Thanks for the additional viewpoints, but my intended observation is that the decline of radio, AM and FM, had at least as much to do with the pattern of ownership as any combination of other cultural factors. I doubt that the great buy-up was motivated by a vision of long-term profits. Sustainability doesn't appear to be the point of any of the merger mania of the 80s and 90s or today. It was the short-term money that drew the sharks. Much of the radio ownership today acts like it is sorry to be stuck with these properties. Is that due to inherent worthlessness, or ownership systems that are not capable of making use of their assets? If the chains are ripe for divestment, entrepreneurs who understand the role played by incompetence can snap up screaming bargains. The holy-rollers have figured it out.
Radio was never perfect. Before strict demographic formatting became universal, it was a game of offending each listener as little as possible. People accepted that, and we had formats that introduced the public to a wide range of styles. Hooray! Turn the clock ahead to twenty five years ago, into the era of hyper-formats, there was a popular bumpersticker here that read "Radio in Rochester insults my intelligence." (I wanted one, but as I was employed by a station at the time, I thought it would be impolitic.) That people cared at all demonstrates that it mattered. Imperfections and all, it was still a force in people's lives. It still is, whatever the method of delivery, because people still respond to what is the essential aspect of radio broadcasting; voices and sounds, familiar and exotic, and well-curated music, high- or low-brow. Friendly personalities. A comforting sense of community. The better it does that, the better it works. If wisely managed, stations can sustain themselves, as several local independent commercial stations continue to do, though not at the scale of profit that would be of interest to the Street. Which means they won!
LPFM has a window, the FCC is accepting applications - or was - I've lost track. We'll see what the level of interest is. Where you and I live, in areas served by digital networks, it might be a big yawn. For areas that are not, the "digital divide," there does seem to be energy. NPR. Pshaw. Don't get me started!
But, here's a suggestion. To divine the future, it might be better to ignore the issue of old vs. new media, and instead look at how all media are serving the population. Are they fulfilling their promise or falling short? For the ownership class, some new media (FB, eBay) are spectacular. In evaluating the worth of media, is that the only metric that matters? This is more than an academic question.
You are correct that a vulgar Marxism has triumphed and that collectivization is the present reality. But, when that proves to be unworkable, systems will have to find new patterns that function. Non-essentials may never revive. Short of an apocalyptic outcome, there are structural impediments faced by media, which may be irreversible, or may not. Locally-owned broadcasting, and newspapers, were weakened by the rise of national retailing and the loss of local business advertising. If that trend is reversed - not impossible - accompanied by a reversion to smaller-scale ownership of media, broadcasting and newspapers, in traditional and/or newer forms, can again be a part of that system of mutual aid. I'm not holding my breath, but not writing off the possibility, either. Big changes lie ahead.
From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Tom Fine
Sent: Wednesday, July 03, 2013 6:43 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Folk Music in America
It's OK to raise fists and bay at the moon, but that won't change the moon. Antitrust laws have been gutted since the 90s, so megaglomeration of ... everything is inevitable.
As far as the FM broadcasting industry, I think you're looking back fondly with very rosy glasses.
The FM band is NOT a reliable "security" asset due to limited range and sometimes fussy transmitting and receiving gear. It never was some haven of profitability, in fact there was a very short window in time where a few album-oriented rock stations and, even more so, a few formula-automated easy listening stations were mega cash machines. So of course the first- and second-generation owners were all too happy to sell to CC and Evergreen and others. The FCC had no business allowing ANY owner to have multiple frequencies in any market, but as I said there was a change in antitrust laws following the end of the Cold War ("Global Marketplace" and all, ya know). CC and its like got theirs anyway because it turns out that if you put 5 copies of the same lame formula in a marketplace, none of them get listened to. I've noticed that an FM frequency has become so value-less for music broadcasting that religious talk-radio and even poltical talk-radio have started to pop up on the FM dial all over the place. Sports radio moved over there several years ago.
As far as "culturally relevant" (as decided by whom???) radio, the FM band was sabotaged by tax-subsidized NPR. What commercial station wants to try and fight that? So in many markets, the "higher brow taste" model was completely surrendered to the NPR empire. In my opinion, they do a mostly middling job, although the technical quality evolved from amateurish in the early days to superb in many cases today. As far as content, by being obsessed with political correctness, "inclusiveness" of every oddball "viewpoint" and trying to do anything they can think of "not of the masses," they alienate large swaths of the market (and one day will pay in the loss of their tax subsidy). I say this even though I listen to NPR far more than any other radio content, it is nearly 100% of my over-air listening because everything else is so terrible. I also note that NPR worked very hard to kill low-power Community FM, which would have been a blessing of true democratic (SMALL
d) variety everywhere it flourished (Community FM was one of the few good ideas to come out of the FCC in the past few decades, and it was killed by massive pressure from the CC's of the world joined by NPR biting the hand that feeds it).
FM radio was already heading down the tubes when I was in high school in the early 80s. I was complaining about the lack of variety among the several differently-owned rock stations I could easily pick up in the NYC suburbs. One of my friends joined in the lament and said, "hey man, the best radio station on the planet is your turntable." He was so right! I'm very glad I always invested in records, CDs and tape recorders rather than tuners.
An interesting discussion is, should radio have been left alone much more so from the get-go, with the FCC in place only to monitor modulation levels and frequency (technical stuff). The only caveat I would have put in place from Day 1 would be -- only one frequency per market per owner, and strictly enforced that every step of the way. From there, let public taste and market economics decide what's popular, what formats work and what's profitable. Stay out of the way and let the folks run their own entertainment tastes. Under my system, you're potentially giving Joe Blow who bought a frequency cheap after WWII the same chance to be "Must Hear Radio" as NBC or CBS networks, as long as Joe Blow knew his market and could deliver something the big boys weren't.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Carl Pultz" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, July 02, 2013 10:23 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Folk Music in America
> Airwaves do matter. No wish to be argumentative, just that radio has played a big role in my life,
> so it's important to me to question this common wisdom. There are a lot of people who still 'use'
> radio for music and more who would if offered a better product. Many depend on the old delivery
> system and, given the anti-competiveness of broadband providers and the high cost of wireless,
> many will for a long time. It's just that to the press, radio is old tech, and therefore over.
> And, crucially, this blaming of the customer is perfect cover for the rapaciousness and
> incompetence of the captains of the industry. Let me share a relevant story...
> ...It was already 50,000 watts hot on that September morning in 'Vegas, but coolness prevailed at
> the yearly Captains of Radio confab [NAB, or something like that]. Most were phat. And, if not
> happy, were keeping their misgivings to themselves. By eleven, at least one cigar chomper was
> already getting restless and starting to picture the leggy servers waiting for him at the Pharaoh
> Room pig roast. Almost there, sweaty palms. Just gotta live through the droning of the stat man. A
> wafer-thin bowtie wearing an Adams Apple approached the mic. He'd left his cool back home...
> This was about 10 or more years ago, when Clear Channel had pretty much finished its feeding
> frenzy, but had yet to begin its decade of nausea. The speaker was, IIRC, the VP of Research for
> Sinclair Broadcasting, or one of the other large ownership chains, newly dwarfed by CC. Somebody
> to listen to, and with a serious message. The industry faced a risk, he told them, as
> consolidation and centralized programming eliminate an important source of information that music
> formats had lived by for years. Trends, tastes, styles are local and regional in their
> development, often arising where least expected. Who in New York anticipated Nashville, or
> Memphis, or Detroit, or Seattle, or Greensborough? Or any of that highly-profitable noise the kids
> dream up? By losing the intelligence developed by local radio, the industry will be blinded to the
> emergence of new talent and sounds, unable to exploit them. This can undermine the relevance of
> radio to a whole generation. Meanwhile, the medium could face serious challenge from new gadgets
> just as its audience steadily ages. This will hurt the performance not only of radio, but effect
> its traditional role in supporting the eco-system of the music business as a whole, concerts and
> Looking back on it, there couldn't have been a suit in the room who wasn't aware of the
> implication of CC's binge of leverage. Properties would be gutted, programming nationalized. They
> knew, because they had done it, setting this devolution in motion. But here was a monoculture like
> never before, with the power to ruin the whole game. Mr. Sliderule just told them of their end.
> Please, Clear Channel, gobble up one more. And let it be mine.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf
> Of Tom Fine
> Sent: Tuesday, July 02, 2013 2:10 PM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Folk Music in America
> My bet is, the cycle will come around and the airwaves will matter. Perhaps not for broadcasting
> music, but the owners of the frequencies will get the last laugh.
> What I can't understand is, given that we live in the age of streaming music, iPods, YouTube,
> Pandora, etc -- who CARES what's on the FM dial???
> -- Tom Fine