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Dark Endeavors

The Devolving of Commercial Radio

Dee-Jay Moronics

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, September 27, 2000.

You may have heard about the Nederland wetland fiasco last weekend. A bunch of off-road vehicles and a refreshingly modest supply of intoxicated, stoned, and/or belligerent participants ground up a portion of a wetland sanctuary with their vehicles for no known reason other than that it was there. There were arrests and bad feeling. From the beginning, several people said they were informed of this event by Denver radio station KBPI. The station first denied any culpability for what amounted to criminal trespass. Then, today, the appearance of the trademark weasel words the lurk in every corporate legal office. The station says it did not officially sanction such an event. Apparently, there had been some on air remarks that the general public could have construed as an advertisement for a station sponsored event. Or not. I never heard any of it, and know only what I read in the papers.

What I want to whine about is that commercial radio stations, historically a repository of more or less arrested adolescent males of no notable talent, have become even more dangerously incompetent and irresponsible over the last decade or so and more sleazy in both intent and absence of point. Even the women who get air time are generally chosen because they are either are or sound like they are a teenage boy's dream, which is to say babes willing to say "penis" on the air or because they have a vocal delivery best heard and enjoyed on a shared pillow. This is why I secretly believe Beavis and Butthead went away: it was a dead-on satire of the preferred radio audience that drew too much emotional blood.

Commercial radio used to serve a notable service by exposing new and different music to young kids, an important function, and letting the artistic market, absent the odd payola scandal, function. But now, without question, all commercial stations flog the air with their increasingly niche market approach so that no designated listener will hear anything he hasn't heard before. Commercial radio used to be, at least, the repository of some wonderful radio voices, but modern technology can make Woody Allen sound like James Earl Jones in real time, and the grating voices in person conflict with the booming testosterone resonance over the microphone. People sense the overpowering unimportance of the deejay today, and in retribution the breed becomes more and more like WKRP in Cincinnati. Remember when that fictional radio station thought it would be a good publicity stunt to give away live turkeys for Thanksgiving, and hired a helicopter to drop them into a crowd, a process that revisited the fact that bred turkeys cannot glide or fly at all and it became a publicity horror for them? Merely a hyperbolic television show? How does it compare to the absolutely bizarre and obscene incident of Denver DJ's marching into a mosque some years back during one of our foreign contra-temps with an Islamic power and playing the national anthem as they screamed what they thought were he-man patriotic slogans. Strangely, the mosque's proprietors were offended, and complained. Eventually, the corporate weasels for the station admitted it was possible that American Muslims could be as patriotic as Christians and that possibly, considered from a certain viewpoint, it may have been a bad decision to have broken a millennia of sacred sanctuary for a ratings boost from the beer-gut pseudo-warriors. Gee, you think?

If you have ever seen radio stations battle for presentation rights to hot concerts, you are left with a deep appreciation for the maturity and taste exhibited by drunken hookers in a catfight. Radio stations have convinced themselves they are absolutely necessary to the event, even those that sell out by word of mouth. It may have been true once, but no longer, and the stunning unimportance of commercial radio to culture and cash today is not sitting well with the big stations. They become more and more desperate to attract attention to themselves, which may be a function of managerial pressure for the dubious ratings game or a function of the disturbed personalities - myself excepted, of course - that populate the airwaves.

When they cause, to a greater or lesser extent, physical damage of a sort that interests attorneys, as KBPI may have last weekend, stations slip on the knee pads and waddle obsequiously around trying to turn even that humiliation into publicity. It is a disgusting sight, conducive neither to art nor honorable and decent conduct or any point beyond seeing the station call letters in print. But then, when was the last time art and honorable conduct associated in your mind with commercial radio? Hyperbole? Wait. They'll drag in the first amendment issues soon enough.

This is Dark Cloud, see you next week.......