I wear a lot of hats in my job. Odds are pretty good that you do, too. It’s part of the way things are these days. And I’m not complaining. I like the opportunity to do different things, instead of just hammering through the same thing, eight or so hours every day, until I get my gold watch.
I think part of the problem with radio is they really take the whole multi-tasking thing to ridiculous ends.
I grew up on AOR radio. AOR stands for Album Oriented Rock, and that meant the station played more than just the hits.
I owned the record, of course. Since it went 15 times platinum (platinum is a million sales), there’s a chance you did, too (or at least, someone you know owned it). But I grew to really love those three songs from hearing them on the radio.
A lot of stations these days “test” the music they play. They do tests over the phone or in auditoriums, with a couple hundred people who fit the demo of their station. This isn’t just a 2013 phenomenon; it’s been going on for years and years. That’s why you can travel from town to town and coast to coast, and find stations that play almost the exact same music.
Aside from all the music testing, there’s the multi-tasking issue.
In a lot of stations, the program director and the music director don’t just work for one station. They run several, what the corporations like to call a “cluster”. So the guy programming your local rock station may also have similar tasks at their sister station, which is country, or adult contemporary. Or all three. Or even more.
I like lots of different kinds of music, but I don’t have a real passion for all of them. And because of that, I don’t really know a lot about them. So if I suddenly had to program a country station, I’d be in trouble. Unless someone told me what I should be playing.
Someone who was also telling other country stations what they should play. Or other adult contemporary stations. Et cetera.
The other thing is that, for those stations whose employees do care about the music, the same protocols are in place. Here’s a list of what your station is going to play.
I get that radio stations aren’t jukeboxes, but having someone who doesn’t care about the music deciding what music gets played, based on testing (and other nebulous factors) might give you a good idea about why stations sound the way they do.
And then there are conspiracy theories.
Around the time this album came out, there was a controversy about radio paying royalties to the artists they played. Bono, lead singer for U2, spoke out in favor of that. He joined in with the MusicFirst coalition, who were campaigning Congress to reconsider prior legislative decisions was allowing radio stations to play music without paying royalties to artists and record companies.
The album debuted at number one in thirty countries, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It was certified platinum in Brazil within its first week! It also had three singles that did really well in other countries, but only one, “Get On Your Boots”, cracked the top forty in the U.S.
It could be a coincidence, and we could probably argue for pages and pages about how well this album stacks up to other U2 albums.
But regardless of how you feel about the quality of that album, or the possibility of conspiracy against it, what happened with that album and radio is typical, sadly, of what happens to lots of singers and bands that have been around for a long time. Radio tends to ignore them.
U2’s previous album, “How To Dismantle An Atom Bomb”, came out in 2005. It is probably mostly remembered in the U.S. for the song “Vertigo”, which was featured in an iPod campaign. There were a total of five singles released from this album, and they did well in other countries (at least ten other countries that I’ve been able to find charts for), but went largely ignored by American radio.
The same happened with his previous album, 2008’s “Working On A Dream”, which even featured a Grammy-nominated song from the movie “The Wrestler”. In fact, going back year-by-year, the story seems to be the same for Springsteen. The last new song of his that got serious airplay was “The Streets of Philadelphia” in 1994.
That was almost twenty years ago.
In those twenty years, he’s put out seven studio albums, four box sets, six compilations, three live albums nine video collections and appeared (with new songs) on at least three soundtracks.
But the people who run most (not all, but most) rock radio stations don’t have that love for their format’s music. So the majority of his music, going all the way back to 1973’s “Greetings From Asbury Park NJ”, gets ignored. In fact, you’re more likely to hear Manfred Mann’s version of “Blinded By The Light” than Springsteen’s original version.
And other than a couple tracks off his Greatest Hits collection, or the recently-tested “I’m On Fire”, you’re not likely to hear much from one of the hardest working guys in the history of rock.
U2 got some decent airplay with 2001’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”, but twelve years later, there are only a handful of their songs that you still hear on the radio. And most, if not all, of that can be found on their singles’ collection from 2006. You just aren’t likely to hear anything more than the usual suspects from them.
Then there’s the Beatles.
If you’re lucky enough to have a station that still plays the Beatles, you’re lucky if you hear anything besides the songs on this album.
It seems like a crime to me that all this music is getting lost. And that radio has become such a wasteland that the people running it just seem to have absolutely no musical soul.
I used three easy examples here (Bruce, U2 and the Beatles) but there are so many more (and it’s growing every day).
And there are plenty of these artists who had terrific albums back then (whenever their “back then” was), and are still making music today!
Here’s a small sample of artists that have put out new stuff in just the last few months:
They Might Be Giants
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
Also out this year, updated albums, remastered with bonus and/or live tracks from Huey Lewis, Fleetwood Mac, the Tubes, REM and the Allman Brothers!
And, previously unreleased live sets from ZZ Top, Head East, Rainbow and Crosby Stills Nash and Young!
Plus, new music coming from the Goo Goo Dolls in May and the Kinks’ Dave Davies in June!
And don’t forget that they finally put out a whole album full of previously unreleased music from Jimi Hendrix!
I guess the thing is, I just get tired of turning on the radio in my car and hearing a lot of the same old, same old. I can almost guarantee you that I will hear a Pink Floyd song and a Led Zeppelin song every time I go anywhere, even if it’s just a quick trip to the store. And it’s also almost always one of the same few songs from either artist.
I’ve ranted a long time here, and I realize that won’t solve anything. I think it’s time I bit the bullet and took the matter into my own hands.
This could be very cool, or it could be a huge failure, but I’m working on what I think the solution is. Just need to get a few more pieces of the puzzle in place, and I’ll share what I think it a great idea with you very soon….
In the meantime, here’s what shuffled out of my player as I typed this…
Pat Benatar “Suffer the Little Children/Hell Is For Children” (live)
Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On”
New Order “Regret”
Boston “Don’t Look Back”
Sting “Fortress Around Your Heart” (live)
Skid Row “I Remember You”
Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Bruce Hornsby, Bryan Adams and Kim Wilson “Angel From Montgomery’ (live)
John Lennon “God” (acoustic)
Procol Harum “Conquistador”
Aerosmith “Just Push Play”
E.L.O. “Turn To Stone”
The Cyrkle “Red Rubber Ball”
R.E.M. “Drive” (live)
Joan Jett “Bad Reputation”
Bourgeois Tagg “I Don’t Mind At All”
David Bowie “Jean Genie”
Lenny Kravitz “Dig In”
Fleetwood Mac “Landslide”
Diesel “Sausalito Summernight”
The Tams “What Kind Of Fool”
The Eagles “Do Something”
Bob Seger “Katmandu” (live)
Aerosmith “Kings and Queens”
Ringo Starr “I’m The Greatest” (live)
Elvis Costello “This Year’s Girl”
Bruce Hornsby “The Road Not Taken”
To Be Continued…