Radio, Ratings and Rants

KGSR doesn’t play any local music…they never broadcast live anymore… I hate the new music on KGSR…” or “101X doesn’t even play this band, why are they presenting the show” or “all KLBJ does is talk. They never play any of the good music anymore” and even “Austin Radio sucks”.

-A small but powerful summary of the online love a few Austin radio stations have been getting recently. I am currently writing an article/essay in which I shall defend Austin Radio. But first, if you love music and radio (and want to hear something other than Nirvana, Nickelback, Maroon Five and Sublime) I recommend you do something other than e-whine.

Here are some suggestions:

First, get the new ratings meter… well that probably won’t happen, but you should understand a bit about how they work. Basically, a small device (similar to a pager) picks up frequencies from a station as you listen. The station then gets credit for a portion of that hour (well if you listen for at least five straight minutes). The system of course, has many flaws. Worse perhaps, the sampling number in Austin will be ridiculously small- only a few hundred out of the one-million that live in the surrounding area. Needless to say, an individual with a meter holds a lot of sway. I’m not sure what other dynamics I can get into so just Google it: Personal People Meter.

Second, tell your Congressman and Senators to vote against any kind of Performance Tax. The record industry wants radio stations to foot the bill for their losses and failing business plan. And in case you didn’t know, radio stations ALREADY pay to play music. While you’re at it, remind your elected officials that they owe you. It was, after all, their shady backroom dealing that allowed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and Clear Channel to effectively drive the radio industry into ruin (post 2003 FCC also contributed a bit).

Next, raise some Kane. Petition, protest or find out why one ratings company- Arbitron, is allowed to continually operate a flawed and outdated ratings system (Diary & PPM) while maintaining a monopoly over the radio ratings industry. Radio stations are forced to purchase the ratings books which are provided to advertisers and ad agencies. Ratings basically determine how much a station can charge. This is a multi-billion dollar business and a ratings system known as ‘the best we got’ just doesn’t cut the cheese (that was a fart joke, I hope to have a morning show some day).

Last, have some understanding. When I first got into radio, I would love to play some avant-garde Wilco deep cuts followed up by 12 minutes of ambient noise from Radiohead. But that was college radio. And college radio does not make money nor is it rated very well. Unfortunately, most radio is programmed for the “lowest common denominator’. Not everyone’s a music snob. Not everyone likes local bands. That’s just the way it is. After all, you can just listen to your iPod or CD’s.

So in the world of PPM expect radio stations to tighten their broadcast belts: Smaller play-lists with only popular tracks, less talk, no specialty programs, no live broadcasts and no local bands.

Or maybe not? Austin and the above mentioned stations are different beasts. My prediction?  The opposite. After the initial freeze up, PPM will bring more local entertainment, more local talk radio and force stations to utilize the internet and live events to bring in listeners and revenue… but that’s another story.

Oh and if by some chance you should get a ratings meter…  perhaps we could go out for  a drink?



4 thoughts on “Radio, Ratings and Rants

  1. Toby M says:

    Good work, CJ. Unfortunately, Arbitron is like the NFL – they’ll spend as much time and effort as it takes to run off the competition. And it’s not about getting better, but rather getting richer. And who pays? The listener. I’ve gotten to a point that I listen to 94.7 and 103.5 because they play songs I listened to as a child (by way of my parents, mind you.)

    I used to be a huge fan of hip hop, but the whole ‘LCD attitude’ of radio and ratings has effectively neutered the power that was rap. We’ll never get another Public Enemy. Mama will never even suggest someone knock you out now. Instead we get Lil’ Wayne’s autotune and “I just wanna be successful” That’s about as powerful as singing “I don’t want to get stuck in a traffic jam on I-35” Yeah.

    Preach on, Brother CJ.

  2. Chris Apollo Lynn says:

    This is my response to your Facebook comment–it applies here, too.

    I think you’ve got it a little twisted. Saying that “community-funded” radio can “throw on whatever they want” is BS. If KUT didn’t play music that people wanted to hear, they’d lose a LOT of support from listeners (who donate money to the station).

    You guys over at 101x and KGSR have a corporate entity to fall back on. I think the biggest beef is that KGSR spent years branding itself as a locally-flavored station, only to have all of that washed out because of ratings. Guess that’s not too surprising, they’re in North Austin now.

    I read your post. It’s easy to blame the ratings and the listeners for “being whiney.” If you do that, you’ve missed the point completely.

    Check out what Moby said in an interview the other day. I think it can apply to radio, too: ” I think that the relationship between musician and audience at some point got turned on its head. Musicians started to feel as if the audience needed them. And the truth is I need an audience way more than the audience needs me. It’s my job to keep the audience interested.”

    And as far as “e-whining” goes, do a google search for KGSR and you’ll see an article I wrote about KGSR and the ratings. Thousands of people have read that post and it’s RIGHT BELOW the KGSR official hit. If you dont think “e-whining” is powerful, KGSR is now affiliated with the phrase “Saying goodbye to KGSR. Is Austin radio dying?” every time someone searches for them.

    At least KUT listens to it’s fans and doesn’t write them off as “e-whiners.”

    1. CJ Morgan says:

      A few quick notes: I worked in community radio and the majority of the funding does not come from fundraisers. It comes from taxes and grants. And isn’t KUT is backed by the University if Texas? Also, what gives you the right to decide what music is good? KGSR might have added some “crap” to the playlist but guess what? A lot more people started listening. Last, how does geographic location within the city have anything to do with the playlist? The station is North so it’s not part of the deep-hip Austin culture you can only get on South First between Oltorf and Riverside?

      1. Chris Lynn says:

        You’re still missing the point.

        Read my comment again. I’m not making any statements about the quality of the music.

        KGSR built the brand image of being very local. They decreased (significantly) the amount of local artists they play–and throwing in a local artist like Willie in the commercial doesn’t change that.

        There are almost 2000 people in 2 Facebook groups that are complaining about the music on KGSR. Instead of responding to any of that criticism, you guys want to blame it on the ratings system or the “whiny listener.” 2000 is not a number to balk at, my friend.

        If you want to see my full analysis on the ratings, marketing and KGSR’s change, check this post out:

        When the post came out, Andy Langer started calling and emailing folks at other radio stations to explain the situation to them. Why not explain it to the people who are complaining? Or write out something thoughtful in the comments section of the post?

        Instead of blaming listeners (your customers) or the ratings system (aka “the man”), you guys should take some responsibility and have an open dialogue with the public. If that happened, you could see what they thought.

        To be honest, old media is scared as shit that if they started talking to the public, they might find that people are kind of tired of being force-fed music. And here’s the thing: If you have an open forum with your listeners and it turns out that they like what you play, then they’ll be even stronger and more supportive fans because you listened to them. Make sense?

        And, again, this isn’t judgement about the quality of the music. You wouldn’t be asking them questions like “Does the music suck?” Rather, you’d ask them “Should we play more local music?”

        As satellite and Internet radio become more prominent and customizable, you guys are gonna have to take steps to win over the community to whom you serve. It’s happening to print and television. Do you think radio is immune?

        When 2000 people on Facebook are disgruntled–that’s more than there are fans on the official KGSR FB page. And it’s not like 2000 disconnected potential listeners who are out of sight. When someone googles or facebook searches KGSR, these people’s voices come up. Whether you agree with it or not, it’s there. The question is: How do you handle it?

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