It should be obvious to anyone who’s listened long enough that radio has lost its way. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I just read an article by Alan Cross that nails one of the major problems. All of the cost cutting by the companies that run things means less live people on air, which in turn means there’s nowhere for new talent to develop. Instead of somebody who’s pretty good getting a start in a small market, getting better and then moving up, you get the crap we have now.
I’ve said to Carin and others for years now that if you listen to the radio today vs. when you were young, you hear a lot of people who sound like they’re fresh out of broadcasting school and probably never should have gotten even that far. They don’t sound like they belong. They don’t command, they don’t engage. They don’t tell you anything beyond the time and temperature or maybe when Idol is on this week. They’re broadcasting, but they aren’t broadcasters. There’s a big difference.
It’s not all their fault, of course. Management knows what it wants, and most of the time, creativity and passing on useful/interesting information don’t make the list. But whoever you choose to blame, it’s a real problem that’s going to wind up killing the industry.
He’s correct, of course. When I was PD at 102.1 the Edge—the second largest commercial alternative-rock station in North America—finding someone to fill an opening was often an exercise in despair. Where were the stars of small-and medium-market stations of years past? The demos I received were technically competent enough but lacking in that something which makes your ears perk up.
The art of storytelling seems to be in danger. The jocks I grew up with knew how to hook listeners into a story or bit so that they’d have to sit in the driveway to hear the end of it. They’d tell me why I needed to know about a song/band/album. They’d create context around music, events and information. They taught me cool new words and phrases. I learned why (or why not) I should pay attention to trends. Once he/she was done, you couldn’t wait to re-tell the story to a friend.
But now with automation, cost-cutting and the lure of other careers in media, the storyteller—the context provider—is an endangered species on music radio. And the timing couldn’t be worse.