Why The Radio Sucks…

January 5, 2008

Discussing The Downfall Of Radio

Let’s face it: terrestrial radio is going away. When exactly is
anybody’s guess, but it certainly seems inevitable. Listening to radio
on my commute to and from work, and while traveling to visit family,
I’ve grown to despise the radio almost. I always heard the “radio
sucks” comments and thought them myself, but I’ve always wondered what
the specific reasons were.

Over the last few weeks I’ve jotted down several notes to myself as
potential starting points for an article on the matter, and finally on
a six-hour drive from Virginia to New York, I decided on the first
subject to write about: repetitiveness. Not just repetitiveness of
Linkin Park and Three Days Grace over and over (which is annoying too),
but old songs from the 90s. I always thought Nirvana, Green Day, and
Bush were horribly overplayed in my area (DC area), and always
attributed it to just being my area. This last trip up the East Coast
revealed that it wasn’t just Maryland and Virginia, it was much larger.
How much larger would turn out to be a surprise.

This “study” is hardly scientific, but I feel it gets pretty close.
First, I picked 10 cities across the US, and if I didn’t already know
the big rock radio station there, I just Googled “city name
new rock radio station”. The list I came up with was WWDC – Washington,
DC; WXRK – New York, NY; KROQ – Los Angeles, CA; KDGE – Dallas, TX;
WZZN – Chicago, IL; KBPI – Denver, CO; WYSP – Philadelphia, PA; KISW –
Seattle, WA; WPLA – Jacksonville, FL; and WXZZ – Nashville, TN. After
assembling this list of stations, I then took each station’s top 100
most played songs for the week of December 28th to January 3rd and
compiled them into one long document, separated by station. In total, I
had a list of 1,000 songs.

When I started going through the list, I was almost in shock, and I
mean that honestly. I knew it was bad, but seeing my pen markings all
over the pages gave a visual indicator of just how bad it really was. I
started out by going through all 1,000 songs and circling each one that
was more than five years old. For those I was unsure of or was close to
five years, I looked it up online to make sure. The results? Well over
HALF of the top-100 most-played songs from the last week were over five
years old. On average, newer songs filled the top 25-35 spots, with the
older songs dominating the higher numbers with new songs scattered
about. A lot of those songs were over 10 years old, with of course
several older than that.

What I also noticed going through and circling songs was certain
names repeating over and over and over again. The number one most
played artist? Nirvana. I knew Nirvana would be the most played of the
older artists, but they won out overall as well. (Keep in mind that
when I say “most played”, I mean number of songs in the stations’ top
100. For example, Linkin Park may only have two songs in rotation on a
station, but those two songs are probably played 3:1 over any Nirvana
) Nirvana accounted for 4.2% of the 100 most-played tracks.
Interestingly, I was able to make a list of just 10 bands that
accounted for over 25% of the list! These 10 bands (in order of most
appearances) are Nirvana, Green Day, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam,
Smashing Pumpkins, Sublime, The Offspring, Bush, Alice in Chains, and
Soundgarden. (For those in the list that did have music that came out in the past five years, those songs were not counted.)

Another interesting (or disturbing) thing I noticed was the number
of oddball songs that made it as most-played. Artists like the Violent
Femmes, Harvey Danger, and The Verve. It’s okay to play these
one-hit-wonders every few months or something, but one of the 100
most-played? For shame. The Gorillaz and The Beastie Boys also ranked
high, and are they even really rock? Amy Winehouse? I digress…

So what happened? Did radio get stuck in the 90s? Are they catering
specifically to people in my age group that listened to these bands in
high school and/or college? Or is it that the program managers are that
age and can’t seem to realize that not everybody wants to hear these
bands that often? Whatever it is, it’s a trend that certainly is
leading to the demise of radio and ultimately the ability for new rock
artists to make anything resembling a living. With over 50% of the
most-played music on rock radio being older, and half of that being
just 10 bands, where is the room for all the new artists? And when I
say new artists, I mean the ones that are lucky enough to have a record
deal already. That’s not even counting the thousands, if not tens of
thousands, of rock bands that have yet to be signed. I could keep going
on and on with this, because with the less than half that make up
actual “new” or “modern” rock, you have competition amongst sub-genres
like emo, metal, hard rock, melodic rock, hardcore, etc.

So what is the answer? I honestly don’t know. One thing is certain
though, and that is that rock radio needs a major overhaul just to
start with. The first step needs to be sweeping out some of the dust. I
love(d) Nirvana and the like, and enjoy hearing them from time to time,
but it just gets old. With satellite radio, iPods, and the like moving
in on radio’s turf at full-speed, there may be nothing to save it at
this point. Next time you hear an older song on the radio, consider
calling up and saying something about it. Or send your station an email
asking them to rethink the balance of old and new.

We have put in an interview request with the programming manager of
one of the above-mentioned stations, so if he agrees to talk about it,
we’ll get his perspective. Leave your thoughts and ideas in the
comments. If you have a favorite or friendly DJ in your local area,
call them up, ask them to read this, and then let us know their
response and what they think.


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One comment

  1. I’ma keeping a list of my own ! I will not rest until the radio redeems itself’ I’m already in the works of starting my own radio station – Gilbert C

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