Let’s say you own a business that sells bellbottoms. It’s the ‘70s and every Pink Floyd fan that’s smoking dank weed is buying them, i.e. everyone is buying your product.
Now’s it’s the ‘80s and the youth have switched over to Motley Crue leather pants and whatever the hell the New Wave kids are wearing. In defiance to a changing culture and naively believing bellbottoms will come back, you stay firm and continue selling those grotesquely tight jeans.
It’s now the 21st century. You’re dead broke. People are now laughing at you for being completely behind the times and flat out ignorant. After a few decades of irrelevancy, you finally decide to change your business. What do you do? Change the product or change the name of the pants, hoping people will forget and not read between the lines? A smart person will choose the former. Only an idiot will choose the latter.
What I just described is exactly what the radio industry has been going through, and guess what? They’re choosing the latter.
In a desperate attempt to save the dying radio format, Clear Channel—who owns 840 radio stations—has decided that changing the name is the right move. Forget changing programming, formatting or not playing only the hit songs on a never-ending loop. Nope. Change the name!
Ever since the Internet has become standard in every home, office and mobile device, radio has been completely irrelevant and useless. Why listen to the same shitty songs when you can download or stream literally anything you want and listen to it whenever you want? Music stations across the nation are seeing their listenership plummet because people no longer have to listen to them to hear music.
On the talk radio side of the industry, people are now gravitating towards podcasts. Why? Because podcasts are uncensored and the creativity of podcasters’ content is not being stifled by the clutches of corporate ownership and the circle jerk they have with advertisers. Why listen to the same, unoriginal morning zoo radio show when you can listen to a podcast that’s fresh, relevant, uncensored and entertaining? You won’t hear the War of the Roses “bit” or false outrage for the sake of ratings on Soundtrack of the Week. You can hear both of those things on damn near every radio station across the country.
But Clear Channel clearly doesn’t give a shit about terrestrial radio. Here’s a quote from the L.A. Times:
The name “Clear Channel” is a true throwback to a different media era. It comes from a term for a particular type of AM radio station, an old-fashioned reference in the age of Internet music companies such as Pandora, Spotify and Beats Music.
In other words, Clear Channel seems to be abandoning everything that is terrestrial radio and adopting Internet radio as its sole asset for broadcasting. Flip the dial on your radio. Chances are, Clear Channel owns that station. Does it sound different than any other station? Does it sound any different than anything you heard on the radio 10, 15, 20 years ago? No and no.
Radio jobs are scarce since corporate takeover has laid off most employees and consolidated jobs. On-air personalities are afraid of going rogue because once they’re fired, well, good luck finding another radio gig. Same holds true for the program directors. Everyone must know programming needs to change, but everyone is too much of a pussy to do it.
Trust me on all of this. I acquired a journalism degree to study broadcasting to get into radio. I never got on the air, but I worked as a producer in corporate radio and got to see everything that happens behind the scenes in the industry. Radio has always been my true passion. I speak ill of it, but much in the same way I shame fat people: I do it because I love you and want to see you succeed.
Radio doesn’t have to die, it just has to adapt and change. So far, radio stations are still trying to sell us bellbottoms. As soon as they start selling us skinny jeans and whatever the fuck else kids are wearing today, we’ll tune back in.
For a great, in-depth look at the sad state of radio, check out the documentary Corporate FM.