Radio is dead. Well, maybe not quite dead, but definitely dying.
I first noticed the decline a year or so after Clear Channel bought two of the Lehigh Valley’s radio stations: 95.1 WZZO (a rock station) and 104.1 WAEB (a pop/Top 40 station) in the late-1990s. The radio play lists seemed to become more repetitive — not on a daily basis, but on a weekly one. At any given time, you could expect to hear an unhealthy dose of 1970s rock on WZZO — you know the classics that just refuse to die, like ‘Freebird’ — while B104’s playlist coalesced even more around its increasingly vapid Top 40s playlist. There were a few variations — WZZO introduced ‘oh yeah Wednesday’ which played stuff that hadn’t heard in a while — but by and large its play list remained a mix of ‘classic rock’ and ‘today’s rock’, which is to say, ‘safe rock insured not to piss anyone off’.
Annoying. It didn’t both me too much though, as I only really listened to the radio in the morning when I didn’t have a audio book out from the library or rented from BooksOnTape.com. In the afternoon, from 1998 until around August of 2002, I listened to the Opie & Anthony Show in the afternoon. The show was obnoxious, rude and sometimes downright disturbing, but more often than not it was also hilarious. And during 9/11, it was the only radio show on the air that was saying anything about the anger that everyone in the Tri-State was experiences. It was the most politically incorrect show on the air, and it made for a welcome respite from the neo-Puritanism that seems to be running rampant nowadays. I’m not just talking about sex — I’m talking about ideas as well. There are certain things you just don’t say, especially after 9/11. The guys said them.
They went off the air in August 2002 after an — umm — unfortunate incident during “Sex for Sam 3”, in which they had contestants — umm — competing to have sex around New York City. “Doing it” in various landmarks earned them points, and while this caused no problems in previous years, that year they unfortunately included St. Patrick’s Cathedral on their list. A couple got caught, and O&A’s radio station — fearing the FCC would pull their license for the stunt — axed the show.
And about the only thing remotely worth listening to on the radio went off the air. And so did I.
Since then, I spend very, very little time listening to the radio because there is so little on the air worth listening to. Instead, I turn to the alternatives — and there are a hell of a lot of alternatives. For one, I have a monthly subscription to Audible.com, something I’ve written about before. That gets me about 15-24 hours of listening time each month (depending on the book), and lets me catch up on books I missed. I also have an iPod, onto which I’ve loaded most of my music collection. Now if I’m not listening to a book I’m listening to WNKE, my uber-playlist containing 24 hours worth of music.
And what of the radio wasteland I’ve fled?
I’m not the only one who’s noticed the unrelenting banality that Clear Channel and its kin are imposing on American airwaves. Plenty of other people have picked up on that as well, particularly those on the liberal fringe. In fact, they point to this degradation as evidence of a need for greater regulation — they want to see Clear Channel broken up and harsh limits placed on the number of stations a company can own.
Me? I’m against regulation, and not just ’cause the FCC killed the O&A Show. The consolidation that is going on right now is needed. Yes — that’s right — needed! Market dominance such as that which Clear Channel desires is fleeting. Achieving a dominant position and implementing uniformity among thousands of markets will only serve to drive people to competing technologies, such as Sirius and XM satellite radio (and yes, I know Clear Channel owns a sliver of XM), Audible.com, audio books and dozens of other possibilities.
This is how the market works. This is how competition — real competition — drives creativity. Stifling it by implementing government regulations aimed at maintaining false diversity will only seek to maintain a status quo determined by an intellectual elite. It won’t lead to real creativity or diversity. For that, we need to let the market do its job.
I might return back to the radio — some day. If O&A get a gig — especially one on an uncensored outlet like Sirius — I’ll be back in a heart beat. Until then though, I’ll be content to listen to my music and my books in my own little audio paradise.