September 1, 2011: On Radio

September 1, 2011

Since the loss of 97.5 the Blaze back in July, my mind has been tumbling with the truth of the state of radio here in Salt Lake. Local stations used to be the fire and fuel of music radio. There used to be specific sounds. Los Angeles and Seattle and New York all brought something new and different and better to the table, forcing radio stations to listen to what was happening all over the country. Now, with corporate stations taking over, with frequencies being bought up by management companies so that the same music is heard all over the country at the same time, I find myself wondering what the point even is anymore.

I’m a child of radio. My grandfather was a pioneer in the industry and my father taught me to love the medium. I even contemplated entering the field myself. Some of my best memories as a child are of sitting on my bed, playing with my pink transistor radio while sounds from the ether trickled over staticy speakers. Upon discovering The Blaze here in Utah, I found a station that really seemed to embrace those local ideas I was raised on. They cared about the musicians here, not just the musicians out in LA.

Sadly, it is often the good that die young and those of us who were Blaze fans felt the blow this summer when the station that fought tooth and nail to stay alive finally folded. Local musicians stared in horror as they lost that chance to be heard. Corporate beasts could be heard cackling as they leaned back in leather chairs, mocking those who would fight a revolution and rebel against the mindset. They had won. They knew that even in the dying era of music radio that listeners would trickle over. They knew that out of work DJs would find their way to their studios and they would laugh while they signed them on to midnight hours when no one cared.

I sucked it up to the realities of the capitalistic world and moved forward, so glad to see a group form on facebook to try and keep the dream alive. Sadly, as with so many movements, after the initial anger died, the group progress slowed to a dull, dull crawl. But the idea is still there, percolating, wanting attention, if people want to give it. For me, the idea was brought home when, while flipping through radio stations the other day, I stopped on good ol country favorite KSOP.

I’m not a huge country fan, but I went through my passion for it when I was in my late teens. In the era of Reba and Alabama and early Faith Hill, I sang along and collected bumper stickers and I even did my senior portraits in a straw hat. KSOP was better than the other stations because they had a greater range than the top twenty popular songs. They played everyone and it was a neat learning experience. Well, my friends, even KSOP is gone. Yes, the station format is still “country” but they are now Z-104. Z-104. Isn’t the new station on 94.9 Z something too?

We are becoming robots. You laugh, probably. After all, it’s just radio. But this is a symptom of something so much larger in our world. We no longer go to a town looking for the cool store or the funky hotel. We seek the Best Westerns and the Olive Gardens. We want to be the same as our neighbors and worse, we expect our neighbors to be the same as us. We no longer seek out musicians who have distinct styles but want them all to sound alike and when they don’t, we mock them. And if you don’t think the loss of local radio has anything to do with this, then you haven’t been paying attention to the world around you.

Rock music used to be about breaking boundaries. It used to be about pissing people off. The West Memphis 3 were finally released this past month after eighteen years in prison for crimes they did not commit. They were jailed because of the music they listened to. The government’s passive censorship of music by their allowance of Wal Mart and other chains to create “clean copies” of CDs goes against everything that rockers fought against when the PMRC was slashing their way through people’s music libraries.

Rock music allows us to speak our minds, to gather together and raise our hands and fight against the injustices of the world. How can we do that when we’re all marching lock step to the same music at 4:00 in the afternoon? How can we cherish the local musician if that local musician has no way to get the word out about their stuff?

I get that radio is in many ways dying. But at the same time, it has a chance for a revival as smartphones and satellite give us a chance to really discover the local flavor in each and every area. How can we do that if all we are given is Z-10whatever?

  1. I’ve had a broadcaster’s licence since I was a senior in high school, hosting a radio show on our public access station. You’re absolutely right. FM commercial broadcast radio really *isn’t* the same. The programming is heavy rotation of a relatively smally library of singles with lots and lots of what I call, “BLAH-vertising.” I no longer work – or want to – in the medium.

  2. Wasn’t a law (very) recently passed that opens the way for non-corporate types to get an airwave? I

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