Thursday, September 29, 2005

This one goes out to all you veteran broadcasters out there. You know who you are. You're the ones who remember what it was like to edit reels manually. You're the ones who spun vinyl. You're the ones who remember when a disc jockey actually had to be there, talking over the airwaves live, timing yourself perfectly and punching buttons at just the right time. You're the ones who used carts for drop-ins, commercials, and bumpers. You're the artists.

And increasingly, you're a rare breed.

Purists lament the condition of radio these days. The kids don't, but that's only because many of them don't remember what we used to have. Teenagers today don't remember, but those of us who were born in the 70's or before remember the days when radio DJs were legendary. Today, there are no more Wolfman Jacks or Casey Kasems. The closest we've got is Ryan Seacrest, and even he has to have that pesky little American Idol second job to get national acclaim.

They call it McRadio today: a godless mish-mash of pre-recorded announcer patter, music, and sound-effect laden commercials. Typically, the commercial breaks last longer than the actual programming segments. Add to that a playlist of music that repeats every three hours.

Long gone are the days where each radio station strove to distinguish itself from the competition. These days it's all about keeping up. There's a "broadcast standard" now, which requires conformity and discourages artistry.

Computers spin the discs now. Not humans. Not surprisingly, everything sounds mechanical. Music, which should be about the soul, is treated mechanically. Little wonder now that most albums shooting for airplay are little more than mechanical attempts at true music.

It is now possible to drive cross-country and listen to the same programming. Satellite radio is now a popular option. Somewhere in the universe, Marconi is turning in his grave.

The old school DJs are gone from the FM airwaves. Many of them have retreated to the world of AM radio, and increasingly, many have turned to online radio. So too have many of the listeners who feel that radio is not simply a medium to provide music to elevators and dental offices. Those seeking original programming have turned off the FM receivers and turned on the internet. Broadcasters today poo-poo the thought of podcasting being popular, when, in fact, it is gaining in popularity more and more every day. What a concept that listeners might actively seek alternative audio that actually interests them!!

Locally owned stations are almost non-existant. The city-minded station that used to serve your community is now owned by a conglomerate that controls programming from afar. Think they care about what goes on in your little boro? Think again.

Who's to blame for the downfall? Clear Channel? Probably not. They're just trying to build a bigger profit base. Corporate America? Maybe. Sacrificing art for dollars is nothing new. Attention Deficit Disorder? Possibly. Americans can't seem to focus on anything anymore. The decline in the overall quality of music out there? A little. It's hard to have good radio without something good to put on the air.

Oddly enough, the RIAA didn't seem to have such a problem with music piracy when radio was doing what it's supposed to. Maybe it's because listeners had something to satisfy them then and didn't need to go to such lengths to find something that actually pleased their listening ears.

Still, there are those of you out there who appreciate, nay, celebrate, radio the way it used to be. Those of you who are in the few remaining self-owned radio stations who have not been bought out and in the growing industry of online radio. Those of you who still wake up every day happy, not because you make millions of dollars, but because you get to do that one thing that makes you happy.

I remember those days. I spun records, played carts, spoke into a hot microphone, and gave the listeners what they wanted. I would've done it for free. I would do it again for free.

Old radio guys: once radio is in your blood, you can't get it out. If there was really a cure, would you want it? Don't let the on-air light go out.