Station Seeks Goldmine, Listeners Get Shaft
There's been lots of stuff piling up in my inbox for over a week, so now's the time to clear it out.
A reader sent along the link to a Los Angeles Times story about the demise of the last country station in the L.A. market, KZLA, which went to "beat-heavy R&B and dance tunes" last Thursday. Several major markets are without country stations now, especially on the coasts. KZLA got caught in Southern California's demographic switches. Do the math: According to an executive at KZLA's parent company, Emmis Communications, the market is now about 40 percent Hispanic, 11 percent Asian, and eight percent black. Country listeners, meanwhile, are about 98 percent Caucasian.
And some of those people are pissed. One woman quoted in the story said, "I think it's racist. This is becoming a nation of minorities. I'm not going to turn on my radio anymore. Country music promotes patriotism and family values, and they've replaced it with something that just promotes money and hate." You'd be hard-pressed to find four sentences that better encapsulate our current culture wars. You've got A) a white person claiming to be the victim of racism; B) the demonstrably correct statement that the country is becoming a nation of minorities, but made with the conviction that the situation is highly regrettable; C) the insistence that country music is a bastion of "patriotism and family values"--as if non-whites are incapable of either being patriotic or valuing their families; and D) the insistence, likely without having heard note one of it, that beat-heavy R&B and dance tunes automatically promote materialism and hatred. That part is true, to a point: some R&B/dance songs do indeed promote values that run counter to what many people believe in--just as some country songs glorify alcohol, adultery, and anti-intellectualism, which runs counter to the values of others.
But the fact is that radio companies aren't stupid where the opportunity to make wheelbarrows full of cash is concerned. (They're often stupid in other ways, but not that one.) The country-music industry executives who are predictably bemoaning the decision know, behind their public faces of disappointment, that if country can be profitable in Los Angeles (or New York, or San Francisco, or anywhere else), somebody will figure out how to do it. If country radio is dead in major coastal markets, it's for good reasons. It surely isn't because the executives at Emmis Communications hate white people. And the country execs are weeping crocodile tears anyhow--as the article notes, 2006 so far has been one of the best years ever for sales of country music. Its fans are finding it--and they will continue to do so.
On another subject: A friend of mine, long out of radio himself, responded to my statement a while back that I find being on the air in the year 2006 like riding a bicycle, but that the bicycle is more technologically advanced than the one I learned on. He reminds me just how complicated it was being a combo announcer/engineer back in the day--there were pots, meters, cart machines, turntables, and reel-to-reel racks to mess with, plus a program log to follow and meter readings to take. And yeah, that's a far cry from point and click--although we've still got pots to play with.
And finally: Doing research for my radio show a while back, I found an interesting site called Acclaimed Music, which purports to be a sort of meta-critic site, compiling the opinions of many music critics into consensus lists of the most acclaimed albums and artists in various years, and for all time. There's plenty of interesting clicking to be done there. During the same bout of research, the mysterious hand of Google brought me to Up the Downstair, a music site based right here in Madison that features a regular podcast and posts on "live music from divers artistes." Recent editions have featured prog rock, Madeline Peyroux, and surf guitar--which is sho-nuff diverse.
(A version of this post is at Best of the Blogs.)