The Death of Commercial Radio

This past week, WHFS changed its format drastically from "alternative" to latin music. While the suddenness of this changeover is shocking, it's not surprising. Radio has been selling out it's listeners for years. From being the cutting edge risk-takers of yesteryear (when was the last time you heard of a "breaking artist" on radio?) to the complete playlist pablum of today. Corporate ownership has castrated commercial radio, and those who once had the balls to stand up and be different are now finding their own alternatives. The news that Howard Stern is moving to "unh unh uhno" (Sirius Satellite Radio) is partly based on the continuing FCC censorship of the airwaves, but it's also because Corporate Radio isn't willing to take risks. Fighting the FCC would risk shareholder value. Playing risky music might offend some listeners, and might risk ratings. The Motley Fool has an article entitled The Death of Radio. I think the move that WHFS made was a slap in the face to anyone who still cared to listen to the station, and another nail in the coffin of Corporate Radio. There are alternatives to radio, and listeners are now being forced to explore those options. Radio is alienating demographics of listeners and is chasing after demographics that may not even care. Years ago Detroit lost it's sole commercial classical radio station to this crap. WQRS faded out and Nine Inch Nails "Closer" faded in. It's a clever transition, but the station has failed miserably ever since, struggling to find a demographic that can pay the bills. They switched to an "alternative" format that was already well covered by a Canadian station "89X". They then flirted with an all soul radio format, which bombed, and then moved into the pablum of adult contemporary by hiring one of the foremost schlock jocks in the area (Jim Harper). XM and Sirius Radio are a declaration by the listeneres that they've had enough of this crap, and they're willing to go the extra mile to get what they want. My greatest fear is that the FCC will be called in by Commercial Radio to start regulating the language and content of XM and Sirius because they will perceive FCC censorship as the advantage that XM and Sirius have over Commercial Radio. It's coming. The problem is, it's not the language or the censorship: it's the content, stupid. People want to hear music. People want to hear good talk shows. People don't want the same song every hour.

To all the stations giving money to their listeneres, here's a bit of advice: spend some money on some talent -- 97.1 FM WKRK advertisment (and the station in Detroit most likely to suffer yet another format change once Howard Stern moves to Sirius)


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