Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Future of FM


Like some of you, I've been wondering for years just what would happen to radio when Howard Stern left the airwaves. I mean, it was unfathomable! This guy's been on the air since before I started listening to radio. What could they possibly do to replace him? Yes, I'm a fan, it's obvious. But people on both sides have to admit that a huge, six-foot-five hole will be left on the air when he leaves in a couple months. And I guess I never thought of what they've come up with - but when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Rather - I would've expected the radio stations to do something this transparent, and disloyal to their staff members, not to mention their listeners.

Like many big stations across the country are doing right now, 94.1 WYSP has now become 941freefmWYSP. The "freefm" is to remind you that you don't have to pay to listen to their station, while you'll have to pay a monthly fee for "ainh-ah-ainh". (Howard fans, you know of what I speak). Meanwhile, with the way Howard's program is likely to sound, it'll be like radio-HBO - something we all think nothing of paying for.

And radio execs are whining like an ex-husband when his old wife has found a new love. Instead of shining a light on their new talent, they've been running around dumping on Howard Stern - who is (was) FM Radio's cash cow.

But they haven't just added the free to the name - they've dumped their format. They're no longer the Rock Station. They're no longer about how much they rock, and how their rock is more than other stations' rock, according to some scientific study from Arbitron. (Yeah, I thought that was kinda corny, too...) They're moving from rock to hot-talk, a new format name for a series of irreverent DJs talking instead of playing records. Gee, sound familiar?? Which just goes to show that FM, and 94.1 in particular, can't fight Howard Stern with the weapons that are in their current arsenal. They're finding out that "boy, I'm glad he's on our side" doesn't quite work when their own generals drive Howard to the point of leaving the industry he revolutionized. (Yes, I know Wyspy doesn't run Howard, Infinity does, I'm speaking about the execs and the FCC in general.) They're so concerned with copying Stern's style, and making it an all day thing, that they'll completely ignore all the music fans that turn to 94.1 for their rock fix. Last night, I heard a pair of DJs say they know people will miss the rock, but will find this much more entertaining. I won't agree or disagree with this - it's up to the listener. But they wouldn't be saying that if they weren't part of the new regime. If 93.3 was doing it, these guys would be screaming "traitor". Since that's what 93.3 did when Wyspy went rock/talk a couple years back.

Not to mention the hypocrisy that is now running rampant - these same two DJs blasted the other radio stations for playing the same ten songs, over and over again. That might be a welcome comment, if that exact method of jukeboxing wasn't a staple of 94.1's programming. When I worked there, back in 2000, I was there on Fridays, from 9 AM to 5 PM. During that time, and not counting my lunch break, I heard Limp Bizkit's "Nookie" no less than three times, every Friday. Being that the weekday schedule matches Monday to Friday, that means that during the workweek alone, "Nookie" was played 15 times, or every 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Also, don't forget that this sudden change of heart is coincidentally happening just as Howard Stern leaves FM. Again, pointing out that Wyspy doesn't think it can hack it just playing music. What's particularly disheartening is that the hot-talk format is going to feature content that Howard Stern has done in the past and been fined for, fired from stations for, and generally crucified for. But all of a sudden, it's going to be ok. Now that Howard Stern is gone. The same free airwaves that he was on, and got in heaps of trouble for doing his programming, is going to put that same content on the air, and not get nailed for it. This further proves that the FCC, and people everywhere without a sense of humor, were personally targeting him for his work. (I might also remind folks that the FCC was initially created to govern the technical aspects of the burgeoning telecommunications technology - making sure signals don't interfere with each other, screw up pacemakers, etc.)

Don't forget that Wyspy did the hot-talk thing before, back in 2001-02. Opie & Anthony, and Don & Mike were on during the day. The schedule went like this: Howard, an hour or so of music, commercials and general hoo-hah, then O&A, then Don & Mike. Numbers tanked. O&A was ripped off the air nationwide, over a last-straw incident involving public displays of inappropriate acts at a New York cathedral. Don & Mike, admittedly a bit tamer than O&A, also left Philly when people stopped listening. (Personally, this saddened me - I was happy as anything to listen to Wyspy all day when these three programs were on. I love hot-talk.)

So, to sum up -

FM blasts the up-and-coming satellite radio revolution by reminding us that FM is still FREE, which is akin to reminding people that walking is still free in terms of efficient modes of long travel.

FM drastically changes its format of repeat-ad-nauseum, blasting its brethren that don't "change with the times", conveniently just as Howard Stern gouges its morning timeslot.

FM dumps music for hot-talk, and will begin espousing the style that Stern was punished for, without having all the trouble he went through, proving that the FCC just had a grudge against Stern, and also proving that the current FM M.O. is antiquated and needs a tune-up, no pun intended.

I'm reminded of a scene in the movie "Can't Hardly Wait", in which Jennifer Love Hewitt's newly dumped boyfriend, after lamely trying to get her back, hits her with this gem after she refuses to date him again:

"Oh yeah, well... who's gonna want you now... Aman-DUH!"
(arms up in triumph, face scanning the crowd for approval)
(oh, and, didn't he look like a young, bizarro Tom Cruise?)

The way we listen to radio is undergoing a revolution as we speak, and the incumbents are refusing to die with dignity.



This just in:

AP, Philadelphia - Weevils wobble, but they don't, in fact, fall down.
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