Jim Walsh's Big Hairy Weblog Thingy

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Medium Ain't Always The Message

In the fifties, young people listened for hours on end to barely audible, far-away AM stations to hear exciting new sounds from folks like Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry...

In the sixties, listeners tolerated the drifting and multi-path problems (a serious issue in hilly areas like, say, San Francisco) to embrace a newer, hipper, more politically aware brand of rock and roll radio on small-signal FMs...

In the eighties, listeners willingly sat through ten-minute spot breaks to hear what "How-weird" and his motley gang would say next...

In the nineties, listeners turned back to AM, crackly, staticky AM, to hear a guy with a funny Dutch name give voice to their frustrations...

Radio ain't nothing but a means of conveying the message. Give 'em a message they want and they'll go through hell to hear it.

It's that simple.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Why Radio Sucks

Wired reporter Brendan Koerner, with a little help from Reason’s Jesse Walker, have given us an excellent summary of what’s gone wrong with radio in the twenty-first century. The passage I keep coming back to is this one:

…when corporations like Clear Channel started buying up stations in the late '90s, they set about building a lowest-common-denominator product that would be attractive to the most listeners. "There's this idea of the perfect playlist," Walker says. "Find it with research and attract the perfect audience." But it turns out that the most lucrative audience is really just "people who will not change the channel during the ads." The result: watered-down programming designed primarily not to offend.

(This applies to talk radio as well; go here for the talk version of all Fergie all the time…)

As a long-time radio broadcaster, I can say that these comments are a refreshing departure from the bellyaching I usually hear inside the industry about how "deregulation ruined radio." I've been in the biz for thirty years and can tell you it wasn't exactly an idyllic wonderland before Telecom '96. Returning to the "good ol' days" of heavy regulation won't fix a damn thing, though I fear that's ultimately what we're gonna get...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Jerry Del Colliano has printed a list of radio stock losses (prior to this week’s roller-coaster ride on Wall Street) that shows an industry not so much in recession as in a state of near-total collapse.

The moment of truth is at hand, folks: radio will either roll over and die or it will spring back.

The bad news: the economy in general is headed south.

The good news: for the biz to rebound wouldn't really take that much: just a handful of visionaries in key positions to get the ball rolling.

By the end of the year, if not sooner, we should know.

In the meantime, if you're in the biz ask yourself: are you part of the solution or part of the problem...

Harpies I Have Known, or: Why I Don't Think "Malcolm In The Middle" Is Funny

I'm in my fifties, a long way from high school, yet when I heard the tape of this woman, it took me right back to my childhood, and memories of being bullied by teachers, administrators and just plain old sociopathic adults in the neighborhood. Embarassed? She should be ashamed to show her face in public (and her poor husband needs to take serious stock of his marriage). Kudos to Dave Kori for taking a stand.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Give 'Em What They Want...

I had to laugh today listening to some lameass journeyman talk host on (the otherwise highly recommended) XM radio who was ranting about immigration, despite the fact that, as he himself admitted, the issue is pretty much dead as compared to a year ago.

Not that that stopped him: "As far as I'm concerned, it's even a bigger issue than last year..."

In other words, screw what the listeners care about...this is what they should care about...

And people wonder why the industry is in the toilet...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Jimbo's Birthday Address to The Nation

Some thoughts on the age issue (as it pertains to my chosen field, personality-based radio):

-Bein' old ain't what it used to be;someone who is sixty now was a teenager when the Beatles came out.

-As the boomers get older, we need to get away from the stereotype of "geezers sitting at home in their underwear." Think of those commercials with Dennis Hopper talking about retirement...

-The fifty- and sixtysomethings have spending power...

-Too many programmers still think that programming 35+ means doing "geezer"...

-Too many hosts still employ the old-line "talk radio" paradigm that assumes the target listener is sitting at home listening to the radio because they have nothing better to do. KISS O' DEATH, baby!

-I turned fifty-two today (happy birthday to meeeeee); my wife is just a couple of years behind me. We still like to get out and boogie. You hosts and talk programmers out there in cybermessageboardland need to think of your target demo more in terms of "old fogeys" like us.

(An exception is made here to folks like Peter Thiele, Jay Marvin, Dale Jackson, Kevin Fennessy, Tommy Kramer, Jay Sorensen, and all the others who I know are doin' it right. The rest of you know who you are...or do you? )

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Primary Colors

Don Watson, an ex-talk host and a very nice man, has penned several excellent posts at his site on the squawk radio community and their godawful “coverage” of the New Hampshire Primary. Unfortunately I fear it will all fall on deaf ears - no doubt we in the biz will open the trades next month to the usual series of puff pieces about the "great job" done by the talkers at hand, yadda yadda yadda...

Something else came to mind: many years ago a program director I worked for offered the following: "I believe in going against the grain. If I were programming in Madison, Wisconsin I'd hire an arch-conservative for the prime slot; in Memphis, I'd hire a liberal. Going against the predominant sentiment makes for more interesting radio."

Works for me...wonder how often it's been tried in recent years...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Same Old Lang Syne

Here's an electrifying, blow-by-blow account of what I did on New Year's Eve:

6:00PM: Took my wife out for Chinese food. The sesame chicken was pretty good.

7:00PM: Stopped at the place where we rang in 2007, to see if the same guy would be playing there this year. He wasn't, so we didn't stay.

7:15PM: Drove through Starbuck's for hot chocolate.

7:30PM: Drove by Barnes & Noble...alas, they were closed.

7:35PM: Hit The Bistro, one of our favorite local watering holes. I had one drink, my wife had two.

8:00PM: Went the hell home, channel-surfed until 11:55PM, watched the ball come down at midnight, our time (via one hour tape-delay on CNN). Drank some cheap champagne (it was kinda vinegary), went to bed.

All in all, a very satisfying New Year's Eve. Mostly, I'm thankful the holiday season is over, and we can all get on with our lives.