Sunday, October 15, 2006

Radio: Better Format, Worse Music

Back in the early 1970s, I was interested in being on the broadcast end of radio. Although I was studying to be a teacher, I also tinkered with the notion of being a disc jockey. I spent three years of my college career being one of the on-air personalities at Franklin College radio.

The college station was small and not very powerful. The AM side of the dial could be heard only on campus, but with a good radio and the right weather conditions, the FM signal could be picked up over much of Johnson County.

At first, the play lists were pretty much up to the DJ. There were genre guidelines, of course, but I could play whatever I liked. Back in those days, Country Music didn’t enjoy the popularity it does today, but that’s mostly what I played. It wasn’t cool, but it was better music than the assembly-line stuff that’s played on country stations today.

If I had my own radio show today, I would play jazz and the standard vocals. But I went the other way, opting to teach instead of broadcast.

These days, radio doesn’t play a big part of my life. I neither broadcast nor do I listen. I don’t know what has changed the most, radio and the music it plays, or my personal tastes. Either way, the stuff they play on most radio stations is not what I would play on my stereo system.

When I was in my teens, I listened to WIBC in Indianapolis a lot. They played a mix of popular songs. But mostly they played commercials. It was the bane of radio in the 1960s and ‘70s.

While in college, I listened to WIRE country AM. The DJs grew to be my on-air friends. Still, there were all those commercials. Typically, the station would play one song then air about three of four commercials. Then the DJ would talk for awhile before playing another song about 10 minutes following the last one.

In those days, most artists knew that if they wanted their song to be played on the radio, they would keep it below three minutes in length. That went for Pop and Country music.

Of course, there were those few progressive musicians that bucked the trend, such as Don McLean whose American Pie lasted well over seven minutes. Radio stations got around that flaw by playing only half of the song, then airing some commercials before finishing it.

These days, radio has caught on to what listeners were telling them. They play more music at a time. Oh, there are still plenty of commercials, but they are mostly lumped together in a five to seven minute block every half hour or so. In the mean time, the stations typically play at least three to five songs in a row without too much interruption.

That still doesn’t make the music worth listening to. Most stations play either Top-40 Pop or Country. I not only don’t like 95 percent of it, it actually upsets me that the majority of Americans would actually consider the stuff they play as real music. Of course, that’s just my opinion. The stations play what sells and most teenagers don’t care that their music is artistically anemic.

So I typically just leave the radio dial in neutral while listening to my personalized music on my favorite Internet radio station. It allows me to fine tune the music they play to exactly what I would play myself if I were still a DJ and had the freedom to make my own play lists.

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