Tuesday, September 19, 2006

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Time to pick up a few odds and ends that have been piling up around here.

Horse Gone, Barn Door Shut:
If you've been to a sporting event in the last 15 years, you have certainly heard Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part 2." It's played after touchdowns at football games, where marching bands play it and students sing obscene lyrics to it; it's played after goals at hockey games; it's become the ultimate jock-rock anthem. But this year, the National Football League has banned it. Last spring, Glitter was jailed in Vietnam on child-porn charges. And so the ever-image-conscious NFL has asked its teams not to play the song in their stadiums anymore. Two things: First, Glitter was jailed in Britain on child-porn charges in 1999. Why the NFL didn't ban "Rock and Roll Part 2" then, I have no idea. Second, I have doubts as to whether Glitter is even receiving royalties from the song anymore. It could have been worse for Glitter with the NFL, I suppose: He could have inadvertently exposed a breast.

Radio Woe: A reader sent along a link to a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel column about "radio's cloudy future." It seems that Clear Channel is planning to sell some of its stations, that listenership across the board is down from five years ago, and that even satellite radio is having its problems. Not only that: HD radio, terrestrial radio's supposed savior, is unknown to more than half the population. Clear Channel's plans to sell stations doesn't indicate much to me, though. Their mission is solely to make money, and if they can make more of it by selling stations than by keeping them, they'll do it. That's more business-cycle than anything else. The other stuff is more interesting to speculate about. Arresting the decline in listenership may be impossible in an iPod and Internet world. Why listen to what Steely Dan described as "somebody else's favorite songs" when you can listen to your own? A station might succeed if it can give people something they can't get anywhere else, but that's a lot harder than it used to be, now that the competition is not just coming from a station's home market but from around the world. (Satellite radio has the right idea in that regard--Howard Stern is Exhibit A; shows hosted by the likes of Bob Dylan and Tom Petty are close behind.)

So radio is off the radar for millions of people--it's something they used to listen to, but not any more. And there are children of school age now, the iPod generation, who may never have listened to radio. How do you lure 'em back? At best, satellite radio is ultimately going to end up like premium cable. It will never have the penetration of basic cable, because there will always be people who won't or can't pay for it. That said, it is likely to become to radio what HBO is to TV--the real art of the medium is going to be made there, even as it becomes rarer and rarer on the free version of the medium. That may attract some members of the iPod generation, but will it be enough? And as for HD radio, I've written about this before--for a lot of station owners, it's going to exacerbate a problem they already have--too many signals in a market slivering the audience. And as long as it requires special hardware to pick it up, it's likely to remain a geek thing--for the next several years at least. During those years, radio's relevance to a lot of people is likely to erode still further.

Tune of the Day: Since I haven't put any music on yet this morning, this is actually the Tune of Yesterday, but it's a good one. "You Can't Always Get What You Want" is the last track on the Rolling Stones' Let it Bleed, a dark and disturbing album that alternates images of violence and death ("Gimme Shelter" and "Midnight Rambler") with drug-fueled bouts of dementia ("Country Honk" and "Monkey Man"). But it ends gloriously, and if there's a more exciting stretch in the Stones' catalog than the last couple minutes of this, where the Stones chase the record's choir of angels out of the building, I can't think of it.


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