Corporate Radio and Music (the stiffling of 'differing' voices)

  1. The following is an editorial from the New York Times.

    The Trouble With Corporate Radio: The Day the Protest Music Died
    By BRENT STAPLES


    Pop music played a crucial role in the national debate over the Vietnam War. By the late 1960's, radio stations across the country were crackling with blatantly political songs that became mainstream hits. After the National Guard killed four antiwar demonstrators at Kent State University in Ohio in the spring of 1970, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recorded a song, simply titled "Ohio," about the horror of the event, criticizing President Richard Nixon by name. The song was rushed onto the air while sentiment was still high, and became both an antiwar anthem and a huge moneymaker.

    A comparable song about George W. Bush's rush to war in Iraq would have no chance at all today. There are plenty of angry people, many with prime music-buying demographics. But independent radio stations that once would have played edgy, political music have been gobbled up by corporations that control hundreds of stations and have no wish to rock the boat. Corporate ownership has changed what gets played-and who plays it. With a few exceptions, the disc jockeys who once existed to discover provocative new music have long since been put out to pasture. The new generation operates from play lists dictated by Corporate Central-lists that some D.J.'s describe as "wallpaper music."

    Recording artists were seen as hysterics when they complained during the 1990's that radio was killing popular music by playing too little of it. But musicians have turned out to be the canaries in the coal mine-the first group to be affected by a 1996 federal law that allowed corporations to gobble up hundreds of stations, limiting expression over airwaves that are merely licensed to broadcasters but owned by the American public.

    When a media giant swallows a station, it typically fires the staff and pipes in music along with something that resembles news via satellite. To make the local public think that things have remained the same, the voice track system sometimes includes references to local matters sprinkled into the broadcast.

    What my rock 'n' roll colleague William Safire describes as the "ruination of independent radio" started with corporatizing in the 1980's but took off dramatically when the Telecommunications Act of 1996 increased the number of stations that one entity could own in a single market and permitted companies to buy up as many stations nationally as their deep pockets would allow.

    The new rules were billed as an effort to increase radio diversity, but they appear to have had the opposite effect. Under the old rules, the top two owners had 115 stations between them. Today, the top two own more than 1,400 stations. In many major markets, a few corporations control 80 percent of the listenership or more.

    Liberal Democrats are horrified by the legion of conservative talk show hosts who dominate the airwaves. But the problem stretches across party lines. National Journal reported last month that Representative Mark Foley, Republican of Florida, was finding it difficult to reach his constituents over the air since national radio companies moved into his district, reducing the number of local stations from five to one. Senator Byron Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, had a potential disaster in his district when a freight train carrying anhydrous ammonia derailed, releasing a deadly cloud over the city of Minot. When the emergency alert system failed, the police called the town radio stations, six of which are owned by the corporate giant Clear Channel. According to news accounts, no one answered the phone at the stations for more than an hour and a half. Three hundred people were hospitalized, some partially blinded by the ammonia. Pets and livestock were killed.

    The perils of consolidation can be seen clearly in the music world. Different stations play formats labeled "adult contemporary," "active rock," "contemporary hit radio" and so on. But studies show that the formats are often different in name only-and that as many as 50 percent of the songs played in one format can be found in other formats as well. The point of these sterile play lists is to continually repeat songs that challenge nothing and no one, blending in large blocks of commercials.

    Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin has introduced a bill that would require close scrutiny of mergers that could potentially put the majority of the country's radio stations in a single corporation's hands. Lawmakers who missed last month's Senate hearings on this issue should get hold of the testimony offered by the singer and songwriter Don Henley, best known as a member of the Eagles, the rock band.

    Mr. Henley's Senate testimony recalled the Congressional payola hearings of 1959-60, which showed the public how disc jockeys were accepting bribes to spin records on the air. Now, Mr. Henley said, record companies must pay large sums to "independent promoters," who intercede with radio conglomerates to get songs on the air. Those fees, Mr. Henley said in a recent telephone interview, sometimes reach $400,000.

    Which brings us back to the hypothetical pop song attacking George Bush. The odds against such a song reaching the air are steep from the outset, given a conservative corporate structure that controls thousands of stations. Record executives who know the lay of land take the path of least resistance when deciding where to spend their promotional money. This flight to sameness and superficiality is narrowing the range of what Americans hear on the radio-and killing popular music.
    ________________________________________

    On a personal note: the media corporation Clear Channel mentioned in this article owns at least a half dozen radio stations around my area alone. The news. . . as well as the music. . . is so evidently stale.

    Oh yea. . . Our "president" LOOOOVES Corporate America. . .
    Last edit by Ted on Feb 20, '03
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  2. 27 Comments

  3. by   Stargazer
    Originally posted by efiebke
    Oh yea. . . Our "president" LOOOOVES Corporate America. . .
    That's a very interesting point, Ted. (Trust you to come up with the war/music connection!) Tomorrow, after I've gotten some sleep, I may have to go looking for Don Henley's Senate testimony --unless you've got a little extra time on your hands tonight (hint, hint).

    I must say, though, even though I loathe Dubya as much as he does indeed love big business, I'm afraid the homogenization, dumbing-down and prostitution of radio and pop music, period, predates him by a couple of decades, at least. Beatles songs are used to sell Nikes, everybody from Michael Jackson to Britney Spears has hawked Pepsi, and I was actually trying to remember the other day what rock or pop artist/group's tour was first endorsed by Bud Light or Pepsi or whomever. (Another trivia question you can research if you're bored tonight!)

    College radio and NPR are pretty much the only radio now I would actually trust to be independent. And although the point that anti-war songs wouldn't fly on Corporate Radio today is well-taken, I think the Internet has probably filled that hole and then some.

    I'd love to hear others weigh in on this. Interesting topic.
  4. by   Ted
    You're very right. The sanitization of the air-ways very much pre-dates GWB. I wasn't trying to implicate him to this particular problem. However the coziness this particular administation has with Big Corporation is very troubling. It seems like the sanitization of the air-ways. . . the control of mass media. . . the dissemination of information. . . is controlled by only a shrinking few. This is great for GWB and his political regime! In a time when open discussion. . . open government. . . a system of holding governmental officials accountable (and I don't mean uncovering "bed time" stories!!!) . . . is sorely needed, the last thing we need is a two second sound bite on current affairs followed by lots and lots of muzak on several radio stations all owned by Clear Channel. (Although I do like some forms of muzak. . . but that's another topic for another thread for another time.)

    We just can't count on radio for news. . . unbiased news. . . unsanitized news. . . anymore. Except for maybe the local college stations and NPR.

    You are also right. The internet has helped fill the gap. This bulletin board is an excellent example. There's been some very healthy (and sometimes unhealthy), thoughtful and heartfelt debate here. But watch out! "Big Brother" is listening!

    As for Don Henley's Senate testimony. . . I'll see what I can do tomorrow night if work is as "Q_ _ _ _" as tonight's.

    Cheers!

    Ted
    Last edit by Ted on Feb 20, '03
  5. by   Sleepyeyes
    Good point, Ted.

    Although I remember in the 60's that the local commercial stations wouldn't play Bob Dylan songs (and the long version of "Revolution") because they were "too long," so I had to listen to WRPI (radio station of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY) for the really good, alternative stuff.

    And here in FL, I dunno where to find Dr. Demento, always a fave.
  6. by   Ted
    Originally posted by Sleepyeyes
    Good point, Ted.

    Although I remember in the 60's that the local commercial stations wouldn't play Bob Dylan songs (and the long version of "Revolution") because they were "too long," so I had to listen to WRPI (radio station of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY) for the really good, alternative stuff.

    And here in FL, I dunno where to find Dr. Demento, always a fave.
    You used to listen to WRPI?! Cool! I'm only about 30 miles from Troy, New York!

    Oh yea, one other thing! I've had two of my musical/vocal arrangments (one of them a totally original song) played on the Dr. Demento show! It's my 15 seconds of fame, I guess! Both songs made it to the top 5 funny songs! (Thanks to the great lyrics of Bob Diskin! His humor lives on forever! )

    Ted
  7. by   Sleepyeyes
    well, yeah ted, I'm from Colonie.
  8. by   Q.
    This isn't a new phenomenon.
  9. by   Ted
    Originally posted by Sleepyeyes
    well, yeah ted, I'm from Colonie.
    Ah, Colonie. . .

    There's Colonie Center, there's good 'ol Wolf Road with all of its shops/hotels/restaurants, there's the Albany County Airport. . .

    Bring back memories???

    Where abouts in Florida doe you live? I have a father on the West Coast and a mother-in-law on the East Coast! (Florida is a big state. . . .)

    Cheers!

    Ted
    Last edit by Ted on Feb 20, '03
  10. by   Sleepyeyes
    ... this thread is rapidly deteriorating, ted...

    I'm on the Gulf coast, and still have relatives up there to keep me in the know...

    and you forgot SUNY, where I went to see Miles Davis, and SPAC, where I saw Simon & Garfunkel....
  11. by   Q.
    Hey, what broadcast station does Howard Stern broastcast from?

    Jus' asking...

    I'm also not sure if I would trust college stations either. Most universities are pretty Marxist, if you ask me.
  12. by   Ted
    Originally posted by Susy K
    Hey, what broadcast station does Howard Stern broastcast from?

    Jus' asking...

    I'm also not sure if I would trust college stations either. Most universities are pretty Marxist, if you ask me.
    I honesly don't know which radio station Howard broadcasts from. I do know that he's on (or used to be on) the Comedy Central channel (I think). Can't stand to watch the man. (Although I howled through parts of his movie, "Private Parts"!) Believe it or not, shock radio (or t.v.) gets real boring for me! Never watch or listen to his shows.

    Universities being Marxists? Please. . . . . . Maybe a little to the left of your political philosophies. . . . . but not Marxist.

    Do think the programing statagies of radio stations (owned by, what(?), a few companies and shrinking (??)) is decidedly conservative in political thought. There are tons of "Rush Limburg" (sp?) type talk show hosts on the air! At the very least, the programming of most commerical stations is being dumbed down to fluff like "Cat saved by fireman Joe, today!!!" (!!!)

    Actually, I'm not concerned with all of the "Rush Limburg" type talk shows hosts that exist. They should exist to represent the thinking of the few loudly vocal and well organized Americans that exist in this country. I'm more concerned about the "dumbing down" of the quality of news programming that seems to prevail on many well-watched and well-listened television and radio stations (again, owned by just a few people/corporations).


    "Cat killed by irate nurse!!!" News at eleven!

    Cheers!

    Ted
    Last edit by Ted on Feb 20, '03
  13. by   eltrip
    Originally posted by efiebke
    Oh yea, one other thing! I've had two of my musical/vocal arrangments (one of them a totally original song) played on the Dr. Demento show! It's my 15 seconds of fame, I guess! Both songs made it to the top 5 funny songs! (Thanks to the great lyrics of Bob Diskin! His humor lives on forever! )

    Ted
    Ted, just think, Wierd Al got his start on the Dr. Demento show! Not bad company, when you think of it!
  14. by   Ted
    Originally posted by eltrip
    Ted, just think, Wierd Al got his start on the Dr. Demento show! Not bad company, when you think of it!
    Yea. . . . .

    Ted

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