A Request for New Radio Experiences

With evening events common in our line of work, I often find myself radio button pushing on my nighttime drives home in search of new music discoveries. As my tastes lean toward alternative and I don’t subscribe to satellite, stations such as 89X often quench my thirst for music I have not heard before yet resonates enough for an iPod purchase. Another you might not of heard of? WOVI 89.5 FM – from Novi High School.

Yes, these radio programming neophytes could teach commercial radio consultants and program directors a few things about keeping the music mix fresh. Just the other night, I discovered through these “black board broadcasters” the ska-infused melodies of the band, RX Bandits and their song, “Only For The Night”. And while that tune is far from new (it was originally released in 2006) it was, for me, a new musical experience. I’m of the opinion that radio needs to offer more of those to its listeners.

I admit as a former radio disk jockey/music director and audiophile, my ongoing quest for songs beyond those I listened to in high school and college may be more ambitious than many. Yet, as those of my generation gravitate more and more to online music discovery portals (Pandora, Jango, Spotify, Slacker and Songza among them) I know I am far from alone. Conventional radio programming wisdom dictates that listeners want to listen to music they know and like. Evidently, I am told, the PPM (Portable People Meter) backs up this rationale. The end result is that programmers, fearing a spike in listenership, rarely stray from the musical “straight and narrow” (i.e. safe). Ever feel like you’re listening to the same songs over and over? Now you know why.

And though my career no longer hangs in the balance based on ratings, I know today’s radio listeners want more (and less of the same old). And, as my RX Bandits example proves, it doesn’t have to be just about newly released music. Why, for example, does a Classic Rock station rotate 150 well-known songs at a time on-the-air when there are literally hundreds of thousands of possibilities?

No listener monitoring services are full proof (just look at the joke that used to be the old Arbitron diary system). And is “safe” really safe? I would argue that that methodology is instead disastrous – driving terrestrial listeners to the variety of satellite and the web. It’s time for more programmers and music directors to rely on their gut and take chances (and, importantly, for more general manager “suits” to let them). Perhaps those that have become jaded and/or less creative should go back to school and chart a new “course” for rediscovery.