., rotations, commercial load, repetition), and those of us on this side of the microphone can explain the method-to-the-madness. 
As I said earlier, at this point in the evolution of music radio, there really are no big mysteries and there are no accidents.  Music stations — especially in the top markets — know what they’re doing.  The industry’s best practices get copied by everyone very quickly. 
Rick O’Dell
I love the idea of a radio forum … especially if you and Greg BOTH participated …
(I had no idea that you two went to school together … what are the odds that those would be the two commentaries I would run that day!!!) 
I could probably even convince Ron Onesti to put on such an exhibition at The Arcada Theatre in conjunction with some popular classic rock type artist … I’m just not sure how big an audience would respond to such a venture.  (We may have to do the Radio Q&A FIRST so that people will stick around to see the main attraction!  Lol)
But I think it WOULD offer up some good solid information and insight into the inner workings, as to the why’s, what’s and how’s, of radio, 2019.  And who knows … some inspired questions from the audience just may open an eye or two on the OTHER side of the spectrum, too.  (I have always adopted more of the “Why WOULDN’T that work” philosophy.) 
Maybe Ron will see this and be inspired to seize the opportunity for a specific tie-in.  (The upcoming Tribute To The Beatles’ White Album might be a good one … but I’ve got a feeling that that show will already run long enough all on its own with that incredible line-up of artists, featuring songs from The White Album along with their own, best-known hits!)  Still, I’m sure we could come up with something between all of us!  (kk)

And, of course, as expected, we got any number of responses from readers after our “Inside Radio” piece ran … mostly far more negative than positive (as might be expected) … but my motive all along for the past twenty years has always been “How can we make radio more interesting and exciting for ALL of us?”  Countless times I’ve used the argument, when told people don’t listen for more than 20 minutes to an hour at a time, “Then give them a REASON to stay tuned in.”  Give them something worth listening to … something to hold their attention … something to come back for and I believe people will come back to the radio.  I especially feel passionate in this respect for the people of OUR age who listen to the oldies on Me-TV-FM and Classic Rock on The Drive … because we all grew up listening to the radio … it’s part of our DNA … and it truly does insult us when a station limits itself to the same 200-300 songs each day when we ALL grew up together, exposed to ALL of the radio changes that came along during this period.  We ALL listened to ‘50’s rock and roll, The British Invasion, the soft rock ‘70’s, the disco era, the hard rock / classic rock era … heck, even the influence of that short country boom thanks to “Urban Cowboy” … we’ve heard it all … and absorbed it all.
I keep going back to Mason Ramsey’s adage … “Music Of The Ages” … because THAT truly is The Soundtrack Of Our Lives” that we all experienced … and I believe that, within the context of Special Programming, you can deviate from the norm now and again to offer up something different that isn’t always on the menu, every other day of the week.  And I believe listeners will react and respond to those little surprises in a most positive way.  But we’ll never know if we don’t try it.
(What I DO know is that I pushed for the very format that Me-TV-FM now embraces for nearly 20 years, trying to convince anybody who would listen that this concept would work if only somebody would give it a try … and low and behold, you guys have proven me right.)
Now I’m trying to get Classic Rock Radio to embrace the same concept.  Boasting a library of 3000 songs and then only playing 200 of them means nothing.  Most stations only roll out those other tracks for specialty weekends or A to Z countdowns.  I’m saying mix that variety in on a regular basis and give your listeners a reason to stay tuned to hear just what the next surprise may be.
The Drive does this better than anybody else … they regularly run features that cause listeners to crack a knowing, satisfied smile and raise an eyebrow … because THAT works, too.  (And their increase in ratings proves it.)
Unfortunately, most of that has been attributed to the whole new “gameshow mentality” that embraces the station.  Listeners of OUR age … your CORE audience … are perfectly content with the focus being on the music … but The Drive runs a nice balance of both to satisfy both the listeners and the accountants … and in radio today, you really can’t ask for much more than that!  (kk)

Thanks for the Greg Easterling email.
Truth be told, we boomers have consumed the ‘instant gratification cool aid’. How long do you wait for an app/email/link to open before saying “screw this”? Impatient comes with age.
I am currently listening to Little Steven’s Underground Garage on SiriusXM channel 21. Good stuff and good background. 
Until LSUG, I had never heard these gems: 
Blow Wind Blow. Jimmy Rodgers
Party’s Over. Strawberrys
Pack Fair & Square. J Geils
Sent from my iPhone with best regards,
I will agree that my tolerance for bullshit is WAY down these days!  (lol)  It’s frustrating sometimes … you can’t help fix something the other guys doesn’t think is broken, no matter how good your intentions are … especially when the ratings prove them right.  (That’s not to say that there isn’t room for improvement in EVERYTHING we do.  Lord knows I’d sure like to do MY job here better … but I also have to squeeze all of this into “restricted hours” … I KNOW I could do so much more if I only had the time, money and resources to do so … I would ALWAYS keep pushing for the limit.)
Then again, while some may say “Let’s not do anything to upset the apple cart when things are going well,” I’m inclined to think that the fact that things ARE going well ought to buy you a little bit of leeway to experiment with a new idea every now and again … test the waters, so to speak, and just see what else might appeal to your listeners.  (While I get the fact that it may be the way of the world these days, the fact that you have to “bribe” your listeners to tune in make me wonder just how “loyal” a listener base you’re building.  Back in the OLD days, we used to tune in to our favorites because we LOVED what they were doing and didn’t want to miss a beat.  Today the focus seems to be much more mind-set of BUYING this listenership, almost as if to say, we know what we’re feeding you is crap, but we’ll PAY you to listen.)
Don’t get me wrong … this is absolutely NOT the case with either The Drive OR Me-TV-FM … BOTH stations provide QUALITY broadcasting and offer a blend of music that true fans love listening to.  It just all seems a little bit “tainted” to me these days, the way it’s presented.  (Then again, I’m one of those idiots who PAYS for Sirius / XM to hear virtually the same music everybody else is playing anyway … sans Little Seven, perhaps … I’ve heard REALLY good things about his program … will have to check it out one of these days.)  kk

I read with interest your missive addressing song choices on oldies radio and mostly share your sentiments.   I hear some obscure song now and then that I've never heard by some wonderful artist with dozens of hits and figure some kid DJ pulled out an old album, played it and said, 'Oh, boy!  Oh, boy!  I like that song!' and put it into rotation. 
Meanwhile ... here I am, pushing 1000 and thinking, 'What inna...?' 
So I remember back to a very old (hah!) lady of 50 raving about Big Band music and how it'd never come again and wah wah wah wah. (Voice over 'Peanuts' adults.)  So I figure we've just moved up a rung and our music has graduated into the rich, recorded musical culture of this great land ... andtry not to mind. 
(But I'm still griped about the CONSTANT Christmas season holiday music!)

When you say "Sweet Child of Mine" topped some Classic Rock charts, didn't you mean "Sweet Girl of Mine" by the Cryan’ Shames???
I was surprised by "Another One Bites the Dust" being a #1 on such a list.  That song (along with "We Will Rock You") are two of the lesser Queen songs, as far as I’m concerned, as being GREAT.  I love Queen, but there are so many better songs by them over those two.  Certainly, "Play the Game" is one.  Just because it doesn't fit the "sports theme" or TV commercial themes, doesn't mean it is not great.  "Don't Stop Me Now" was a fave of mine by them until it suddenly was famous via TV.  It was almost NEVER played when a single.  "'39," "You're My Best Friend," "Now I'm Here" are fabulous, but don't fit the sports/commercial themes that make airplay of a different type.  WHY classic rock plays "Under Pressure" or "Fat Bottom Girls” / “Bicycle Race" over "Keep Yourself Alive," "Killer Queen," "Spread Your Wings," or "Liar" are beyond me.  They are playing the lesser GOOD songs in favor of the commercialized songs.
The Stones get similar treatment.  "Miss You," "She's So Cold," "Beast of Burden” and "Shattered" get so much airplay over classics like "Start Me Up," "Angie," "Brown Sugar" and most of the 60's hits.  WHY?????
Clark Besch
They play “Miss You” as if it was the biggest hit The Stones ever had.  I have been concerned for years that anyone discovering The Rolling Stones for the very first time based on THIS song is just going to figure they were a disco band from the ‘70’s … which, of course, is nowhere near the truth.  (Although I did hear that they performed an awesome, extended much bluesier version of the song at their Soldier Field gig.)
We hear PLENTY of Stones music here in Chicago … and it is all over the map.
The Rolling Stones currently have 74 songs nominated for our MOST ESSENTIAL CLASSIC ROCK SONGS list, which is considerably more than most of the other artists.
For the longest time, “Gimme Shelter” led the pack … but lately “Satisfaction,” “Start Me Up,” “Brown Sugar” and “Honky Tonk Women” have been raking in the votes, too.  (In fact, “Satisfaction” actually overtook “Gimme Shelter” last week … it appears to be the ULTIMATE Classic Rolling Stones song.)  If we tabulated the list today, The Stones would have an incredible THREE songs in The Top Ten … and two more to round out The Top Twenty, giving them a full 25% of the twenty most popular tracks.  (Not even The Beatles have that … only one of their tracks made the cut (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”), although “Here Comes The Sun” would currently come in at #21.  The only other act with TWO songs in The Top 20 right now is Aerosmith.
But then again it’s ANYBODY’S game once the first official Final Ballot goes out on July 5th … so be prepared to vote for YOUR favorites each and every day to help us determine DEFINITEVLY The Top 3333 Most Essential Classic Rock Tracks of All-Time.  (kk)

>>>Neal Sabin is adamant about not streaming Me-TV-FM out of Chicago.  I feel he is greatly limiting his audience with this philosophy but, as it has been explained to me, advertising to a market outside our local area benefits nobody … and those listening via streaming do NOT contribute to your overall cume when it comes to the ratings … so from that respect, I can see that there is no financial benefit to streaming.  Still, they’re doing something VERY unique here and it’s working … why not share it with other cities who would KILL to have a station like Me-TV-FM on their dial.  (kk)
I have a friend who is a firm believer in stations NOT streaming too because it "devalues their stick" or antenna.  You drive them away from your main source. 
I think they should have geo-fenced or blacked out their home markets when they started this.  That way, they could stream worldwide but force you to listen OTA at home.  But that cat is already out of the bag. 
When #1 WBEB in Philly was singly owned, Jerry Lee would NEVER stream either.  Now Entercom owns it and they are shaping up to be whores.
Still, I would disagree with Sabin for this reason:  Me-TV does not have a city grade signal so even in the metro you have people who can't receive it due the "FrankenFM" dial position ... all radios simply cannot receive it.  Streaming solves that problem … with crystal clear reception.
Oh well, I should have such problems.
JR Russ
In theory I like the idea of the local black-out … like they used to do with sporting events back in the old days … and then if the event sold out, they could run the game over the air for the benefit of all the fans who couldn’t or didn’t get tickets.
But you bring up a very good point …
A major downside is the fact that Me-TV-FM doesn’t offer a strong enough signal to allow you to listen all day long (which potentially WOULD increase ratings if you were listening to the live radio broadcast)
Add to that the fact that once you’re at work, you can’t listen at all … so now you’re listening to something ELSE instead of your favorite station … which COULD cost you listeners in the long run if they find something else that they like.  How does THAT benefit the overall picture for the station?
We live in a different age where people get their entertainment thru alternate means that better fit their schedule.  (Who would have EVER dreamed in the ‘60’s that we could “time-shift” of television viewing and never miss a single episode of anything if we chose not to!!!)
And streaming is a HUGE part of that.  Truth is, there are PLENTY of Internet-Only stations that provide a better variety and wider range of music than ANY terrestrial station can ever hope to … and now, since I can’t get Me-TV-FM in my car, I’m listening to things like WCFLChicago.com and Rewound Radio thru my Bluetooth device … technically, I don’t have miss Me-TV-FM at all!  (But I DO stream their Milwaukee feed both in the car and at work because I think they do a GREAT job with what they’re allowed to work with.)  And, I just really like these guys!  (kk)

Hi Kent,
Regarding Greg’s comments from the Drive … I grudgingly understand what he is saying, which is basically that people want to hear the same songs over and over. 
I personally don’t know who wants to hear Stairway to Heaven that often, but so be it. 
The point he misses, I think, is that if you gave people something else, they just might go for it.  Throw in the occasional song that didn’t make the top 10 and people will be more interested.  Not much of a deviation from their agenda, but it sure would be interesting for many of us.
The point I take most exception to was his point that when legacy bands like the Stones, the Eagles, etc. put out new albums, no one buys them.  That’s because radio doesn’t play them! 
All those old bands’ new music gets ignored by classic rock, the same stations that will play all their “hits” again and again.  You can hear “Night Moves” all day long but a new Seger song?  Nope.  That’s not gonna happen.
That’s not the listener’s fault … it’s that radio chooses to ignore the older artists in favor of newer names.  Very sad and very wrong.  A lot of people don’t even know there’s new music by some of their favorite artists.
So it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.  “The older artists’ new music doesn’t interest our listeners”.  Yes, that’s because you’re not giving it to them.  When McCartney got “some” traction with new music last year, his album went to No. 1. 
But they all do it.  Even “the River” type formats, “alternative”, will play one song from a new Springsteen album for a few weeks and they’re done.  I remember when all of his new songs from an LP got played on the radio.  Radio seems to assume everyone wants to hear Imagine Dragons and young bands and not new music from Cheap Trick, The Stones, Bruce, and other “older” artists. 
Imagine if a classic rock station played “Surrender” and then followed it up with a new song by Cheap Trick.  What an idea!  I know, I’m dreaming but I don’t know why that’s so difficult to fathom.
I totally agree … even if it’s just within the context of “New Release Fridays” or something where throughout the course of the day they feature let’s say four tracks from the brand new Springsteen / Stones / McCartney album … and then take feedback from their listeners … What did you think of this one?  Which one should we play again?  Which one(s) should we add to the play list?  SO much new music is being ignored, even by some of the biggest names in the business.  (Part of that is owning up to the fact that you are essentially playing Dinosaur Rock.  We fought this whole “labeling” issue with Oldies … you couldn’t use the word … because you were calling your audience “Old.”  WTF!!!  Face the facts … if people are tuning in to Me-TV-FM or The Drive, your audience IS old!!!  It’s the music … this timeless music … that makes them feel good again … young again … don’t tiptoe around it … EMBRACE it!!!  (You wouldn’t exist without it!)  And that’s the cold hard facts … so play to your audience … because odds are, they’re just like you!  They’ve heard it all and they’ve seen it all … and they know what they like.  Give it to them.  Be that one station in town that’s playing This, That and The Other!  (kk)

Who listen to the radio?
Certainly not me.
I might be more inclined if they played the above song, by the Sports.
Greg’s and Rick's comments in today's (6/19) FH posting pretty much confirmed what I've suspected for years ...
It's not all about the music.
Consultants have brainwashed programmers, who have brainwashed talent, who have in turn brainwashed their listeners.
To me a couple of the WORST features are Two Fer Tuesday and tracking album sides. Let's be honest … how many albums are all killer / no filler?
More than one programmer has stated the audience wants all the hits, all the time. I may be a minority, but how about none of the hits, all of the time?
Yes, there are great new songs by "classic" and new artists that aren't top 40, but you'd never know that listening to the radio.
Programmers use the excuse that it doesn't test well.
Have you ever participated in one of these? I have.
I don't know about you, but there had better be the music hook of all time in that 5-10 second time frame for me to say this song is the best thing I've heard all year. Whoever thought Two For Tuesday was a good idea, should be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. Not only do you get one song by an artist you've heard a dozen times that week already (and it's only Tuesday), but now you get to hear two more. Lucky us.
I'm quite aware that there are music fans out there who simply can't get enough of their fave rave. I know, and I'm sure others know, people whose entire house or apartment is a shrine to their fave(s). My music memorabilia business depends on them!
My attitude is that a station should let the music do the talking.
I don't want to hear endless promos about “stay tuned for such and such feature at five.” In the time the jock wastes babbling about it, that time is better spent giving some background on the music and the artists they’re playing. Besides, regular listeners know the station's programming schedule, and new listeners will learn. 
Personally, I like money, just as much as anyone else, but if a station has to resort to bribing me to listen, you've lost me.
A dear friend of mine listens to WDRV almost 24/7, just to guess the artist. She'll call me up just to make sure she's got it covered. She usually does, but she always seems to be caller #6, when you need caller #7. It's easy enough to guess when your playlist is only 250 songs. It's just a matter of timing. 
Greg talks about the days of Chickenman, Uncle Lar' and Little Tommy and how they're not coming back. I’ve got news for you, Greg, although you already know it … classic rock is next.
Does WDRV play anything released after 1992? Much like we have aged out of top 40, your audience will age out of classic rock if only because they'll be dead, much like many of their music heroes. Many of our kids will carry on the tradition, but why didn't they carry on oldies?
Part of it is because we associate the music with a certain time in our lives. In a few weeks, there will be events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Your kids weren't glued to the TV like many of us were that night. (I wasn't as I had a hot date!)  Ms. Jack was all of three years old then and has no memory of it, other than it happened.
Certainly, the music is timeless, but it's also running out of time. 
It's not all about the music … it's all about the money.
Greg is correct in his assessment of forgotten radio stations.  However, he is missing an important point.
It's just a matter of luck that WDRV is still standing and WLUP isn't. Sooner or later Greg, you'll retire after a long career in a business that can be cutthroat. The same will be true for many of your contemporaries. You'll get a nice write up in Robert Feder's column and you'll. ride off into the sunset. The same goes for Rick.
But then what?
Some consultant will convince station management that heavy metal polka music is the format of the future, and we'll be inundated with music by Polka Floyd (there really is such a band!), and more. The circle starts anew.

Well, I, for one enjoy the little diversions that specialty features like Two For Tuesday and Album Sides Weekends bring to the table … they break up the monotony of what’s being played the rest of the time.
(Although I would be the first to admit … and have said so many times in this column … the Two For Tuesday feature needs more variety and imagination.  You don’t HAVE to play ten tracks by AC/DC in eight to ten hours … break it up a little and save some of those other tracks for NEXT Tuesday.  Sometimes it feels like the station pulled out twelve Greatest Hits CDs and then just played them, two tracks at a time, all day long … making sure that throughout the course of an 8-10 hour work day we all get to hear ten tracks by AC/DC, ten tracks (or more) by Led Zeppelin, ten tracks by Van Halen, ten tracks by Aerosmith, ten by The Rolling Stones with another eight tracks each by Bob Seger, John Mellencamp, Bon Jovi, The Cars and The Who thrown in for good measure.)
I could even accept Triple Play Thursday and Four For All Friday if they just mixed up the variety a little bit … think about how many “new” tracks you could feature within this context … and still slip in that obligatory “can’t live a day without it” track that listeners are apparently so starved to hear.
(Think about this for a second … “More Than A Feeling” by Boston … one of the most over-played tracks on radio today … came out in September of 1976 … that is almost exactly 43 years ago.  If I have heard this song AT LEAST one time I day EVERY DAY since then … and I truly do believe that I have, and probably more … that means that I have heard it AT LEAST 15,695 times since it came out (not counting the times I’ve played it myself on vinyl, cassette and CD.)  Is there really ANYBODY out there that TRULY believes that your most loyal listeners will tune you out and potentially not come back because they can’t live a single day without hearing it again??!?!?)  C’mon, Radio … DO THE MATH!!!
SO many of these songs have worn out their welcome … give it a rest for awhile and slip in something else … so that we can APPRECIATE this song again the next time it comes back on.  (For the record, “More Than A Feeling” currently ranks EIGHTH on our 3333 MOST ESSENTIAL ROCK TRACKS List, just behind “Gimme Shelter” by The Stones and just ahead of “We Will Rock You” / “We Are The Champions” by Queen … and yes, it deserves to be there … it has earned its spot thanks both to airplay and love and devotion … but we DON’T need to hear it EVERY SINGLE DAY!!!)
I agree that there are VERY few albums that I’ve EVER been able to listen to all the way through … that is why I continue to thank The Music Gods on a daily basis for the advent of the CD … where I can program EVERYTHING I want to hear.  iPod mentality at its finest I guess.
But within the context of “Album Sides Thursday” you get the chance to hear some “deep tracks” in the TRUE sense of the word that you just don’t get to hear on a regular basis anymore … tracks that YOU grew up listening to and loving that are part of your DNA … most often songs that you aren’t going to hear at all unless YOU play them for yourself at home or in the car.
So yes, I welcome promotions like this.
Next time you listen to Two For Tuesday, try and guess the second song.
Next time you listen to The Drive’s A to Z, try to guess the next song title alphabetically.
It makes for a much more fun and challenging listening experience.  (Like you said, you already know all the songs anyway, right?  Wrong!  Give it a shot and see how many times you guess wrong!  Betcha it’s at least half … and this come from experience … and I’m pretty damn good at it!)
I like things like we’ve pushed before on The True Oldies Channel … things like A-Sides and B-Sides (which doesn’t work as well within the context of Classic Rock Radio.) 
But how about First and Foremost … where you play an artists’ first hit followed by their biggest hit … or a Before and After feature where you could play something like “Yesterday” and then a McCartney solo track.  In the context of a Four-For-All (which is often the concept of a Block Party Weekend … betcha those’ll be coming up pretty soon now that summer has started) … you could play four key cuts from the same album (that solves your “filler” problem) … or something from four different phases of an artist’s career … or, in yet another Beatles example, one song each by John, Paul, George and Ringo.

In fact, TECHNICALLY we have a Four-Day Weekend coming up right around the corner for The 4th of July …

Here’s a challenge for the deejays and programmers on our list …

Come up with a 4-Way / 4-Day 4th of July special …

Whether you go 24/7 or sprinkle in one 4-Play every hour, you can keep listeners tuned in all weekend long wherever they are and whatever they’re doing.  (Why not provide the perfect musical background for their 4th of July cook-out?)

Want help with this?  I’m happy to pitch in.
Kick it around … one 4-Play every hour for the entire 4-Day 4th of July Weekend!

VARIETY … that’s what’s missing these days … and I like variety … and I’d be willing to betcha MOST people listening to the radio do, too … but we’ll NEVER know if we don’t at least TRY it and see what kind of feedback you get.
Which goes back to my earlier point … if things are going well, do you just continue to coast along (because the only way from there is down) … or do you try and find the next “niche” that’ll continue to help YOUR station stand apart from all the other cookie-cutter stations on the dial … in EVERY city … from coast to coast.  (kk)