fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the
ugly parts and recycling it for more than
– Baz Luhrmann, Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)
I remember radio being huge, especially growing up in the 90’s. I recall moments when I would sit and listen for my favorite bands to play, and usually I wouldn’t have to wait long. This of course coming from a time when it seemed that Music itself still had some level of relevance and connection to the culture at large. Radio stations themselves appeared to have monstrous levels of momentum, even to the point where the local DJ’s would almost become celebrities in their own right. It was during this time that a local rock station had just opened its doors, and immediately became the “go-to” station to listen to in the area. Calling itself Planet Radio, it took an college / alternative format and gained the full attention of this large parade of momentum we can call the 90’s.
Flash forward several years. Its now near the end of the 00′. I’m offered a opportunity from a good friend that hits like a lightning rod of nostalgia. A chance to co-host a specialty show every Sunday featuring metal / hardcore bands for the same station I grew up listening to. It wasn’t a paying position, it was done for the pure passion of it, so I immediately listened to my inner 16-year-old and gladly took the offer.
Needles to say, however, quite a bit of time had passed. I had already graduated high school and made my slow trek through college. I was a full fledged member of the working world, but always wanted to be involved in projects I was passionate at. Music was always at the forefront of this. Times, however, had indeed changed, I was about to crash into this reality face first.
Radio doesn’t exist to satisfy our needs for music and culture, as some may think. Radio exist for one solid truth just like any other business; to make money. Stations make their main stream of income only one way, selling advertisements. Usually a radio station is just a small room in a large building with other many other stations in other small rooms. All these stations work for the same parent company. Customers to the stations pay quite a bit of money to air commercials for products or services they’re trying to sell. Each station has extensive research on what demographic they’re marketing to, and depending on the product or service, they usually find the right home for it.
Prior to accepting the charity job, I couldn’t tell you the last time I listened to Planet Radio. This didn’t bother me when I accepted to do the show, but soon on I started to realize why I gave up on my favorite station. The format hadn’t changed since I was a teenager. I always thought it weird of a station that branded itself on playing the newest music to totally reject that idea and play songs that were well on their way to becoming classic rock hits. I began to realize that there simply wasn’t a sizable demographic to support new rock music coming out,and nothing was gaining any momentum out there.
What caused this? Is there some huge cultural shift? What vapid, shallow movement in people is to blame for all this?
Usually the answers are much less emotional, and this situation is one of simple economics. Another growing entity during the 90’s was the internet. My generation was one of the first faced with the changes it could provide, and i’m sure I don’t have to go into depth about what it has done to music since then. From Napster to Itunes, Pandora to Spotify, we’ve grown to a point with options that no matter how weird your taste in music, you can go straight to what you want.
Someday this will be amazing for advertising. Instead of investing huge amounts of capital into ratings and studies, you simply follow the metrics on the ip address of people who listen to certain types of music. I expect this to continue to grow exponentially in the next few years.
And what of my favorite station? Well in the short time I helped the with the show, I saw many changes happen. The parent company sold the station to another company. They switched the frequency (number of the station) with a talk radio station because that station was gaining & retaining listeners, and Planet Radio was shrinking in its audience. It was a very bittersweet situation to watch unfold, almost like watching your childhood memories catch fire in front of you.
I parted ways with my friends on the show not soon after, not because of the slow death of the station, but because I became busy with other projects and felt like my experience with the show had run its course. The station finally switched formats to an “All Rock” station, so basically they shifted backwards to try and get the next largest demographic that still listens to radio. I have no crystal ball to show what the future holds, but I expect this trend to continue. I know that eventually Radio stations will stumble into their final place in our society, whatever that place my be. The era of Radio being an important part of the culture is in fact only a part of my own nostalgic memory.
And don’t even get me started on Satellite Radio…