Tag Archives: CBS

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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David Letterman in Trouble? Probably Not!

So America’s snarkiest talk show host has now become the butt of other host’s jokes. I guess turnabout is fair play.

David Letterman has had to admit he bedded down an unknown number of female staffers. He came clean largely because he was the target of an alleged $2 million dollar extortion scheme concocted by Robert “Joe” Halderman, a producer at CBS. He ought to win an award for dumbest scheme in the history of criminality (if convicted, of course). It ought to be real interesting to be a part of Letterman’s studio audience as he tapes two episodes of his program Monday here in New York.

David Letterman
David Letterman

After all, he did get out in front of this whole thing on his program last week. Smart move. Now speculation centers on just who he slept with, when, and whether all this will have a lasting impact on his show and career. Trust me, the morality (or lack of same), judgment, or even policy standards David Letterman may have violated probably won’t make much of a difference in the end.

It’s commerce, people. If CBS sees a sharp drop in advertising revenue on the Letterman show because of his actions, they’ll take action against him. Otherwise, they won’t. Rest assured lots of Americans will be watching over the next few nights to see how he handles himself. Higher ratings usually mean higher revenue, which is why the cynic in me says Letterman’s home free no matter how many staffers he had sex with.

I had an on air discussion about Letterman the other night, and the question was raised whether media coverage of this affair has been overly sympathetic to him. Voyeuristic might better describe it, but it’s a legitimate question to be asked. Is the media treating this as no big deal because some of the suits making the decisions may have nailed a few interns of their own? Don’t think for a minute Letterman is unique.

And don’t think his portrayal as a benevolent stud besieged by wenches who can’t help themselves is an accident either. Mind you, not all media is guilty of this. Still, I bet you opinion in lots of newsrooms is split sharply along gender lines. And of course, there’s the 800 pound gorilla in the room.

Did any of the staffers who slept with David Letterman receive promotions, perks, or other advantages over colleagues who didn’t hop in the sack with the boss? In case people have forgotten, that’s the main reason why these things are frowned on in the first place. Maybe the shoe on that one has yet to drop.

Still, don’t shed any tears for David Letterman. My guess is he moves right along, with minimal damage to his career or legacy. After all, they laughed and applauded last week when he revealed this stuff, didn’t they?

Or am I wrong. Is David Letterman in trouble? You tell me.

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