News From The Woods.10


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published August 1, 1995

"The Internet Saved the Radio Star"

I've been listening to the radio a lot lately. It's still pretty much the wasteland it was 10 years ago. The music's "hipness" cycles through the years like fashion, only the cycles are reaching a point of diminishing return. By the time I realize Retro is "back" it's gone again. Music blocks are longer, but then so are commercial breaks. The last time I worked in radio the FCC allowed no more than 18 commercial minutes per hour. By the sounds of some stations I would surmise that those stipulations have been lifted. Musically speaking, however, I have noticed a little more "block" programming of late, and I like that. For the uninitiated, block programming in radio broadcasting employs a different genre of music during specified time "blocks". In my opinion this prevents the listener from getting bored with the same old music routine.

Personally speaking, sometimes I get a little tired of "Guts Aflame" at 9 AM, but I still like to listen to a good rock station. One regional rock station here plays only R&B on Sunday's. I also like the "Classic Lunch Hour" shows where DJ's play requested classic cuts during the 12-1 slot. Heavy rotation schemes turn me off, even if it IS a good song. As much as I like the new Paul McCartney single, I've heard it 16 times in the past 48 hours and that's too much for me. Do they think the average listener only tunes in for about 8-10 minutes 4 times a day? If that's average I'm sure not. Well, actually..... ah, er... never mind.

Block programming keeps the audience from getting "locked in" on any one genre. It broadens a steady listener's musical perspective, whether they want it to or not. Sometimes it even opens up one's horizons or gives a song-writer a different slant on a new composition. Music IS the great communicator. It is radio's responsibility to expose as much good new music as possible. Instead, it is being used to sell and promote records released by only the established record companies and music distributors. If an individual song bubbles up to the surface, the majors either pick it up or buy out the independent label for distribution. That means, for the most part, that the creme still rises to the top, but only the creme dished out by the majors is allowed to make it into the mixing bowl. And what's with all these metaphors, anyway?

Well, you get the general idea. The point is that radio, in it's current stagnant state, is no longer the expressive new medium it once was. When I entered the radio scene in 1968 as a DJ, the sky was the limit. New and imaginative music was coming in from everywhere. Musical boundaries were being broken each and every day. Music directors used Billboard and Cashbox hit lists only as a guideline on national trends. Thousands of independent singles would arrive weekly from distributors and even from the artists themselves. We didn't stop to look at the label, we just auditioned it and if we liked it we played it for a while and waited for a reaction. No one knew where music was going, and for a while, no one cared. Now musical trends are plotted and manipulated, massaged and exploited, calculated and marketed. As the major player's grip slowly tightened on play lists and at about the same time that "personality radio" became too costly for station owners, the listening audience lost their voice in personally being involved in the process of selecting tomorrow's hits, other than by number of product sold at the retail level.

Anyone out there with a band knows that this is true, or they have never tried to get their product played (more than once) on their local popular broadcaster. I would bet that even the Cate Brothers, whom I consider Arkansas' premier offering on the national scene, have a hard time getting their new CD played on the air, and they have years of experience in this business. They have released at least 7 albums than I know of and scored a Top 10 hit single with the Steve Cropper produced "Union Man" in the 70's. If it weren't the fact that R&B is hot right now they would have a serious marketing problem on their hands. They have either shunned or have been ignored by the major labels, and for whatever reasons, they are "suffering the consequences" or "happy doing just what they want", depending on your point of view. They have established such a devout and loyal following through the years that they have no problems getting bookings, so I suspect that they are being VERY cautious about re-entering the marketplace with all its BS, paperwork and lies. But I digress.........

So with the stagnation of radio where can you search for new musical avenues without the confines of the establishment? Well, technology begats technology so we must turn to the Internet. The Internet offers a exciting new way to explore the music and creative collective available to us all. Finally, Everyman has a voice once again. For a modest investment, anyone in the world can post their own page on the web. Be it a song-writer, poet, artist, band or whatever. And anyone with enough time on their hands and the inclination will eventually hit on that page at least once if the owner has registered it properly with all the relevant search engines. Time and distance are no longer relevant as the artist can live in Borneo and the consumer in Boston and yet credit and merchandise can change hands electronically over the Internet. This is not the future. This is happening right now.

The amount of such information available on the World Wide Web is Wediculous. As of May 27, 1997, there are 9,482 websites listed under the YAHOO! search engine as "Music/Artists/By Genre/Rock". Some are famous names listed, ranging from Alice in Chains to ZZ Top. But more importantly, there are hundreds and hundreds of unknown artists and bands that now have the ability to reach you right in your home/office. Bands with names like "400 North" and "5000 Deep". They range from "The Accidents" to "Zero". You can find "Your Mom", "The Betty Ford Experience", "The Embarrassment", "Farmers From Hell", "Fred's Front Wheel", "Purple Waxheads Made Of Foam", "Snidely Whiplash", or even find "Somebody's Birthday". And this is just one page listing. There are thousands of collective pages of artist and band sites. All you have to do is hunt around a little and in no time you'll have more websites at your disposal than you could possible spend each and every day of the rest of your life scanning. So load up that browser and set a course in search of uncharted musical waters.

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