Thursday, October 27, 2005

Clear Channeling of America

The worst part of visiting southwest Michigan was the radio. The radio stations sucked pond scum. There was a single alt-rock station out of Grand Rapids, but it was pretty faint in Kalamazoo and kept fading in and out. Locally the only thing half-way palatable were a couple (as in "more than one") classic rock stations. You know, I grew up with classic rock. By the mid 80s I was pretty tired of classic rock. Why it's outpacing modern rock is beyond me.

Ironically, while I was there the news reported that sales of CDs were down last year. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) blamed illegal downloads. I'm sure that's a big part of it. Why pay $15 for a new CD when you can grab it for free via file sharing. But that's only part of the issue, and maybe not even the main issue. My theory is that CD sales are lower because radio stations in America suck pond scum.

It used to be that you'd hear two or three songs off a successful album, minimum. Now you're lucky if they play more than one single from an album, taking the word all too seriously. How do you decide to commit $15 to a CD when you only hear one song? What if the rest of the album bites? Besides, if you wait a month you'll be so sick of that single that you won't even want to buy the album.

Radio in Monroe is pretty awful, too, with one exception: 91.1 KXUL, the University of Louisiana at Monroe radio station, which is the only true alt-rock station in the area. The other stations are pretty much the same garbage as I found in Michigan: top 40, classic rock, country, and a handful of religious stations.

I blame Clear Channel, the huge conglomerate that owns most of the radio stations in the country. They control the music. They aim their stations at the lowest common denominator in each musical genre in order to pull in the most advertising money.

I also blame the recording industry. They pay stations to play their songs (not in money, which is illegal, and not directly, which is also illegal, but by offering tickets and prizes through middle-men known as "indies"). They pay to have the same tripe played over and over. I'm not sure why they push a single song from each album, unless its because they figured out the kids will by the CDs to get the one hot song so there's no need to push more than one song.

Except that the kids aren't buying CDs. They are illegally downloading them. After all, how do you decide to buy a 15 song CD based on the one song that you're sick of hearing? Instead, they download those albums they've heard about on the Net but never hear on the radio. Plus they've learned that most CDs contain crappy filler and are not worth the $15 price tag.

The RIAA is looking to shut down file sharing. I don't think they'll ever be able to completely shut it down, but I also think it's just a delaying tactic while they work on stronger encryption. If they succeed, I think they'll be in for a surprise: CD sales won't increase dramatically. Why? Because the only way to hear new songs these days is on radio, and radio sucks pond scum.

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