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.
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.
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?