Friday, June 17, 2011

My Last Blog

By Frank Absher

For my final blog, I’d like to give you a chance to hear from a couple other voices crying out in the wilderness.

“The radio was always on in the kitchen and always tuned to WWOZ, the great New Orleans station that plays mostly rhythm and blues and rural South gospel music. My favorite DJ, hands down, was Brown Sugar, the female disc jockey. She was on in the midnight hours…

She used to keep me company a lot when everyone else was sleeping. Brown Sugar, whoever she was, had a thick, slow, dreamy, oozing molasses voice – she sounded as big as a buffalo – she’d ramble on, take phone calls, give love advice and spin records. I wondered how old she could be. I wondered if she knew her voice had drawn me in, filled me with inner peace and serenity and would upend all my frustration. It was relaxing listening to her. I’d stare at the radio. Whatever she said, I could see every word as she said it. I could listen to her for hours…

“WWOZ was the kind of station I used to listen to late at night growing up, and it brought me back to the trials of my youth and touched the spirit of it. Back then when something was wrong the radio could lay hands on you and you’d be all right.”

Obviously radio – good radio – played a huge part in the life of the author, Bob Dylan, and he took the time to explain it in his autobiography “Chronicles.”

Good radio doesn’t mean slick, polished, perfect radio. It means relevant, personal, real, live people radio where they say stuff that gets inside your head.

Recently a company called Broadcast Architecture found in a survey that, among the highly targeted demo of adult radio listeners ages 25 to 54, 65% indicated that they were pleased with the format options available. This sounds good until you flip it. That means a whopping 35% of radio’s most important demo are looking elsewhere for "unavailable formats." That’s a huge number of listeners to ignore, or even drive away. But radio management seems content to do so.

Along comes Lee Abrams in an interview published in Radio Ink Magazine. Say what you will about Abrams’ contribution to the medium over the years. He’s an astute observer. Here’s what he said:

“Radio is Mitch Miller and the America wants Elvis...or Bobby Vee and the America wants The Beatles...or Poison and America wants Nirvana. You get the idea…As much as the underground dj's' caused great format adherance pains in the early days of FM, at least they had musical passion---something missing and replaced by rocket science… Leaders are looking for consolidation and digital answers which, while important, are masking the true growth inhibitor---stations that simply don't connect with listeners beyond utility. Generating fans and not users. The presentation of music is on autopilot. An afterthought.”

It’s hard to argue with that, so I’m guessing radio owners and managers today are just choosing to ignore observations like this.

A radio newsman in Atlanta, Scott Slade, added a comment that takes Abrams’ observations to another level: “The great music stations of the past did a lot more than play the right music. The news related. The jocks related. Even the spots were like little cultural newscasts that related. And they all related to the communities they served. You could listen for a half an hour and get an idea of what was going on in that town.”

It appears there’s a growing group of people who are extremely dissatisfied with radio and who have simply turned it off. The fact that there are few, if any, stations stepping up to the plate to provide us with intelligent, strong personalities, varied formats and any other good reasons to listen to radio tells you just how low the industry has sunk. When dollars are the only motivator, this is the price we, as listeners, pay.

Thanks for listening and supporting my blogging over the years.

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