If you drove across the country today, the station you’d listen to might be coming from your cell phone and you would never have to change the station.
If you listened to terrestrial radio, stations would fade as you left their broadcast area and you would change to local stations as you passed from city to city. Since all of those stations are all owned by the same few corporations you would be listening to the same set of songs all day - no matter where you travel. Not much variety at all!
It wasn’t always like that.
There was a time before computers and huge media conglomerates when someone could drive across the country and tune in local radio stations that mainly played local artists from local studios/record companies.
Each studio and geographic area had a its own sound and style. Those studios usually had a relationship with the local radio stations and would get local hit records.
When a song became a hit, that hit being played daily would help the artist sell records and sell out local shows. Soon artists could be playing in a nearby town after the next town and it’s station picked up on that artist’s local success. That is how people like Chuck Berry, Elvis and Johnny Cash built their careers.
Those magical days of local flavor have mostly vanished because the corporations have made a formula of radio and one program director in New York City may make the playlist for stations the company owns across the country. Not very exciting, is it?
Well, the times are a changin’ and it’s very exciting!
AM radio is dying as a generation of listeners turns to other media to be entertained. Ratings drive the cost of advertising and less and less people are buying ads since there is no one listening. It’s gotten so cheap that weekend broadcasts are made up entirely of paid programming - people selling products via ads that are disguised as radio shows.
FM is in trouble too. Media companies in the U.S. bit off more than they could chew back in the 90s when they went on station buying sprees and now the bill is coming due.
For instance, iHeart Radio (which used to be Clear Channel) is being asked to pony up $6 billion by investors, and that's not easy for a company that's projected to lose $80 million this year.
So, why do I feel fine?
Because this is good news for the local artists. The very bean counters that ruined radio with homogenized playlists and an apathetic approach to programming will be the ones to call for the corporations to get out of the radio business since it stopped making them money. They were only in it for the money in the first place.
The cost of these stations will drop and local investors who are passionate about music may have a way to get back into the radio biz. These stations will need to offer an alternative to what people can get via streaming internet station. They will also have no rules!
So, this is where we get back to the local acts being played and supported. The stations will go back to being community oriented, serving the area from which they are broadcasting.
Hopefully, these station owners and their DJs will nurture relationships with the local music clubs and recording studios and artists. If that happens, you will see a revival of that old magical model from which rock’n’roll was birthed in the 1950s.
I recommend you get back to writing and recording that music you were thinking about so you’ll be ready for the new/old radio model. Once you start getting local airplay and selling out local clubs, the next town over may hear about you and start playing your music too!