Radio’s Experimental Roots

Yes, it has been a while since I’ve written anything here. This was partially due to the fact that I feel like I’m preaching to the choir on this platform. Most of the readers here “get it” – but the people who need to hear this message the most – the people in charge – simply weren’t listening, so I stopped.  But I’ve heard from several of you that you actually enjoyed my rants and found them to be a source of inspiration because I’m able to say things here that you wish that you could. But because you’re stuck “in the system,” you are unable to speak up. So if this is serving some type of purpose, I’ll continue to post from time to time.

Amazingly, very little has changed since my last article. With some exceptions, the radio industry continues to make mistakes and inflict wounds upon itself. Large corporations are all busy trying to systemize content as much as possible…. taking mediocre, generic content and distributing it cheaply across as many stations as possible to reduce costs. Never mind that this scheme is making radio less relevant to listeners because the “content” is largely stripped of anything local, compelling, or unique.

If you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’d like to take you on a journey back to the future. Some of you can recall a time when AM radio reigned supreme, and FM stations were basically experimental. The experimental nature of FM at the time led to the innovation of the AOR or “Album Rock” format. The combination of “underground music” and talent who were unusual “characters” curating the experience with a counter-culture approach made for a very authentic experience compared to other commercial radio offerings at the time. These stations developed cult followings, and many eventually became powerhouse brands that still exist today. Ironically, just like many stations today, the experimental FM’s back then didn’t have many resources. The marketing and research dollars that existed back then went to the powerhouse AM stations across the hall. The FM’s had nothing to lose, so they followed their instincts and experimented with concepts that defied conventional thinking at the time. There was nothing to lose, so who cares? Take the risk!

The reason that I said “back to the future” earlier is because we need to bring back this “experimental” type of thinking. Let’s face it – many stations are again in the position where they have “nothing to lose,” and trying something completely different or unusual might bring about the next big thing.

You don’t have to look very far. There are plenty of podcasts with large audiences who are experimenting with content that you would never hear or find on commercial radio. But why? Why aren’t we giving creative programmers an opportunity to experiment with actual broadcast stations? There are so many clusters of 5 and 6 stations where only 3 or 4 stations are currently viable. Why not take that 5th or 6th station and try something radical? Are you really any worse off if you tried something and it didn’t work? And what if you stumble onto something big?

You’ll never really know until you actually take a risk.

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