A rant about bay area radio

I consider myself to have pretty reasonable tastes in music. I like to listen to a lot of stuff, ranging from industrial music to techno to disturbing stuff to pop music to metal to eighties retro to jazz and sometimes even over into bluegrass and blues and classical. Generally, I tend to flop between the pop/rock/eighties/metal groupings and the industrial/techno/electronica group, with a quick retreat to eighties when my wife is in the car with me (or I’m just in the mood)

Now, I’ve come to accept that many genres of music are just plain not popular, especially in America. I’ve come to accept that it’s just not appropriate to play Lords of Acid on the airwaves, before or after Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe failure.

Right now, if you count when I hit the seek button, there’s 9 radio stations that I listen to (although only 8 of them are worth listening to on the 15-minute morning commute because I really don’t like to listen to Howard Stern). This is down from 11 radio stations previously.

The problem is, a year or two ago, there was hope for decent radio. There was 92.7 “The Party”, a techno station. And there was 93.3 “The Wave”, a generalized open-minded mix of stuff nobody else plays… errr… played.

Now 93.3 was apparently not attracting enough listeners (or, given that it’s owned by a conglomerate — Infinity, was attracting too many listeners from other conglomerate stations and not enough from everybody else) so it was rebroadcasting another channel. Now, they are just playing relatively lame easy listening music and don’t play good stuff often enough to be worth tuning in to.

92.7 jumped on the scene with some awesome radio. All kinds of different and unique radio. I found them one day while I was so sick of the radio, I just kept hitting the seek button. Unfortunately, it just got progressively more repetitive. And then it got more repetitive. It got to the point where the only time I’d want to listen to it was when they were playing a dj mix by Paul Oakenfold late at night, because I had already gotten sick of everything else they were playing over and over again. The whole time, 92.7 was proclaiming that they didn’t play hip hop. Now, they are a hip hop station.

Now, I’m not sure if this is too much to ask, but I’d really love to be able to listen to music on the radio and hear something that, at the very least I’m not sick of. But I can go through all of the stations and hear nothing that I want to hear.

The problem is, there’s not enough variety. You can hear the hit song of the week on three different stations, just at different points in it, at the same time. Am I just an anomaly and need to drink the kool aid so that I can be like everybody else?

I’m thinking that I’m not alone. There’s a variety of online radio stations out there, and they are getting listeners, and it’s very satisfying by comparison.

The problem is, consolidation hasn’t helped. In theory, if there were two big players in the market, they would have a few big pop stations and would spread out across the different genres, because, in theory, if there were a bunch of players, each owning only a few, they’d all try to go for at least one big pop station, one metal station, one jazz station, one oldies station, and before you know it, you are out of your allotment of stations.

But, no, now that we’ve got one big radio (and extortion) corporation, Clear Channel, they just try to figure out how many different subtypes of pop station there are.

Now, it should be said that I’m not an anti-corporate member of slashdot groupthink. In fact, I generally can understand why companies do the things they do. But these sorts of things are where, sure, it may make sense for the corporation to act the way they are acting, but the FCC really hasn’t been doing their job.

The piece of backtracking that’s looking really funny is the sudden change in how shock jocks are treated. Bubba the Love Sponge has been doing radio for years on Clear Channel’s stations. He was hired primarily because he is obnoxious. Then, all of the sudden, Janet Jackson has problems doing a “wardrobe reveal” properly and the moral landscape shifts. All of the sudden, they are telling the same people that they told to break the rules last year that if they break the rules they will be fired.

The problem is, Clear Channel answers mostly to those who give or take away money from them. Remember, you the listener do neither, so as long as you are still listening to their stations, you don’t matter. Because the republicans tend to be pro-consolidation, Clear Channel has been supporting Republican causes where possible. And pretty much the only way to get onto Clear Channel is to write a Clear Channel-owned “Independent promoter” money, who then convinces the Clear Channel-owned station to play a song. In short, since Clear Channel can’t accept straight bribes, they accept them through a circuitous route. They also like it when you use their promotion service when you are touring.

The problem is, this is carefully constructed borderline bending of the laws. The biggest problem, lack of variety on the radio, isn’t something that we have a law against, nor should we. So they may eventually be able to do something about Clear Channel, I fear we may be stuck with crummy radio for the long term.