Essay for critique: Requium WCCC

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Cutlass
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Essay for critique: Requium WCCC

Post by Cutlass » Sun Oct 29, 2017 1:52 pm

I thought I'd post a couple of my old essays, and see if anyone wanted to offer any critique of my writing.
Requiem WCCC

A week or so back I was having a conversation with a friend, and I happened to lament, "I miss radio that doesn't suck." She went on to mention that there are a lot of alternatives to radio available these days. But what all those alternatives have in common is that they require something of the listener to set them up. Radio, assuming you have a radio, is just there for the taking. There's no creating or editing a play list. You don't need a computer or smartphone. It's just there.

Now, of course, it's not entirely free. As the old saying goes, if you aren't paying for something, you aren't the consumer: You're the product. The customer of the radio station is not the listener, it's the advertiser. The station delivers you, the product, to the advertiser.

But, you know, if the station is good enough, that's a small price to pay.

If the station is good enough.

I grew up, and still live, in and around Hartford. Hartford is not one of the country's great cities. But it's not trivial either. And it has had rich role in the history of radio in the country.

Were it not for WCCC, odds are you would have never heard of Howard Stern. Now maybe you don't like Stern. I personally don't really care for him one way or another. But he is a major part of American radio. And he got one of his earliest on air jobs on a Hartford radio station called WCCC.

But I'm not here today to talk about Stern. But rather about good radio. Something WCCC used to be. Last week WCCC was sold. The format is now Christian contemporary music. Do I need to add that I won't be listening to it any longer?

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, Hartford had good radio. WHCN was a pioneer station in FM stereo broadcast, and the 'album rock' format. WCCC became WHCN's primary competitor. We also got rock radio stations from New Haven and Springfield which were close enough to tune in easily. There were many other stations as well, and many formats, often overlapping. But having 4 rock stations, good rock stations, there was always something worth hearing.

And you really didn't have to pay for it, because you could always change the channel when the commercials came on.

You have maybe figured out that rock music is the music I prefer.

So sue me.

What distinguished the 'album rock' format from other rock oriented formats was that it was broader than most formats. It wasn't just about the current hits, or even collected hit songs of the genre. But rather anything on the albums (you kiddies might think of them as CDs) was fair game. So there was a lot more songs being played. Back in the day the music wasn't digitally recorded. And it wasn't on computer. It was on vinyl LP albums and 45rpm singles.

Disk jockeys actually jockeyed disks.

But when you have an LP album, you have 8-10 songs. Maybe 20 for a double album. Or 2, if it's Iron Butterfly or Arlo Guthrie. The point being you had a lot of songs to choose from. You weren't limited by a list.

Several years ago rock music legend Warren Zevon died. At the time one of these radio stations decided to do a tribute. But they only had 3 of his songs available. They no longer had the albums. They no longer had the option of playing what they used to call the 'deep cuts'.

They no longer had songs that were not on the approved play list.

They no longer didn't suck.

I miss radio that doesn't suck.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers first became an A list major rock act in the latter part of the 1970s. Did you know they were still putting out new albums? Back in the 70s and 80s you would have known, because it would have been major news, and play time, on the rock radio stations. Now? his old music still gets a lot of air time. His new music, does not. His song "The Last DJ" tracks what I'm talking about. The play of the song has been banned by the largest owner of radio stations in the country, Clear Channel. The owner of the formerly great radio station WHCN.

"And there goes the last DJ
Who plays what he wants to play
And says what he wants to say
Hey, hey, hey
And there goes your freedom of choice
There goes the last human voice
And there goes the last DJ"

As I mentioned above, WHCN was a pioneering rock radio station in FM stereo and rock format. Nicknamed The Rock, it was a great station for many years. But then Clear Channel came along and bought it. And that was the end of that. They changed the format from The Rock, to The River. The River? Wtf does that even mean? Well, what it means is that they changed it to be the same as several other radio stations the company owned. Driving in other states, I've heard the same thing on other stations. And what it is is bland. Most of the music remains within the style characterized as 'classic rock'. But a lot of it is also just classic contemporary as well. Essentially, it's music you can play in public, and no one is likely to object to it much at all.

It's the rock music equivalent of elevator music.

But it's worse than that. It's the playlist.

The playlist has been a long time in coming. Back around 1980 or so there was a TV show called WKRP in Cincinnati. In one episode the program director asks the DJ to play just any song off the play list. Those days are gone. Now there's nothing but the list. Or as some call it, the rotation.

"Heavy rotation or power rotation is a term that applies to a list of songs that get the most airplay on a radio station. Songs in heavy rotation will be played many times in a 24-hour period. A reason for playing the same song more than once a day is many listeners tune in expecting to hear their favorite song, and most listeners don't listen to the radio for extended periods of time. However, this also leads to listener fatigue for those who work in stores and must hear the same songs repeatedly every day."

As the rotation took hold, radio came to suck. I started listening to the radio a lot less. As the definition above describes, the repetition drove me away. I might listen to music radio 4-6 hours a week now. Maybe not even that. And that's been true for more than a decade. If I have the radio on at all, it's usually NPR. But I do listen to music some. And, if it didn't drive me crazy, some things would almost be oddly amusing. Imagine you have 4 channels of the same format to listen to. A song comes on that you aren't interested in hearing, so you change the channel. And get the same song. Imagine that over the years that's happened to you a couple of dozen times. Imagine that the songs are 20-30 years old, and not current hits. Imagine that these radio stations are, in theory, owned by different companies.

Imagine you're switching between two stations, owned by different companies, located in different cities, and the songs are in sync, to within a note or two.

Imagine a song from a successful band that's best known for stuff it did in the 70s, and hearing that song 8 times in a month, over 4 stations, while only listening to 4-6 hours of music radio in a week.

It's like, no matter who owns the station, they're still playing the same playlist.

I miss radio that doesn't suck.

A number of years ago I did a poll on the phone with some polling company hired by WHCN. After a lengthy interview about what songs I wanted in the rotation, I tried to explain to the woman that it doesn't matter what songs are in the rotation. If you're using a rotation than your station sucks.

Now, for the most part, I just listen to rock music. And some people would call me narrow in tastes for doing so. And that's fair enough. But if you just consider rock music, and you just consider rock music of about in my lifetime, call it the Beatles on up, yeah maybe it's narrow, but the depth is vast. Half a century of recorded music by many 100s of artists.

And yet I heard one 30+ year old song 8 times in a month while not even playing the radio very much.

Where's the rest of it?

The rest is lost to broadcast radio. They can't be bothered. These elevator music stations all advertise themselves the same way: "We play the most variety!" Liars. Every time a station starts talking about the "variety" they play, I change the channel. Because I know they're about to play something I've heard a 1000 times before. I imagine they have a legal cover for the claim to "variety", should anyone ever care to sue them on it, for they are playing some variety of styles of music. But what they are not doing is playing a variety of individual songs.

And that's what I want, is a variety of songs. I can't have a radio playing in the background as I go about my day that's playing the same dozen songs over and over again. It drives me crazy. Given a choice between listing to The River all day, or turning the radio off, I turn the radio off, and go without. Or listen to NPR instead.

You see, even though these styles of stations are songs I like, or used to like, by artists I like, or used to like, it still doesn't work, because the few titles that are still on the playlists, or occasionally rotated on and off the lists over the months, are all things that I have heard just so many times that I'm sick of them. And I wouldn't be if I was hearing them once or twice a year. But I certainly am if I'm hearing them every week. And I absolutely am if I'm hearing them every day. And if I'm hearing them more than once a day, that's just utterly ridiculous.

And it's not even the best songs, or the biggest hits that are getting most of the air time. It's the elevator music. It's the stuff that not much of anyone would go out of their way to hear these days, but likely few people would go out of their way to complain about it either. it's stuff that hasn't, to me anyways, well stood the test of time.

And there is just so many other things that could be played instead. And isn't. Within the broad genre of rock music there is a body of work 50-60 years in the making.

And it's still being made.

But you wouldn't know that listening to rock radio. ZZ Top has put out 6 albums since 1990. No songs from them get radio play. Tom Petty has put out 8. Same story. This is true of dozens of artists best known for their work in the 1970s-80s. So it's not just that the stations are only dipping their toes in the shallowest part of the body of work, it's that they have no connection to the new work either. I can't think of a new band that gets significant play on rock radio since Red Hot Chili Peppers. And they are so 'new', they've been active close to 30 years now. Instead we get Huey Lewis. Not a bad artist, but he was played on MTV and pop radio back when he was active, not rock radio. And who in the hell would want to hear yet another play of those 2-3 hits by Meatloaf?

It just seems to me that the royalties paid for some songs must be lower than for other songs, and so the playlist is biased towards some dull stuff. With just enough top artists and songs mixed in to try and hold people's attention. Because songs are digitally recorded, and there's a huge reservoir to chose from, it would be child's play to program so that no song at all is repeated in a week. Maybe even a month.

So why don't they?

The customer of the station is the advertisers. Those customers won't pay more if the stations don't deliver more listeners. And so the corporate owners of those stations look to cutting costs. That is, the easy way to increase profits is to make the absolutely lowest costs over the most stations across the country. And so they all play the same things. It's just cheaper that way.

"And there goes the last DJ
Who plays what he wants to play
And says what he wants to say
Hey, hey, hey
And there goes your freedom of choice
There goes the last human voice
And there goes the last DJ"

This isn't really a requiem for WCCC. But rather for music radio as a whole. One station died. But the whole industry might as well have. And those of us who used to get our music from it don't have that anymore.

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