How do you celebrate an anniversary and a funeral at the same time?
For the punchline to this bad joke you will have to look to 98.7 Kiss FM WRKS, who simultaneously celebrated 30 years of broadcast as a NY monument in radio while at the same time closing it’s doors…… (maybe more accurately leaving the building, since ESPN had no problem taking over the FM position)
As I listened to their final Swan Song/s, I couldn’t help but get a bit…. PISSED!! There seems to be no limit to the outlets for mind-numbing entertainment in our culture, but anything that has higher aspirations is clipped at the root.
I remember when BETJ closed it’s doors and rebranded itself as Centric.
With the name change went original programs like BET J List, Lyric Cafe, and Lens on Talent to name a few. These shows had one thing in common. They showcased NEW talent. The artists featured usually went a bit deeper than surface as well. (I actually had a chance to perform on the J List with fellow Indie Artist Anu-Sun).
At the time, BET J’s tagline was:
« When our audience wants a sophisticated look at the music and entertainment that’s important to them, they turn to BET J. »
So I suppose we no longer need a sophisticated outlook on anything and we will be satisfied with sitcom reruns?
OK… ok…. I digress… but there is more to all of this than just a conspiracy plot.
You can usually tell when an artist passes away because the airwaves suddenly have an appreciation for their lost art….. Well had you tuned in, you would have thought all urban music had passed through the pearly gates….
For the first time in years, I was hearing diversity in artists and styles throughout the day, as the station paid homage to decades of great music and it’s creators. They also dusted off some of the « mastermixes » that made listening to the radio a unique experience. Once upon a time, DJs used to be tastemakers, helping to shape and expand the diet of its listeners – breaking new songs and artists – and creating new content. This caused us to tune in to feed that appetite (Politics seemed to have largely killed that – but that is another story).
Look at it like this…. If you tune into a news program and they never break any new stories…. and then they just repeat a few old stories ALL DAY, you will eventually tune in elsewhere. That is what many listeners have been forced to do. It is obvious from this final weekend of programming that there is a plethora of great music to choose from and a lengthy 24 hour day in which to do so…. It just wasn’t done.
During the broadcast, I didn’t appreciate the new tagline of « One Family, One Station, OUR Voice, » and the talent trying to assure me that this was a positive loss. When has someone lost a parent and been consoled with the fact that the remaining parent will be even better than the combined unit?
Every artist dreams of having their songs on the radio. Right before CD 101.9 FM went off the air we were able to get my song « Sail Thru » played. As an independent artist and NY native it was a great moment for me… like that scene in the « Five Heartbeats » – « They’re playing our song on the radio! »… now that station is no more.
I suppose the only way I will be on 98.7 FM in NY at this point is if I happen to sing the national anthem at a sporting event.
So luckily today we have the new tastemakers like College Radio, music blogs like Soulbounce.com, Soultracks.com, Singers Room.com, X2TheL.com, and the many DJs who report and spread the word with the same passion as the artists they discuss. But I predict if urban radio doesn’t change it’s ways it will end up as a 2 hour segment on some other format – like « Urban Hour » on the Country Station (that has a disturbing ring to it).
So I bid adieu and offer my condolences to all of you who will have to remember the radio station that once was an institution in NYC.
I don’t want to blame it all on the station and it’s programming as that is definitely oversimplifying the situation. There are many other things that would make this blog entirely too long – from a questionable Arbitron rating system (P.P.M.), station politics, backdoor deals, to silencing certain messages and voices (obvious from the shows that were not brought over such as Tom Joyner Morning Show, The Michael Baisden Show, Open Line and Week in Review)
Economics are economics and the truth of the matter is…. He who owns the channels controls the flow…. and that is across the board from money to music.
Update! Open Line and Rev. Al Sharpton have survived the transition to WBLS!! There was a public outcry and it was heard!