I've been on the road on a listening tour of the radio business and here are my preliminary findings:
Carrie Underwood is singing Before He Cheats which is a huge hit for the sexy broad but the more I hear it the more I am offended by it.
"That I dug my key into the side of his pretty little souped up 4 wheel drive,
Carved my name into his leather seats...
I took a Louisville slugger to both headlights,
Slashed a hole in all 4 tires...
Maybe next time he'll think before he cheats."
I'm put off by the woman's rush to vandalism. Is that called for? All he did was date someone that was not you. Not a pleasant thing, but what did Carrie Underwood do to make him search for loving elsewhere? We are not told.
Carving her name into the leather seats was a poor move in my opinion, and I'd like to hear the follow-up song, "Before She Pleads," detailing how she was jilted by a lesbian in jail while awaiting arraignment on vandalism charges.
The problem with these songs is that there are millions of angry women out there who hear them and whisper "you go girl" under their breath as they mini-van around town with your sugar-buzzed kids driving them nuts, and they get this deranged scenario in their heads that while they're dealing with the kids, you're having a holiday picnic complete with sack races at work. That's why when you come home and she's fishing for a fight, she's likely heard Carrie Underwood sing the prophylactic virtues of crazy.
I think it's a poor choice of song for Miss Underwood who is pretty and sweet and more suited to singing songs about single moms praying to Jesus to drive them to her parents house because she's not good in snow. Before He Cheats is good song, but more suited to that goofy looking Reba McIntire, redneck chick Gretchen Wilson, or some country music she-beast like that who you could see not only getting ditched for a hotter model, but also losing her mind and destroying property as well.
Bucky Covington is another one. He has this single out about what it was like growing up in the 50s but I don't think he's any older than 28. So who is he to say how the good old days were better?
I'm not naive. if you write Before He Cheats, and Carrie Underwood wants to record it, you'd have to be crazy to say no to the cash it's sure to bring in just because it's not a good artistic fit. I'm just saying to all those greedy starving songwriters, it's annoying to listen to.
I have to pee in Spartanburg, so I stop at a gas station in which no toilet is available.
"Ya gotta go over to the Waffle House," says the attendant.
"You don't have a restroom?"
"Naw. They's broken. Gotta go to the Waffle House." Sounds like a scam to sell waffles to me.
Stupid question on my part because it gives him the opportunity to launch into a spiel about how the development has overwhelmed the sewer system in that town and how the zoning laws need to be changed, ad infinitum, which doesn't explain why the Waffle House next door has working toilets.
I don't have the time to hear a dissertation on smart growth and urban land use from the overnight Kangaroo attendant. So it's onto the BP a mile down the road. Thank god for the soothing voice of Gail Garmin coming to me live on the Nuvi 350 to guide me.
There I find working toilets, but they are occupied by an 8 and a 10 year old with colored Mohawks. Whoa, mom and dad, whoa! How is this going to help them gain a foothold in civil society? I'm going to write a song about these kids. Mohawk Gypsies in the Night...give it a flamenco, Chris Isaak, Doors feel with lots of Munsters-style bass. It'll be a hit, but only if i can get Baltimora to sing it. I don't want look stupid by selling it to the wrong artist.
Back in the car and scan again and the Delilah Show is on one of her 2 million affiliates. Delilah is very soothing, and I like soothing at night. I appreciate her soothing company in the car. Past 9pm I'm the kind of person that doesn't mind a little Air Supply in the car, but that doesn't mean I like a little sperm supply in the trunk. Get that straight.
I'm hearing a long distance dedication from a 32-year old likely virgin network technician with Asperger's whose speech patterns are similar to Harvey Pekar's friend. Just the Two of Us is his dedication song and I get the feeling it's going out to a woman who has no idea he exists. But that's what radio is for; to be our portable friends who hold up a mirror to our hopes and dreams.
Scan to AM to catch the Braves circle the drain as predicted in these blogs some months ago. A news story comes on about how Nike is making shoes specifically tailored to the Native American foot which are alleged to be different from other races according to the report.
I was unaware that Indians had no access to comfortable sport footwear or that their feet are that much different from my own. Thank god for radio news. My concern is do we really want to open up that discussion in these hyper-sensitive times about the physiological differences amongst the various races?
We've been down this road with Jimmy The Drunk Snyder, and Al Campanis. Nobody was happy with the outcome. Don't get me wrong. There are significant physiological differences amongst the various ethnic groups, but it's just that there are few people capable of mulling the topic and it's implications without someone getting uncomfortable and keying cars.
Now, a commercial for some local cut rate supermarket that serves the sub-Winn Dixie crowd. Bologna is on sale and the store owner who does his own spots pronounces it "ba loan a" as it reads instead of "baloney" as normal, non-shithead people would say it. It's only "ba loan a" when you're talking about the town in italy or Renee Taylor's husband.
Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls" comes on for the 3rd time this trip. I like the song immensely. It reminds of a time when that pain in the ass ingrate Harry Belafonte kept his ludicrous opinions to himself and entertained with pleasant Carribean-tinged melodies.
Scan to something called Charlie FM. I'll say this for Charlie FM. They will never make the mistake of playing Fleetwood Mac after Nick Gilder. Not like that moron Tony FM.
This is a symptom of the larger disease that is rapidly metastasizing into the lymph nodes of the patient called terrestrial radio. What a ridiculous business model. Talent is an asset, not a cost, people. If you want to be in the audio entertainment distribution business past 2012, may I strongly suggest to some analog transmitter owners to put down the free Heinekin at the trade show, and start looking for humans who can build franchises that the masses want, in order to save your enterprise. I should point out that labeling something with an abstract concept is not the same as having a genuine product with real human attributes that create customer loyalty for generations.
You would think that if they were going to go out in this fashion, they would at least put some imagination into the label by having a Disco Stu FM or, in the case of the local Dave FM, at least hire DJs named Dave. People often ask if i'll ever do mornings at Dave FM, and the answer is no, because my name is Larry.
Tell ya what, when I get home, I'm going to the local courthouse and get the forms to change my name to Larry FM. If anybody wants to name their station Larry FM, they'll have to clear it through me. And that'll be rough seeing as how I have some very particular ideas about how Larry FM should sound, and the cost of the rabbi alone to convert the station to Judiasm borders on the obscene.I don't want my name getting hijacked by a monotonous music loop trying to be everyone's Ipod. Nip this problem in the Bud FM.
Scan to a station on the left wing side of the dial playing some beautiful hymnal music. It's well after 11pm now and I'm really looking to relax. The music is so relaxing and inspiring that I'm narcotized by it to the point that I give no mind to four Red Bull and deadline-crazed FedEx semis who speed rape my car as they pass me with ill-regard, or that I'm listening to songs about Jesus on the wildly holy Jewish day of Sukkot.
I've decided that this is the music I want to die to. I don't know what the chances are of one being able to choose the music they hear when they die. It seems to me that window is very slim. But if I do find myself fortunate enough to set my demise to some kind of music, this would be the music I'll be selecting. I'll buy a DiePod and drift off.
Then the scan button finds the local rap station which features more than a few fellas who could use a good dose of Jesus in their lives if you ask me. From what I can decipher of the melody-free grunting, all these hooligans want is to find some money or to take some money or to spend some money. Rappers are the greediest sons a bitches you'd ever want to meet. If I'm wrong and there is a rap song about earning or investing money, send it along.
The listening portion of my research completed, I arrive at my hotel room that smells slightly like throw up. It's sufficiently masked by a spray disinfectant but it doesn't completely conceal the fact that something once went wrong in this hotel room. Then again, I don't think it's possible to be in a hotel room anywhere where nothing unpleasant has ever happened in it. Too many people out there, myself included, don't take rented property as seriously as their own, and thus feel liberated in doing their fluid letting, binge drinking, gun play and gratuitous mutilation of coeds while in the confines of temporary quarters.
The lobby has a wonderful selection of soft drinks, snacks, dinner portions of Ramen, and low-end frozen foods such as the ironically named Banquet. But it's 12:30 AM in Charlotte, a small Atlanta, but really a giant Duluth, and I must fuel, so I select a Michelina Lite Mangled Green Peppers with Beef and Rice. The box says the meal is a "chef-inspired recipe," and it's a good thing they put that label on there. Otherwise, I'd have wrongly assumed it was inspired by a fellow in the lumber industry. These meals are rich in anti-anti-oxidants.
Two morons in alternative rock concert t-shirts are talking outside my door about the Chicago Bears QB controversy. Why can't they talk inside the room? They must know from their own experience inside the room that hotel hallway sounds travel far. In fact, I don't think it's possible to hold a conversation in a hotel hallway without 10 rooms at minimum being able to hear you. Oh, and by the way. Grossman should have been benched last year.
I've come up to Charlotte, NC to spend some time with friends and colleagues at the NAB Radio Convention. It's like a shiva house for terrestrial radio. Clearly, something is dead and the people at the convention are rhetorically positive but realistically sad. The discussion groups and panels mirror an industry in free fall and the only real controversy is how long it will be before a radio transmitter and FCC license is worth nothing. The convention wisdom says 20 years. Sounds optimistic to me. I'm probably one of 10 performers in the joint, and the rest are there because they were invited to speak on one of the thin offerings of discussion rooms about content and talent. The business has practically devoted itself to selling selling.
The panel sessions at the NAB Convention are devoted to discussing the finance and ad sales side of the business and hand wringing about the manifold government-inspired dilemmas that have come out of the woodwork to swamp radio operators large and small. There's a room for the FCC indeceny jihad problem. They even had a breakfast with the FCC chairman Kevin Martin in which not a single person asked him the most important question. Why are you regulating our industry to death?
Unlike TV, the bulk of radio's non-musical programming is live, and the costs tied up in staffing and purchasing equipment for an internal watchdog regime are significant in relation to revenues. Even then, there is no guarantee that every F-bomb and S-word will be eradicated by the in house blue pencil squads, resulting in crippling penalties. And with an FCC or Congress unwilling to clarify what specifically is indecent, it's even more difficult to manage the situation properly.
The first to go are those costly and difficult to manage hosts who make up the primary reason these days why most people even bother turning a radio on or buying ad time. The fix must be in. Clearly, the heads of this industry have sold out their 1st Amendment rights in exchange for a short term government fix for their other growing profit-eating woes, such as the ability to prop up dying AM stations by putting them on FM frequencies and getting a few more years of cash flow before both AM and FM go the way of 8mm film.
Ironically, in an adjacent party room another hand-wringing discussion is going on concerning the new royalty fees that another dying greedy industry, the record biz, has proposed for broadcasters. This is getting darkly funny. Here's an industry that has insisted, in the face of better music delivery competition, that it can still be the consumer's #1 choice for music. Now, the music industry wants to tax them to the tune of as much as $7 billion dollars a year for the privilege of playing their previously gratis recordings. That's a fine corner the radio biz has painted itself into. Can't afford to do music, can't afford to do talk. The only solution is to buy some text to voice software and hire a lad to type Dixie Cup jokes and riddles into it for $25 bucks a day.
Other rooms are devoted to discussions on how to plow more millions of dollars into convincing consumers that HD radio, a dead on arrival technology, is worth spending money on despite having no advantage over satellite or the internet. The audio is sketchy, the programming offers nothing unique, and the receivers are big and costly. Good luck with that.
I meet up with my friend and former colleague, Perry Simon, who has won quite a following amongst broadcasters for his insightful and blunt assessments of the business and his spot on predictions of how things will play out in the future. I strongly suggest you read his take on the whole crisis situation, if you're into this topic and wish to get more girls at parties with your media knowledge.
Not that the preceeding paragraphs mean that all is bleak in the House of Wachs. Oh, no. I just signed a contract for my next broadcasting venture, and I will have full details on it within 2 weeks, so check back in often here.