The Day the Radio Died (excerpt from the upcoming book “The Slow Death of American Radio”)

I should have known it would come on Friday the 13th. 40 years of radio work came to an abrupt end on 12-13-13.

It’s been a great ride. What’s sad is not that it ended for me, but that American radio has been dying a slow, agonizing death for many years now.

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Some people look at it from the perspective of formats, Rock, Urban, and the like. It’s not about that. The death of radio, both music and talk, began the day the suits took it over and made the corporate profit motive the medium’s only reason for being.

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In the boardrooms at modern stations, minuscule quarterly revenue increases are celebrated  as if Radi0 had rediscovered itself. Formats change as often as the weather, and air talents –  and those who support them  – are tossed aside like yesterday’s garbage.

But make no mistake. It took awhile to get to the current tepid, mind numbing state of a medium that years ago exercised its ability to enlighten and provoke audiences. Trouble is, when people get used to the mediocrity on the air , they listen, accept, and eventually revel in it.

That’s a shame.

As previously mentioned, I worked in radio for 40 years. During that time, while working for one of the premier black owned station chains in America, I had the opportunity to interview the great Nelson Mandela one on one; bear witness to two inaugurations of democratically elected presidents in Haiti; cover national US political conventions; Carnival celebrations in Brooklyn and Trinidad (sorry Rio); helped elect the first black mayor of the city I love, and much, much more. I’ve talked to presidents and junkies, heavyweight champions and street hustlers, rappers and tap dancers, the whole nine. I was able to do this because I had freedom — the freedom to seek people out and give voice to those who had none.

Trouble is, in today’s radio universe, there is no young person who will be given the freedom and resources that I was. Some Executive Vice President of Multi Media Platforms, Cluster Cross Pollination and Four Last Things would never, ever allow it to happen.

That’s precisely why radio is dying, and that EVP is blissfully unaware of his or her role in its passing. To really understand the death of US radio, you have to go beyond my small role in the medium through the years. You have to know what radio used to be, and its potential for shaping rather than  reflecting the public’s awareness of music and public life.

That used to be radio’s responsibility. That charge has systematically shirked to the point that few people remember what it was like to listen to a station just to see what would happen next.

Now we know.

So I’m writing the book. It’s been a long time coming but I’m told God’s calendar is different to ours. I hope you’ll join me as I reflect on memories, anecdotes and insights and even some artifacts (remember we didn’t have smartphones back in the day)…

I’ll be posting regularly – there’s a lot to cover.

What do you remember of radio?

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16 thoughts on “The Day the Radio Died (excerpt from the upcoming book “The Slow Death of American Radio”)”

  1. Mark,

    I’ve been listening to you since the Air America days, but my mom goes way back to your early days in radio. We’re both so sad that WWRL has decided to change formats and that you (and the other progressives) have lost your show. I am hoping that you will surface somewhere else, perhaps on the Internet. In the meantime I will follow you on twitter and keep coming back here. Best of luck with the book and everything else you do.

    Best regards,

    Amy Pie

  2. And the journey continues. So on to your next platform Mark. Looking forward to your book and wherever else your message lands. You’ve always generated stimulating, thought provoking dialogue, passionate conversation, and new ways of looking at possible solutions to time worn issues. Most appreciated however is your ability to listen and actually “hear” those things that people are most concerned about. Your day to day grind has contributed enormously to your profession. Kudos on your long ride behind the mic !!!

  3. Am I the only one on the internet who would love to see WWRL simulcast WLNG out of Long Island so they could use their old school 1600 AM jingles again?

  4. Mark,

    Please don’t let this be the end for you. You’ve educated me and so many others on both local and national politics. I’m hoping that you resurface on the internet where you can have the dialogue with the your audience that we all love to hear.

    Best,

    Sherm

  5. Another sad day, I will certainly miss your informative discourse. Your coverage of local poltics and issues that matter to NY and NJ was the best. Good luck Mark. I hope to be a member of your future audience, God willing.

  6. Are you kidding me?! You are not coming back to WWRL??? This was not just a contract negotiation that needed a mediator? What is going on here? I am not pleased. is there a write in campaign that we can do? Please help me understand what has happened.

  7. Mark,

    I’m still in shock, but to your point – I suppose I shouldn’t be. We are truly worse off for letting so many great radio stations and on-air personalities go. Radio isn’t the only thing that’s been dying a slow death. I’m just glad that I lived during these last nearly 5 decades to witness all the great people, movements and talents that have made our city and our country what they were. As for what they are now and will be – I have great concerns. Economic inequality, backlash against organized labor, rising costs of higher education, the overall “dumbing down” of seemingly everything. That said, we must never give up hope and continue striving for what is right and just.

    Thank you for all you’ve done over so many years to raise our consciousness. I’ve followed you since your WLIB days. I’ve learned so much from you directly and from your programming. I’m glad I found your blog. Hope to see you more often on NY1. Can’t wait for the book- best wishes and thanks!

    I will think of you on “Freestyle Fridays”

  8. You will be missed, time to make your Mark on internet radio. You have educated a generation, this cannot be allowed to be lost. Politics, night clubs in NYC. music, sports, Drum Corps, health!!! I was on with Jay kordich, the juice man himself. this is not the end my brother!! Infinite blessings

  9. I am still amazed that WWRL is changing formats and that there will not be any progressive talk. But I am an optimist and an avid believer in “one door closes, another one (or two) open! I will definitely miss your show and will check your website for any upcoming event or shows that I desperately hope and pray that will you be doing. Blessings to you!!!

  10. I am so sorry I won’t be hearing you or your colleagues anymore on WWRL. Your show was so informative and entertaining. Like many others (I’m sure), I never called in, but I listened almost every day.
    What I do not understand is why the station is changing to a Latin format? On AM or FM here in New York there is no shortage of Spanish language stations. It all seems very odd to me.
    I look forward to buying your book, and reading your insights and analysis on the decline of radio in this country.
    God bless you and your family, and I hope to see/hear you soon on another media outlet.

  11. I will be forever grateful for having had the privilege to listen and learn from you over many years. Thank you very much Mark. I wish you a continued life of love and learning.

  12. Mark Riley, I will make sure to announce on the air-waves that people can go to your blog and keep up with you.

    Mark, you have been my Radio Teacher. I felt that I had my “daily lesson” when I would listen to you every morning.
    Although, I did not call in regularly, I was so busy taking
    notes.

    Mark, I just wish that WWRL could have let your listeners give you your “proper good-byes.” That really hurts…. For that reason, I cannot forgive WWRL, for treating you and Jeff in such a careless manner. I will always have a bad taste in my mouth with respect to the way in which they JUST let you
    go.

    Please return to the air , Internet, or TV as soon as possible!!!!

    Your students need you. We have missed so many informative
    lessons.

    You can’t let us down….MARK RILEY

    Happy Holidays to you and your family
    Love ya,
    Peace
    Power to the People!!!!
    Dana from Montclair

  13. Mark
    I think I am one of your most veteran listeners. I started listening to you in 1969 at the King Center and Loeb. I followed you from WLIB to Air America to WWRL and your perspective has been appreciated. I feel at little lost as to how I will start my mornings. Your show provided so much information that needs to be decimated in our community. A real void has been created but I am sure that someone will seize this opportunity and continue the legacy of a inner city morning talk show. We really need it.

    Thank you Mark!

  14. I’m pissed off! Most of the radio programming on the FM stations here in Boston are voice-tracked! I can’t stand it! I used to listen to all the radio stations here in Boston, and they had personality and fun. I remember all the great DJs-Dale Dorman, Jess Cain, Carl DeSuze, Dave Maynard, Charles Laquidara, Mark Parenteau, Carter Allen, Juanita the Scene Queen-all of these are a part of my growing up with Boston radio. Now it sucks! All I listen to is on the internet or on the college radio stations that are still independent.

  15. According to Errol Lewis (www.nydailynews.com/opinion/killed-liberal-radio-star-article-1.1557670), progressive radio is gone from all parts of the US and the reason for it is that Clear Channel, owned by Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, has been allowed to go heavily into debt, has borrowed heavily and bought up all the progressive stations and turned them into right wing propaganda mills.

    You can still listen to progressive talk over the internet. I was able to find a station in Chicago — WCPT – (wcpt820.com).

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