(1st Editorial To Appear In Network 40)
Long ago and far away, in a land of unlimited Hitbounds and Shotgun Jingles, all record companies were successful, most radio stations were number one and every record was a smash. Each year, massive bonuses were awarded to ever-expanding record companies, programmers garnered huge incentives every six months with the publishing of Arbitron ratings, several friendly trade magazines published weekly, and the hits just kept on coming every day.
Back then, promotion and radio people actually hung out…discussed music…spent time together. Record companies wanted to sell records and build acts. Trade magazines were interested in reporting news rather than making it. Information from any music radio station was openly courted and gladly accepted. Radio stations were concerned with staying one step ahead of their audiences’ tastes. It was the age of Aquarius, when peace ruled the planets and love steered the charts.
After a while, it turned ugly. The entertainment business became more business and less entertainment. Promotion people stopped hanging out and programmers started hanging up. Record companies made cutbacks and radio got monthly Arbitrends. The incentive was just keeping your job. The friendly trades became more cut-throat. Deregulation altered radio ownership from long-term investments to short-term financial windfalls. Budgets were slashed, priorities were switched almost as often as call letters, consultants were the rule and, as research became the buzzword, programmers were reduced to being music mixers.
Then it go mean. One trade magazine garnered power and became a “restraint of trade” publication as it renamed formats, demanded strict adherence to its tyrannical policies and turned into the “Big Brother” of the industry. Suddenly, “Breakers” were more important than sales. Field staffs were cut and independent contractors added. A little radio station in East Jesus, Nebraska…a town with no record stores…became famous overnight because of its reporting status…a status that was not earned, but anointed. And two airline companies added daily flights to East Jesus to answer the increased demand.
Formats have fragmented and Mainstream Top 40 is being squeezed, not just by the music, but by a system that demands playlist additions dictated by rules and regulations that have nothing to do with audience tastes. To make data simpler to process and easier to control, radio has been reduced to the lowest common denominator. Innovation, imagination, creativity and style, once characteristics most sought in our business, have been stifled because there’s no chart for them. We can’t make them a “Breaker.”
We’ve all, in one way or another, become victims of this archaic process.
This must end.
Record companies must discontinue the practice of rewarding chart adds and focus instead on actual airplay and sales. Paying bonuses for paper adds is like an oil company compensating a contractor for drilling a well that hits water. In the long run, they’re all wet. So, too, could be some relationships. Private conversations with individuals close to the Federal Communications Commission told The Network 40 that the promotional arrangements made between radio stations and some independent promoters will come under close scrutiny in the Clinton administration.
Programmers must begin making playlist decisions based on what’s right for their audiences (instead of promotional considerations) or suffer long-term damage. Sales executives have to find innovative ways to sell the younger demos. If radio just continues to follow the boomers up the demographic scale, in another 10 years, we’ll be hearing nothing but ads for Geritol and Depends. Commercials during the Super Bowl, which sold for $28,000 per second, focused almost exclusively on the young and young-at-heart, from Pepsi, Nike and McDonalds to the automobile manufacturers. To super serve the 25-54 demo, radio has lost the automotive, soft drink, beer and fast-food franchises to TV. If radio spent more time creating specialized campaigns for these advertisers to entice them back to radio, medium as a whole, and particularly Mainstream Top 40, would be healthy again. In the advertising world, where youth and sex are used to push almost every product, it’s amazing that Mainstream Top 40, which epitomizes these traits, consistently abandons its strengths in a vain attempt to be older and more mature. Mainstream Top 40 is the perfect vehicle for advertisers. We have to sell this fact.
And industry magazines must begin to report the news, not make it. We need to accept radio’s definitions, not force them to conform to ours. We are the product of the radio and record industries. We must serve their needs, not dictate our desires to them.
For years, the complaints have been mounting. Everyone is griping, but no one has done anything about it. Now, however, the mood is different. The climate is ripe for change. A new administration has taken over based on its promise to alter the status quo. It is time to find innovative and improved ways of accomplishing our goals.
With the mandate for change comes responsibility. It is one thing to sit on the sidelines and complain about the way the game is being played. It is another to become a player and influence the outcome. To affect change, you must participate in the process. You have only two choices: to be a part of the problem or a part of the solution.
We at The Network 40 are dedicated to affecting change. And we seek your help. We want to reposition our magazine within the framework of the radio and record industries according to your definitions. We need your input. Write or call toll free at (800) 443-4001 and tell us what you want and what you don’t want. Tell us what you like and what you don’t like. Our measure of success depends on you. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
In the coming weeks, you will watch the suggestions you make become a reality. We will become the industry magazine you design. Together, we can make a difference. The Network 40 makes this commitment to excellence…to supply, our readers, with accurate data and important information to enable you to do your jobs more effectively. We ask for your help and trust. In return, we promise to reflect your interests…not dictate our desires.
We will join those who want to be a part of the solution. Those who continue to perpetuate the problems need to know they belong to a minority that is quickly shrinking. The tide is turning. The time to act is now.
Viva La Revolution!