April 28, 2005

It's the end of the radio as we know it.

Here's a piece in the Washington Post about how people in Washington don't listen to talk radio much anymore. The station with Al Franken's show gets "less than 0.1 percent of the audience, too low to be counted," but the conservative stations are doing terribly too. Why?

I'd say people get tired of talking about politics all the time. And -- the article doesn't mention this -- the debate about Social Security was mind-numbing! Also, even though I'm especially interested in the topic, the subject of judges, religion, and the filibuster is really tiresome. What are the good topics? The other day Rush Limbaugh was going on for hours about ABC's exposé of "American Idol." He tried to tie it to all sorts of big themes about how journalism is left-wing and the left is all about character assassination, but it was a tiny topic and it seemed awfully silly to make such a big deal about it. So what if Paula slept with Corey? (Not saying she did, just that it doesn't matter.)

The New York Times has a piece about how rock music is failing on the radio:
Ratings for rock radio stations have been languishing for years. The share of the 18-to-34 age group that is tuning in to alternative stations has shrunk by more than 20 percent in the last five years, according to Arbitron, while stations playing rap and R&B or Spanish-language formats have enjoyed an expanding audience.

As a result, many rock programmers aren't sure what to play.

"The format in the last couple of years has gone through an identity crisis," said Kevin Weatherly, program director of KROQ, a closely watched alternative powerhouse in Los Angeles. "You have stations that are too cool, that move too quickly and are only playing the coolest music, which doesn't at the end of the day attract enough of the audience. Or you have the other extreme, dumb rock, red-state rock that the cool kids just flat out aren't into."

Well, this is why satellite radio is so good: you can have lots of niche rock channels.

Now, I've got to quote another paragraph:
Such scrambling to strike a balance has cost many alternative programmers large chunks of audience. Some radio executives said that they made a fateful choice in the last few years to jettison the pop-rock side of their genre to concentrate on heavier-sounding bands, and now are afraid to turn back. As part of that shift, many stations also decided to eliminate women from their audience research. These stations decided to aim at men almost exclusively because of the heavier sound. "You got yourself into a corner that you can't get out of," said Tom Calderone, senior vice president for music and talent at MTV, and a former radio programmer and consultant. "When you listen to alternative stations do their 90's flashback weekends, you can hear something as meaningful as Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden to something as silly and quirky as Harvey Danger and Presidents of the United States of America. When you become 65-75 percent guys, you're leaving a huge audience on the table."
I suppose I should lambaste them for programming to men, but in fact, I like niche-programming, so I have no problem with that. It's their problem. If you satisfy some listeners, you lose others. You can't please everyone, and putting together an interesting mix is an art. I just wanted to say "something as meaningful as Stone Temple Pilots"? "Something as meaningful as Stone Temple Pilots"? If we're looking back on Stone Temple Pilots as some Golden Age of Meaning... that's just sad.

UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking and making some additional connections between the two parts of this post. First, just as I said satellite radio beats broadcast radio, he's saying blogging beats talk radio. Lots and lots of channels. And second, he takes my "you can't please everyone, and putting together an interesting mix is an art" and applies it to blogging, answering (it seems) all the people who are always (apparently) telling him what he ought to be blogging about). They want him to blog more about politics, but he admits he's also bored by the political topics I said I found boring.


Unknown said...

This is the perfect opportunity for a plug! The best radio station in America (for all the weight my opinion carries) is Minnesota Public Radio's 89.3-The Current. Listen online (as I'm doing right now) at http://minnesota.publicradio.org/radio/services/thecurrent/

Pitchfork did a good review of MPR's shift into the hipster music market - http://pitchforkmedia.com/features/weekly/05-02-21-minnesota-becomes-eclectic.shtml

Anonymous said...

Or maybe the blogosphere is giving talk radio a great deal of competition. See Michelle Malkin and BizzyBlog.

Personally I think people have more on their daily plate that requires their full attention, and less leisure time for radio, or TV.

I can't blog and listen to the news without missing half of what is being said.

Deja Vu Trading Software said...

The downfall of rock was inevitable. I used to think that it was just elitism that caused me to dismiss today's bands as being subpar, but apparently, I'm not the only one. Rock channels either aren't finding cool bands to play, or there just aren't any cool bands out there (which is entirely possible). The record industry doesn't have a clue. Not to mention that recording quality today has become over-digitalized and over-Pro-Tooled, thereby stripping away any "real" sound to music. When rock was doing well, it was about live sound and experience - even on the albums. Now it all comes straight out of a can.

Crap. Crap. Crap.

Vertical Man said...

To understand what's happened to rock radio, simply listen to Chicago's WXRT-FM (93.1) When I left Madison for Chicago in 1983, 'XRT was the closest thing to a cool college station. Now it's corporate-owned, ad-intensive and, worst of all, boring. And it's a shame.

Pancho said...

I recently tried listening to an "oldies" station while motoring along but quickly remembered why I had given up on commercial radio. It's the commercials. Why listen to all that continual blather.

Ross said...

Well, speaking of niches, are there not female-friendly stations on the radio dial as well? Are they not, in all likelihood, owned by the same companies? I guess I don't get the problem.

Ann Althouse said...

Ross: the problem is that they don't have enough listeners for a viable commercial radio station. They can't please enough people to survive.

Allison said...

"The downfall of rock was inevitable."

Oh, c'mon. There are plenty of great bands out there. No, they aren't likely to be played on your average radio station (although they really ought to be), but that's what Sirius satellite radio is for (I personally love the "Left of Center" channel).

Vicky said...

After the tsunami disaster at the beginning of the year, the local alt-rock station in Houston had a "buy your request" fundraiser during the morning show. I don't remember the exact numbers, but it was like $10 for an in-format song, $25 for an out-of-format song, and $100 for anything not in their catalog, like a local band (bring your own CD). It was so successful they ran the drive all day. It was the best radio I'd heard in years. I just wish they would have paid attention to that stunning market research and kept playing some of the out-of-format gems.

Deja Vu Trading Software said...

Er, I stand corrected. What I meant to say was:

The marginalization of rock was inevitable.

You're right - good rock is hard to find, but it is out there.

Steven said...

Faced with the modern portable music player (e.g. iPod), is it any wonder radio is suffering? One can have literally thousands of songs, without commercial interruption, lame DJ chatter, or a single don't-like. If you get tired of a song, it's easy to remove from the player's playlist, but not easy to remove from the radio station.

HaloJonesFan said...

I don't agree that rock is marginalized, but I would agree that radio has been. The concept of online music sales and "long tail" databases means that you can take fifteen minutes and create a CD full of stuff you've never heard before, but is (at least) similar to other stuff you like.

In addition, radios are supported by music labels, which by definition means that non-label or small-label stuff won't appear. Not that non-label is inherently more worthy than big-label, but it does limit the range of music you're likely to hear. If you only ever listened to the radio, you'd think that heavy metal was a classic-rock genre...

ToddG said...

This might be getting too into it, but I wonder if the increase in R&B and Latin stations and decrease in "rock" and talk has any relation to financial status? i.e. those that can afford iPods and Sirius and such are going that way, so the broadcasters are trying to appeal to those still listening? (those who often can't afford a $300 walkman basically)

This does seem to match with some stats of who it is buying all those iPods and such. And sat-radio is obviously costlier than traditional.

pbjoshin said...

Dissing STP like that-

OOH, the hatemail your going to get........ :)

One thing I noticed at ALL the stations I pickup (general Rock/Alternative listener myself) about 2 years ago added Led zeppelin, Pink Floyd, etc, along with some Ramones and Clash and the like, and the occasional sprinkle of Big Hair rockers.

As if they bought their market research from the same guy. It was funny when my 60yo boss was playing the same station I was- he wandered the dial, found Floyd, and kept it there for a couple of days.

Then in the past year the 4 stations I get all filled into a niche', one getting more Rockish, one going for all alternative, and another covering both. The final station started playing more small local bands, but they all increased the new, local, lesser known bands.

Which is great for me :)

And I stopped listening to talk radio. Oh, I still tune in, but after the election, it simply isn't as exiting. I bet this is fairly normal, and I can talk to my liberal friends about politics again.

My biggest issue with talk radio is that they seem to have allot more commercials. Even just standard “trash talk” talk radio has, at least it feels like, 2-3 times the commercials. 90% of the time I tune in music, I find it. If not, I change the station. Rarely do I get two stations that are not playing music.

But talk radio seems to be full of commercials, and I have tripped through 3 stations often looking for one that just has content!

Is it just me? Or does talk radio have too many breaks?


Ross said...

Have you seen the financials for radio stations? There was a lot of talk about this when Clear Channel and the other giants went on their post-deregulation buying binges.

Perhaps there aren't enough listeners to return a 40 percent profit margin to the shareholders while paying off your acquisition debts. Cry me a river.