Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Say What?

The New York Times reports on a brilliant new idea from the bosses at CBS Radio... Let's try this: when the DJ's go on the air after a song has played, let's have them tell the listeners the name of the song and who performed it. And then they can announce the next song. Whaddya say, gang? It's just crazy enough to work.

Dan Mason of CBS Radio explains that at some point during the 1980's it was decided that announcing the songs was "clutter," unwanted talk that caused listeners to reach for the tuner. My guess is it was a byproduct of the MTV/VH1 age (remember when they played music, back in, back in, nineteen eighty-five) where the VeeJays didn't have to announce the song because there was a graphic on the screen doing that for them. Of course, by the mid-80's the profession of VeeJay had quickly deteriorated into being a mousse-haired ditz, and the radio waves were already filling up with youngsters trying to audition for that gig. It's hard to be a video jock on the radio because you don't have "the look" to back you up. You actually have to know what you're talking about. It's around this time when acts like The Clash, Sting/The Police, REM, U2, Don Henley... musicians who played instruments and provoked thought... were pushed aside by acts such as The Beastie Boys. Meanwhile, more seasoned jocks found themselves wondering why they even bothered to drive in to work. When "Here's the new one from Madonna" gets you a wrist slap for "clutter" a shift at Taco Bell starts to look more enticing.

The 21st century trend in voice tracking - mp3 filing your out-of-town DJ's into your local playlist log - hasn't helped. Many jocks don't have to sit through the songs they're not announcing. Why should they back sell a song? They don't even listen to the station. They don't even have to listen to radio, which is quite apparent when you hear some of the breaks they record. Suggest to a morning show host that he actually give the time and temperature, and maybe a quick forecast, and you'll get the deer in headlights look.

Which is why the CBS decree, and the fact that they made it public, is a faint flicker of hope for radio. It recognizes that air talent actually serves a purpose, even if it's only at the utilitarian level. Perhaps the idea that a DJ can be a personality to whom the listener can relate and trust will eventually follow. Maybe the idea that personalities who, given the right direction and allowed to stop tweeting and texting and not prodded into useless remotes at bars and tattoo shops, but instead encouraged to prepare their next show and even think about what they want to say can actually drive listeners to their station. It's a radical idea, I know. But it just might happen.

But first, we gotta teach these kids about ID, title, artist. We gotta teach them to mirror the music: after the last note of "Arms of an Angel" don't burst in like you're the emcee at an ultimate fighting match. Don't mention "American Idol" every time you crack the mic, and please learn how to pronounce the artists names.

In other words, don't blow this, guys. We're actually making progress.


Greg Oen said...

I'll agree with you to a point. It's good to know the artist and song, but I don't need the guy's life story. I prefere a block of several songs and then say what was played (in reverse order).

Steve said...

With respect to the various hosts, nation-wide syndicated shows and countdowns are the worst for that, in my opinion. I like Alice Cooper, and I like some of what he has to say, but he can ramble at times. A good producer could help him with that.