Corporate Radio: An Umbrella of Everything

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I’m old, and I know it.

I’m not afraid of aging, because it is what it is and it’s better to age gracefully than to try and hold on to youth in desperation. But growing old is a balancing act. You don’t want to be the person still listening to the same songs/bands you did in high school, and you don’t want to be Amy Poehler in Mean Girls, a mom trying to capture the “relevance” of youth while only succeeding in looking silly.

With music, I walk a Generation X tightrope. While I haven’t given up Green Day’s Dookie, I also enjoy me some Neon Trees. Likewise, I’m still playing my stalwarts U2, and at the same time incorporating a little Taylor Swift into my playlists. Hell, as much as it embarrasses me, I’ll even admit to liking Maroon 5.

Point being: I don’t embrace the past, and I don’t fear the future. I rest comfortably where I am.

Many people freak out when one of their favorite teenage songs pops up on a classic rock station. Not me. I knew it was an inevitability; time is something I cannot escape. That said, when I heard Van Halen, Nirvana, Rush, and Mötley Crüe on a “classic rock station,” I was upset.

Not because it meant I was old; I already knew that. I was upset because it’s unfair to turn a time frame into a genre. Just because a song has aged 20 years shouldn’t mean it automatically gets lumped in with every song from that era. Music is personal, and subjective. It’s an art form, and a means of expression. Mötley Crüe and Van Halen were both huge bands in the 1980s, but does that make them similar?

No.

Van Halen was a party band. They had fantastic songs that everyone could jam to. You put it on when you wanted to feel good, to “Dance the Night Away,” so to speak. Mötley Crüe, however, was a kick in the teeth. They were drunks who would just as soon start a fight as play a song. And Nirvana? Their mission in life was to jettison bands like latter-day Van Hagar and Mötley Crüe from the public eye. Nirvana was punk rebellion. Anger. Anguish.

To hear Smells Like Teen Spirit back-to-back with Jump… it just doesn’t work. Even worse, I once heard a station follow those two songs with Tom Sawyer, by Rush.

I love every song listed, but that isn’t the point. If they were being played under the banner “Anything Goes,” I’d be all for it. But to state all three songs are “Classic Rock?” To quote a popular sports phrase: “Come on, man.”

This happens because radio is a sea of corporate owned stations. Instead of each city having independently owned country, rock, hip-hop (and so on) stations, those genres are all under one roof, under one corporate umbrella. Go to any office building with a radio station, and the studios are all lined up in a hallway; open one door and you’ll hear Rihanna. Open the next, Nirvana. And so on down the line. Toby Keith. Sports talk. News talk. When one corporation controls the stations, they control the content.

In today’s system, no one at the DJ level has any power. No one is spinning records for the love of music; everything is dictated from above and playlists are determined using test-marketing and demographic analysis. Instead of music for fans, you have stations created to provide background noise. There’s no more active listening, no more discovering of bands or songs; it’s processed cheese, like Kraft Singles.

(Which actually had to have the word “cheese” removed from its packaging, because the word “cheese” was considered false advertising.)

Corporations don’t love music, they love profits.

Today, social media is driving artistry. Spotify, Google Play, and shared playlists are the mixtape of the now. Radio numbers are declining, and it’s their own fault. Radio shot themselves in the foot, because when you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to anyone.

I hope millennials reach back to the past and make discoveries. There is nothing wrong with either the now or the then; music is timeless.

It’s just not meant to be lumped together for marketing purposes.

And if you do categorize it? At least be honest, and call it “Oldies.” Be original. Add Eminem, Blink 182, and Metallica to the mix. Are they “Classic Rock?” No. Do they cross musical genres? Sure.

But if the music is good, it needs no other label.

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Why stop now? Read on...

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