A recent article written for the Future of Music Coalition left me with mixed feelings.
The Effects of Media Consolidation on Urban Radio by Eric K Arnold analyzes how the Telecommunications Act of 1996 has impacted “Urban Radio”. Don’t worry, I didn’t know what it was either. Here is the definition directly from Mr. Arnold’s article.
“Generally speaking, urban radio is defined as programming whose primary demographic targets people of color living in urban areas.”
He sums up the ‘effect’ in the first paragraph of the article:
“Let’s cut to the chase: urban radio sucks. You know it, artists know it, and programmers know it too. It offers little room for creative programming, tends to favor established artists at the expense of new voices, and kills any halfway-decent song that does manage to land in rotation by playing it as much as three times an hour. Most of all, urban radio sucks because it rarely meets the needs of the local community from which its listeners are drawn. “
I agree wholeheartedly with all of this, *BUT* try this simple test: Reread the quote and replace the words “urban radio” with your own favorite genre of music. Country? Metal? Adult Urban Contemporary? It doesn’t change the truth of the quote, does it?
The bigger truth is that All Terrestrial Radio Sucks, for the exact same reasons. The problem isn’t limited to Urban Radio.
Mr. Arnold mentions several things that YOU CAN DO to make things better. One thing he doesn’t mention is to grow some balls and not sell out if you are running a radio station. This is a part of the problem that cannot be overlooked. The stations that “cared about the needs of the local community” and used to “play local music” are gone because the owners sold off to the large corporates, or they sold out and started playing what everyone else was playing, to get a piece of that pie. Either way, they had the option to continue playing independent music BUT THEY CHOSE NOT TO.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 made it possible for large corporate radio stations to make buyout offers to the smaller independent stations, but it did not force any of them to sell out. The owners and operators who sold out are just as guilty as the government for what happened. You can look them up in the phone book and ask them why they didn’t stand up for [fill in the genre] radio.
Another thing you can do is open a radio station that plays local music. Then, when the big media moguls come around and offer you a fat wad of cash for your radio station, you can see what it’s like to be in their shoes, and see what kind of decision you would make.