I got to thinking the other day how radio has changed over the years. Not that the subject is ever very far from my mind. I grew up in what might be called the glory days of at least two formats, old enough to remember both top-40 radio at its best as well as what was once called “progressive” and later “album-oriented” rock radio at the height of that format’s popularity.
So I know that every time I write a column regarding what I like about radio, or perhaps more accurately what I miss about radio, I am dating myself.
Not as much as I could, perhaps, as top-40 actually had a renaissance in the early 1980s when stations like Chuck Martin’s K-WEST 106 (now KPWR, 105.9 FM) or Gerry DeFrancesco’s KIIS-FM (102.7) adopted the format. Both stations were great examples of top-40 radio; while K-WEST didn’t make it, KIIS-FM shook up the industry with its amazing success, including ratings of over a 10 share ... compared with what was then and is now again considered successful: anything over a 3 percent share of the audience. But then, even the 1980s are over 24 years ago.
Aside from my memory and my rose-colored glasses, there are elements of radio that truly have been lost. Things that I miss, that I believe were some of the reasons that radio was once so important to generations of kids ... and is now so very not. Do kids listen to radio? Certainly yes. Do they love radio and identify with any station? Hardly.
So here are things I wish radio would do better or do more often. As always, you are free to disagree as well as add suggestions. As someone who still wishes music would be played on AM radio, I have a somewhat warped reality
First: I wish more stations would play music on AM radio. Stations I loved growing up included some top-40 greats: KHJ, KRLA, KEZY. And there was even AOR, such as when Dave Forman took KEZY into an AOR/alternative format. Music can sound good on AM with a clean signal and a good radio.
I miss call letters. The great stations of the past all had them: the already mentioned KHJ, KRLA and KEZY. And there are obviously more: KMET, KLOS. Yes, many stations still use calls, but the trend here and nationwide is to use “clever” names: Hot 92.3. Power 106. My-FM. Whatever 98.7 calls itself now. Names are OK, but they lack something in my mind. Even UCLA’s student campus station KLA lost all of its history and respect when it decided to call itself “Bruin Radio.” Yuck.
I miss entertaining DJs, or more accurately DJs who were allowed to entertain. The jocks on KHJ and KMET were all important friends to us growing up. Does anyone even know the name of the afternoon drive DJ on a typical station today? Why can’t the Sound’s talented on-air staff talk about the records they play instead of a mystery voice?
I miss weather reports. Surf reports. Talk about local things important to me, the listener. I may be alone here, but I miss news on stations other than news and talk stations. News that was important to teens and young adults is one of the reasons that KMET connected so well to its audience when Sam Bellamy programmed the station. And one reason why KMET is so fondly remembered 28 years after it left the air.
DJs who were allowed to talk about things without a music bed under them. It used to be called “clutter” when you had unimportant elements in the way of programming, now it is the way its done. Are we listeners that impaired that we need music playing while the DJ tells us the details of the upcoming hour of programming?
What about real competition? When KMET would pass out bumper stickers at a concert sponsored by KLOS. When KHJ would fly a banner over an event sponsored by KRLA. When stations would try to scoop each other in getting the latest record from the hot artists? Those competitive rivalries made radio fun for the listeners, and for the station DJs and staff as well.
Fun, easy to win contests. My friend Jeff Holyfield and I still talk of the time he won WAM -- Walking Around Money -- from Ten-Q in the 1970s calling in from a rotary-dial phone. Everything now is so convoluted it loses its fun-factor. Makes you wonder if today’s programmers ever even heard what I would consider good radio. Jeff was lucky, of course ... my parents wouldn’t let me dial long distance anyway ...
I have more, and I am sure you do too. Let’s compare notes ... send an email to me and I’ll put your thoughts in a future column.