PG on Today's Radio
What do you like on the radio? Hmmmm, I don't know. A
fish bowl looks nice!
—From a 1970s Radio Advertising Bureau promo
This picture perfectly sums up the essence of the entire radio
industry. I don't know who shot this, but it's a classic.
The following rant appeared on my original website several years
ago. I was going to omit it on the current rendition of the site
until my good friend, Capt. Dave Moran (a radio personality and
station owner for over 40 years now) said it was "the best description
I have seen regarding the rape of our great industry by the CC's and
other Wall Street boys who didn't know a transmitter from a refrigerator."
'Nuff said. So here it is, revised a bit for 2006.
As most of you know, I was involved with radio in some capacity
or another for about 25 years. As a kid in Roanoke I was frequently
heard dialing into the WROV Dedication Hour. I listened continuously
throughout high school and ran Cave Spring High School's closed
circuit radio station WCSH.
I was the WROV High School Correspondent for Cave Spring from 1974
through 1976 and during that time, spent nights at 15th & Cleveland,
re-filing the day's oldies in the record library—something I
volunteered to do for free because it allowed me to meet and hang
out with all the WROV personalities.
Upon graduating I went on to work at fourteen radio stations (listed
here) and also worked in television for
two years before leaving broadcasting, earning a degree at N.C. State
and becoming a computer programmer. I developed and now maintain
The WROV History
Website and stay in touch with nearly all my old radio buddies.
I was never anything close to what I'd call a "star" in radio but
I managed to eke out a living in it for seventeen years in mostly
medium markets (according to Arbitron/2002, the ranks of the markets
I worked in are 43, 46, 59, 110, 160, 178). One reason I never
made it farther—I'm sure—was the fact that I wasn't very
good at doing commercial production and openly admitted that I thought
this was a good thing because it meant that I was seldom asked to do
The main reason I wasn't good at production was because of my innate
honesty. No matter how much you pay me, I am just not capable of sitting
down and convincingly telling you to go out and buy something unless I
would go out and buy one myself—and while this was very popular
with the listeners it didn't endear me to the managers and the sales
departments who demanded that I enthusiastically tell you to buy too
much Coca-Cola, eat too much food at Hardees, buy cars from fast-talking
weasels and drink shitty American commercial beer.
No, the success I achieved in radio was due to the fact that I was
fairly good at entertaining people and playing the role of myself on
the air. Years ago when debating strategy for The Tonight Show,
Johnny supposedly told Ed "Who cares what we're supposed to do?
Let's just go out and entertain the hell out of them" and for years
that's what I tried to do. I learned the fine art of doing so by
growing up and listening to WROV all day. I was influenced by a lot of
great personalities there including Fred Frelantz, Jack Fisher, Bart
Prater, Larry Bly, Starr Stevens and Terry Young. If you know any of
these guys, listen to one of my airchecks (there's one on the
Kiss-FM page). You will
hear me trying to do Bart's and Fred's sense of humor with Larry's
and Jack's hilarious brand of cynicism and a blend of Terry's
"motormouth" and Starr's "FM" deliveries.
And I can't give this speech (which is starting to sound a lot like
one you'd hear some bimbo soap-opera actress give at the Daytime Emmy
Awards banquet) without mentioning and thanking my oldest and closest
radio friends, Steve Finnegan and Bucky Stover. We went to high school
at the same time and spent every night sitting around listening to Bob
James or Larry Lujack or hanging out with the WROV guys, talking about
how we'd do it when it was OUR turn. I always knew that anything I ever
did had to pass the muster with those guys or else I'd be given endless
hell for it—kind of like what Lennon did for McCartney. And that always
kept me on my toes. That, and Bart's critiques of my airchecks while I
was at WROV turned me from a raw lump of coal into a—well—a more
polished lump of coal.
Anyway. Now that you've gotten me started on the subject of radio you
can't escape without hearing my "what's wrong with radio today" speech.
When I was growing up, radio stations featured live, local announcers
around the clock. The promotions were relevant to what was going on
in town. The music was selected by local music directors who based
the charts largely upon what people were buying at the local record
stores and requesting. You could go from town to town and hear something
different everywhere you tuned, and it was great. Though sometimes
bordering on blue humor, most radio personalities were generally clean,
non-offensive, and respected in the community.
Then came deregulation. Begun in the 1970s and accelerated in the 1980s
by FCC chairman Mark Fowler and continued by others such as Michael
Powell, deregulation began as an attempt to make radio more market-driven
but has resulted in the death of community-oriented radio as we knew it.
New laws expanded the number of stations a single entity could own,
dropped limits on advertising, and eliminated a station's need to serve
the public interest in order to keep a license. Most notably, laws
regulating the sale of licenses were greatly scaled back, opening
the door for owners to buy existing stations, replace the carpet, put
in a few new pieces of equipment, fire half of the staff, change the
format, and sell it for a profit a year later.
Then in 1987, the FCC abandoned the Fairness Doctrine, which required
broadcasters, as a condition of getting their licenses from the FCC, to
cover controversial issues in their community, and to do so by offering
some balancing views. It did not require equal time for opposing views.
It merely prevented a station from day after day presenting a single view
without airing opposing views. Death of the Fairness Doctrine paved
the way for the radio talk show blowhards, most of whom are syndicated
and replaced live local announcers. Not to mention the detriment done
to the objectivity of news reporting.
Another major blow to the industry as we knew it came in 1995 with the
passage of the Telecom Act. Near the bottom of the 200 pages of
legislation mostly targeted toward the telecom industry was a provision
that lifted most ownership limits for radio station broadcasters
nationwide and allowed them to operate as many as eight signals in
the country's largest markets. This opened the door for a handful of
media conglomerates to control thousands of stations across the USA.
This effectively put the control of the media into fewer hands; hands
of corporate pigs whose only motivation is showing a profit. To hell
with serving communities.
The result of it all has been the elimination of over 15,000 jobs in
broadcasting, programming which sometimes comes by computer from central
locations, syndicated "satellite" shows and voice-tracking (where an
announcer prerecords all of the breaks, stores them in the system, and
they are played back at the correct time). This may result in more
"perfect" sounding radio but it eliminates the spontanaiety of live
radio—one of local radio's best aspects. The owners are doing
this to cut labor costs. The general public (specifically, those who
were born after 1980) doesn't seem to care—most of them are
happy to listen to an Ipod all day—and until they give a damn,
it's hard to blame the current industry moguls for trying to make a
Still, for me it has been very sad. As a young person, there were
many nights when the guy on the radio was my only friend. He kept
me company, made me laugh, played my favorite songs, talked to me
on the phone, gave me prizes and—to me, anyway—was bigger
than Elvis. He inspired me to grow up and be just like him. It is
a pity that there's no new generation of local radio stars for us
old guys to hand the torch to. And as a parent, it's sad to see
my kids grow up without a friend like Jack Fisher on their radio
OK. Off of the soap box!