Tag Archives: death

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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Death Panel? What Death Panel?

So now Sarah Palin, private citizen, weighs in on healthcare via (what else?) Facebook.

She calls President Obama’s healthcare reform “downright evil”, and opines it will create a “death panel” that would determine who gets access to care. Death panel indeed! Where do they get this stuff from?

In this case, Palin’s fears about her son Trig and her parents have to do with a provision in the House healthcare reform bill that would provide VOLUNTARY end of life counseling to terminally ill patients. Somehow, and no one seems to be sure exactly how, that’s been turned into euthanasia, and medicine circa 1930s Germany (I’m not making this up).

So I guess this is what Palin means by trying to “effect change” from outside her elected office. Nice try. Combine Palin’s utter nonsense (and the attention it’s getting) with the disruption of town hall meetings on healthcare reform, and you have a small but vocal segment of the American body politic trying to impose its will on the rest of us.

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Their end game is to dilute reform to make it virtually unrecognizable from what we have now. Anything else, they bleat, like a public option or single payer puts us on the path to socialism. But what path does the current system put us on? Could it be something like Social Darwinism, where only the healthy survive?

Strip away all the rhetoric, and what leg do opponents of healthcare reform have to stand on? Put simply, they want no part of a system that affords the working poor access to quality care. If you make so little as to qualify under Medicaid, fine. If not, those geometric increases in the cost of health insurance premiums are on you, pal.

And who funds reform opponents? A guy named Rick Scott, the founder of “Conservatives for Patients Rights”. He also founded a hospital corporation that paid out $1.7 billion dollars to Uncle Sam for fraud. So let’s see now. We’ve got a group of vocal opponents of Obama’s healthcare plan who disrupt meetings at the behest of a failed governor and a medical fraudster. Nice.

I for one am still not ready to give up on single payer, universal care for all. I know people are saying it’s not politically feasible, people have said the same thing about other, equally worthy pieces of legislation. There’s something utterly galling about having the debate on this issue hijacked by the small, the petty, the misinformed, and the deliberately misleading.

As they say across the pond, death panel my arse. What do you think?

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Ever Think of your own Death?

The tragic death of music icon Michael Jackson at age 50 is for me the culmination of almost a week’s worth of contemplating life, and death.

It comes as I reflect on what one of my mentors told me once when  I off-handedly asked how he was doing. He replied, “You know, I used to go to lots of weddings. Now all I do is attend funerals. My friends are leaving me, one by one”. Michael Jackson is metaphor for people passing away before their time.

Like my mentor, my friends have been leaving me, one by one. In most cases, they are dying way too young. This was brought home to me by the picture below. It was taken almost 26 years ago. It’s a picture of a drum and bugle corps, the New York Skyliners.

skyliners_1983Look closely, and those of you who know me will see my smiling face. There are people in that picture that were some of my closest friends outside of family. After all, we marched together, laughed together, and yes, sometimes even fought with each other.

What struck me looking at that picture is that more than a dozen of those people are dead. Only one or two made it to age 60. Some died of heart attacks, including one who passed away two weeks ago. Several died of various forms of cancer. Suffice to say they fought their illness to the very end, with the dignity and strength that made our organization what it was. Another group died of complications from HIV-AIDS.

It’s in this context that Michael Jackson’s passing makes me so sad. He was, like so many of the Skyliners in that picture, younger than I am. Maybe it’s me, but I wonder how I made it this far, when so many others haven’t. What I’m about to write next is something I ordinarily wouldn’t share with people, because it’s so personal. It’s about a dream I had the other night.

In that dream, I was with a lot of the people that are in that Skyliners photo. We  were all laughing, joking, goofing just as we did in 1983. I was as happy as I could be, thinking those dozen or so people weren’t really dead, not gone from my life. I won’t bother with names, since few of you would know them if I did. But they were a colorful, integrated, wonderful bunch of people. I said to one of them, “Geez, it’s great you guys aren’t really dead”!

He turned to me and said, “No, man, we are dead. I guess you don’t realize, you’re dead too”. At that point I awoke with a start. I’d never dreamt of being dead before. I was lucky to have an understanding wife to help me try and make sense of it all. Yet in the days since the dream, others have passed away, including one young man of 42, who we would run into periodically at family gatherings. He died Tuesday, his heart stopped beating on a basketball court.

I could write here about the need for people to look after their health, about diet and exercise and the like. It would all be true. Then I look at that picture, look at myself smiling and seemingly care-free. I look at others, some laughing, some stoic, too many gone.

And then, I think of Michael Jackson. Do you?

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