From the Braver Institute
A few months back I was riding along in my car, scanning through the stations on the radio. My kid sister, Badger Annie, used to joke that her favorite station was the scan button on her radio since so much of what is on the airwaves these days sounds awful to her. I am inclined to agree, especially where I live. I spend more time scanning the radio than I do listening to it.
Anyway, I was scanning along when I came across a new radio station that played something close to my type of music. Really it wasn’t a new station, just a station (or frequency, more accurately speaking) that had changed formats. This station seemed to have a little bit of an attitude and that is something I can appreciate.
Once upon a time, radio stations had real, live disc jockeys sitting behind a microphone, spinning records on turntables in real time. The DJ lived, breathed, and walked amongst us. They were real people. They were our friends and neighbors and they could talk about things that were relevant to their listening audience at that very moment.
You could call up the radio station and talk to the DJ who was on the air at that very moment. Many of them took requests and if that song hadn’t been played recently, there was a good chance that the DJ would play it as long as it fit within the format of the station.
Of course there were stations with a playlist they had to follow, that a programming director with poor taste most likely put together. Frequently these were the “Top 40” music stations and they were kind of stuck playing whatever Casey Kasem said the hottest songs in the country were. They played a rotation of the current biggest sellers in the world of music. The trouble with these stations is that you could almost count on hearing the same song at the same time every day. I suppose that a Top 40 DJ could take requests knowing full and well that the listeners would be teenagers who wanted to hear the latest hits, and by default these songs would be coming up shortly. The DJ was a hero even if he had nothing to do with getting the song played.
Stations that were more album oriented were less likely to play the same music over and over again, and the DJs had a bit of latitude as to which music they played. One local station during its infancy had a rule that it would not repeat a song at all during a day. Once a song was played, it was done for 24 hours. Talk about hearing a very wide variety over the course of the day as a result of this policy. I was exposed to great music that I would have otherwise missed on a station that stuck to a rotation.
A good DJ would develop a style and knew just the right songs to play and in what order they should be played. Mixing in requests would help steer the show along.
Sadly those days are, for the most, part over. Sure, there are stations that have real, live DJs—I even have a couple of friends in this business—but much of what is on the radio these days is pre-recorded, even if the DJ is a real person at the local station
In their effort to compete with satellite radio and the internet, radio stations have had to cut costs wherever they can. It makes more economic sense to buy a program that is syndicated than it does to shell out the money to pay that DJ exclusively, since many stations help pay the cost of the production. The downside is that the program lacks the personal feel that comes with a living person sitting at the microphone in the studio.
At any rate, it was good to hear a station that sounded something like what I grew up with again so I took my radio off of scan and left it on this new station for a couple of weeks … until I started hearing the same OLD songs at the same time every day. From the start I knew that this was a syndicated satellite station with a DJ who had recorded his program hours or even days before and most likely didn’t even listen to the songs as they played, and instead just announced the songs like he was about to spin a record, with the songs added later by a computer, but I was hoping that this one would be different than the rest.
Oh well, back to scan.
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