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Music Savaged By The Average Beast

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for June 15, 2005

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Jack: Off.
by Pat Pierson

Radio romanticism is as old as that guy who once hoisted his own FM antenna across the Hudson in Alpine, NJ just high enough for those at RCA's NYC power offices to take a gander at. Little did they know back then in the 1930s, that the FM beast would be where so much good, bad and evil would take place in the name of pop music and entertainment. Not that RCA wasn't already setting the same virulent tone experienced with WCBS-FM 101.1's latest upheaval/destruction. RCA was pretty adept at evil considering their weight-pulling maneuvers with the advent of such independently discovered devices like frequency modulation (FM). So evil indeed, that it forced the man who invented FM to kill himself whilst litigation, fueled by greed and power mongering from RCA, inevitably stole his thunder.
This was all back in the 1950s. If only Major Armstrong could've seen his baby take flight in the late '60s and early '70s...well, of course that would've been sweet. On the other hand, seeing his "FM baby" being thoroughly destroyed by the end of the '70s would've brought tears to his eyes much like that world-weary Indian we used to see on our TV screens in the mid-'70s when environmentalism was a new dream. (Recycle what?)
Granted, Cousin Brucie will most likely be able to get a gig somewhere, but anyone with more than 1% of a heart and backbone can at least agree that those who pulled the latest installment of "Radio Backstabbing" (with the installation of Jack-FM at 101.1-FM) are truly evil. They had nary a concern with giving any on-air jock the right to say goodbye to their listeners. Sweet guys, ain't they? Now we're stuck with a veritable train-wreck of a jukebox run by what seems to be a 30-40 year old's idea of a modern rock/pop free-for-all that's pure tragedy. "Cool... Get Over It" is probably their motto.
The in your face, smarmy attitude which permeates the station's IDs and in-store promotions are indicative of their lack of intelligence towards radio and how to frame music to make it sound good. Yes, sometimes the ability to break down walls and liberate the beast is the best, but in most cases, unless there's a genius programmer at the helm, it ain't gonna work. JACK-FM doesn't even excel at even being "bad" good. It's a useless deal.
Will it work? Maybe. People will listen to stuff that's coming out of the radio as long as it's not offensive and JACK-FM plays a slew of tried and true winners, albeit in a manner that's as dumb, reckless and unfunny as I've ever heard. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Elton John, Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan, 3 Doors Down, Sarah Mclachlan, Motley Crue, John Cougar, Jewel, Rolling Stones, ZZ Top all rendered useless.
Commercial radio is a numbers game working on the public's lowest common denominator impulse. A frequency can no longer have a history; it's just a blank slate waiting for the next billboard to draw in the largest number possible. Since we're talking about New York City, we're also dealing with one of radio's lamest markets ever, as far as "good" music is concerned. All previous "true" alternative radio stations (post 1970s WNEW, save for "From Elvis To Elvis" WPIX-FM) existed outside the city, unless you thought what was K-Rock could be deemed as such.
The plight of the "oldies" format will always be that there's always a new generation to call the tunes they grew up on their "oldies." There's also, usually, a schism between certain eras. And as radio and television loves to figure out, these demographics have opinions which are polled and are used as indicators with which the almighty advertisers examine hard to glean a definitive bang for the biggest payload. Of course, every station wants to be the one with the biggest slice of the pie. Hence: crappy commercial radio stations. We basically know this.
Instead of trying to figure out how to keep a healthy and steadfast listening base, radio constantly obsesses over trying to reach as many people as possible; it's this constant reaching that has always been the problem. It's always at the expense of good quality music as well as the station's identity.
Now, of course, these days, satellite radio is a godsend, but it's also a beast that needs to know when to use its teeth and when not to. Programming truly matters and it remains the truly inspired and intelligent gatekeepers who know. Still, the future still looks messy and there's no way to know how the pendulum will swing. Conservatism and liberation rarely make good bedfellows. Still, we do live in a world where HBO and Ben & Jerry's flourish and the Simpsons still thrive.
Don't give up hope...


©2005 Pat Pierson

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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