Clear Channel Has It Right

You heard me!

Whenever folks get in front of an FCC panel to rant about the state of radio, invariably someone gets upset about the lack of independent music on major market radio playlists.

We should be upset about radio consolidation, sure. But not because of music. We should be upset about radio consolidation because it robs us of tomorrow’s storytellers. You only get good at doing radio by DOING radio, and with fewer places to practice, we’re in for a bland future on the dial.

As for music radio, I stick by what I wrote in Grow Your Band’s Audience. Radio can’t break independent artists. It simply can’t afford to. And it’s not what it was built for. Radio is — by its technical design — built for huge audiences. You can’t get a huge audience to agree on anything they haven’t heard dozens of times. So any attempt to slide new stuff onto the radio will only work when it’s sandwiched among super-familiar stuff.

Only a handful of stations in America — WXPN (my alma mater), KPIG, and 99X, to name a few — actually have the power to “break” a song. Even then, it’s not a spontaneous pull from the slush pile. It’s a spark that starts far out in advance, with a dedicated program director like Bruce or Leslie or Nicole who’s willing to trail an artist like Damien Rice to “see where this goes.”

And yet, these stations only exist because of tolerant owners or direct support from their audiences. Airwaves are free but towers ain’t cheap. We raised about $15 million in funds in the eight years I worked at XPN, and held our breath to make budget every year.

Radio is not where Americans are getting their doses of new music. They learn about that from their friends, their inner circle. Radio REINFORCES decisions they have already made. It’s time for the independent music community to make peace with that, mourn what was, and move along to what really works.