The other day I was on the road, surfing the radio dial looking for music, when I stumbled upon an AM station playing “Bad Company” by Bad Company. When I dial-surf, it’s always on AM first, because AM oldies stations are great. AM classic rock is highly unusual, so I stopped to listen.
“Bad Company” got over, and the station went immediately—without any kind of station identifier at all—into a 60-second health feature that was completely unintelligible. Not because the audio quality was poor, but because it made no damn sense. Something about vegetable smoothies, I think, but it was so full of jargon and buzzwords it might as well have been in Urdu. Then, with no identifier at all, it was back to music, “Girl Can’t Help It” by Journey. After that, again, no identifier, and not even a back-announce. The jock just started talking.
Nothing makes me crazier than radio stations that roll straight from a song into a commercial, thus forfeiting a chance to tell the listener who they are. Just as bad is when a jock opens the mike and the first thing out of his/her mouth isn’t the call letters or some other station identifier. The jock on this station went straight from music into a bit about a new study that catalogs the behavior of known liars to create a list of tells people can use to determine a speaker’s truthfulness in real time.
Satellite and syndicated jocks do this kind of bit because they can’t do anything local, and local jocks do it when they have nothing better to talk about. (Which one this guy was, I couldn’t tell.) I can even see myself doing it—but only as a quick 20-second bit and ending with a joke, like “Now I’ll be able to tell if [other jock on the staff] really intends to pay back the $20 he owes me.” But that’s not what this guy did. After explaining the study, he proceeded to run down the entire list of tells. The bit took at least two minutes, maybe longer, and for the last minute of it, I was quite literally yelling at my radio, “Dude, shut up, you’re going way too long.” Finally, the bit ended and the station went into a commercial break, coming out of it with an identifier—at long last.
But the next song was “Upside Down” by Diana Ross. So not a classic-rock station, then.
Never mind the interminable jock bit. What sort of radio station plays classic-rock album cuts and disco records in the same quarter-hour? I had arrived at my destination and didn’t listen past “Upside Down,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if they followed it with Johnny Mathis doing “Chances Are.”
I’m not going to identify the station by name; I’ll say only that it’s a mom-and-pop operation located in small-town Wisconsin. And as mom-and-pops have tried to be since the dawn of time, I suspect they want to be all things to all people in their coverage area, capturing people who like Bad Company and people who like Diana Ross.
Could I be wrong? Sure. Could this have been one really bad jock doing whatever he wanted on a Saturday morning? Sure. But I’ve spent a lifetime in and around the radio biz, so I kinda think not.
Geezers such as I, people who are sometimes gobsmacked by the evolution of the medium in 40 years, are kidding ourselves when we think that growth and change have happened equally, everywhere. But the fact is, there are small-town radio stations all over the country that are programmed the same way they were a generation ago, even though they may be using digital automation and voicetracking. Despite the slivering of the audience into demographic slices that have turned catch-all variety formats into catch-none, despite the ever-decreasing time-spent-listening numbers that have made any bit over 30 seconds problematical (the average listener today may be with you for only eight or nine minutes), there are stations that happily trundle on like it was still 1974. They’re playing music that will appeal (they think) to grandmothers and their grandchildren alike. Their ad copy still tells you to visit blank for all of your blanking needs, and to enjoy top-quality service from people you know and trust. And their jocks are still doing two-minute feature bits pulled straight from the AP wire.