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for September 19, 2005

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Attack Of The Zombies
by Bill Stella

As I read Stiffy Biceptz' latest rant here at Altrok, I got to thinking: What's so new about "zombie stations"?
Perhaps, while listening to the good stuff, it was easy to ignore how many DECADES it has been since zombie stations have overtaken the commercial airwaves. "Magic 98", WMGQ in New Brunswick, has been successfully tweaking its zombie nature since the late 1970s. It's right around the corner, in central NJ, with a damned strong signal. Not even the rare efforts of human DJs we knew and respect hired to work there made the zombie budge. There are and have been - hundreds of similar stations around the country. And that's just one, blatant, example.
Turns out there's nothing new about "highly scripted, utterly and completely programmed stations". See above. And don't get me started about the scripts mostly bad scripts used by Morning Zoo's and Al Franken alike, pretending to be ad-libs. What part of any commercial radio station (at least in the NY/NJ vicinity) in decades hasn't been hemmed in by no-time-to-express-an-extemporaneous-idea playlist and format and clocked-down-to-the-minute restrictions? When was the last time you heard a good ad lib on a scripted commercial on a station with a music format? Dan Ingram is retired, and clearly he and his ilk have not been rewarded by radio station owners because I can't recall hearing one. Exceptions: *some* non-commercial radio and, proving that the talent is wasted in commercial radio, I do recall weekend and fill-in hosts who've done yeoman's work, putting their genuine and friendly nature out there over the air, to prove they're good enough for the regular schedule. They're rewarded by being passed over for the next big trend, the most insipid bland smiley-faces, and the machines.
Putting the music together from several genres is simply acknowledging the audience that has existed since Pop began, that listened to Pop radio, to Top 40 radio (or 30 or 20), not exclusively to rock or county or r&b or hip-hop. That audience gets older and thinks to itself "I like to listen to everything (except (fill in the blank))" (op cit thousands of MySpace pages' Music comments). Jack and Ben sell "everything" to that audience.
Does commercial radio have a soul? Does Jack have a soul? Does Ben care about you? Do we need to ask that?
What it really comes down to, as far as Ben and Jack are concerned, is this:
The FCC explicitly states that the broadcast spectrum stations must take care to tell the truth. (See regulations about contests and false advertising.) Opinion is given vast leeway. But to use as the slogan "We play what we want" is appalling. Appallingly unethical, appallingly false. There is no honest way to understand the statement "We play what we want" but as "People here at this station have the power to make choices, and get to program what goes out over the air". Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no choice by individuals, there is no relationship with "want" a.k.a. what one desires and most prioritizes as important to one's desires, there is no power vested in the dj, there is no effin' "WE" at the station. The slogan plays upon our expectations of its meaning far FAR worse than Clinton did with the meaning of "is", but have you heard one decibel of outrage? The misrepresentation alone should be enough to fine the corporations using this slogan for every penny in their coffers and shut the stations down.
If the FCC were interpreting its own rules fairly, the stations should be fined $1000 for every time they've aired the slogan "We play what we want" and be fined an additional $100 for every additional printed copy and Web distributed appearance of the slogan, all fines to be donated to or other worthy media watchdog non-profits.
I'd love to see the watchdogs get their own radio stations.


©2005 Bill Stella

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


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