It used to be that listening to the radio was a learning experience as well as a musical one. The voice on the other side of the radio speaker would play the songs, take requests, and talk about the music. A perfect example of this is Casey Kasem whose Shaggy-type voice (he voiced Shaggy in the Scooby Doo cartoons) not only told listeners what number a particular song was at but something about the band behind it. Perhaps it would be where the band started out, or other hits they had. It was unintrusive, informative and enjoyable. Re-runs of Casey’s American Top 40 shows from the 70s and 80s can be found playing around the world. DJ’s (disc jockeys before they became abbreviated) were well loved friends of the listeners. They cultivated a bond with their knowledge and the music they played.
It seems that modern music has moved dramatically away from this and rather than having a friend to listen to, it seems to be the group of drunk idiots in the corner of the bar who are talking too loud and who seem to think that they are more important than anything else. When did hosting a radio show require more than one person? As music has moved from LPs and singles to CDs and finally digital, the physical amount of work required by a DJ has reduced dramatically. It can be difficult to turn the dial (old radios used to have dials rather than buttons and digital receivers) and find a radio show that doesn’t have two or three ‘cool’ people talking about themselves, cracking jokes, pulling pranks and seemingly doing everything but focusing on the music.
Perhaps one of the reasons why radio shows all appear to be cut from the same cloth is that most radio stations are owned by just a handful of media companies. Astral Media, Corus Entertainment, Rogers Media and Bell Media are four of the biggest and between them own well over 100 FM radio stations. These media giants aren’t interested in traditions, rather the bottom line. Someone, probably a highly paid consultant, came across a format that appeared to be popular and which would attract those almighty advertising dollars. It was obviously successful as the format can be found all over the country. It is such a well like format that not only are the radio shows similar in style but the names of the radio stations follow a trend that can only be described as lazy.
If you turn to 103.2 in London, you get Bob FM. If you turn to 103.7 in Brockville, you get a different Bob FM. There are other Bobs in Kawartha Lakes, Ottawa, and Winnipeg. Bell Media obviously like the name Bob FM, or Bob is the boss at Bell? Strangely enough, Bell are not the only ones to name a radio station after someone. Dave has his radio station owned by Corus Entertainment, and Rogers Media like Jack as he has four stations. Do companies lose IQ points the more stations they own?
Even if there isn’t someone with a cool, one syllable name hanging around the station, there are still tried and trusted titles that appear in more than one place. The Wolf, the Bear, the Fox and the Big Dog all must be pets of someone. The Farm must be owned by someone who loves nature, as must the owners of the River, the Peak, the Mountain and the Ocean. There must have been a comic book lying around when someone decided on names like Boom, Kool and Sonic, and when laziness just overtakes the naming process, resort to lazy spelling and name half your stations some form of EZ Rock.
If the branding power behind radio stations are this unimaginative, it is small wonder that the shows they play are just as unimaginative. If you are forced to listen to a station five days a week you will soon notice trends in the music that is played in-between the witty banter from the stars, or rather the so-called DJs. Some stations are actually so lazy that they have been known to play the same artist at the same time every day, singing a different song. There is clearly something wrong when you can set your watch by the sound of Meatloaf.
It is sad to say that this trend towards packaged glitz rather than music and substance is only a mirror of what has happened elsewhere. On August 1st, 1981, the first song played on a brand new television music channel named MTV was The Buggles ‘Video killed the radio star’. It is rather ironic that three decades later, that song has come true. It is truly sad that a channel called Music TV now seemingly shows more reality TV than that TLC (The Learning Channel remember?). Traditional radio may soon follow the original radio stars, leaving only paper thin characters playing a role rather than playing the hits.