Where did our love go?

By Scott Westerman
If you read Mike Austerman and Art Vuolo in January of 2009, you know that their love affair with satellite radio is diminishing as the unified brands struggle to find profitability by cutting personality and tightening the 60s play list. It seems that the decade channels at Sirius/XM are falling victim to the same disease that’s infecting most major radio stations these days. It’s symptoms are homogenization and automation, followed by staff termination.

With the possible exception of WWJ in Detroit, listeners who want good local broadcast journalism are turning to Michigan Radio, the award winning University of Michigan public radio station. Its the only operation in Southeast Michigan that provides any real in-depth news coverage.

When I was in the Great Lakes State this past weekend, I did a quick scan of the Detroit dial and soon found myself doing what my kids do: Plugging my IPod into the aux jack in the rental car. Regular readers of this blog know that I have a Keener audio stream that plays the original WKNR music list throughout our house, complete with jingles, time checks and Detroit area weather. In my briefcase, I carry an emergency CD with 10 hours of the automation on MP3. There are 20 or so on my IPod.

Keener was my companion all weekend.

The Detroit radio landscape is a shadow of the competitive milieu it once was. Gone are JP, Bob Reynolds, Jimmy Launce and Focus. In their place are network screamers who seek to amplify what divides us… rather than bring us together as the “Good Will Station” used to do. Gone are Art Penhallow and Alan Almond, two personalities as synonymous with the format genres they purveyed as they were with the Detroit psyche. I couldn’t tell you who the new guys are on those shifts, even though I’ve read about them in Susan Whitall’s columns.

If you’re a Keener Fan, its also likely that your local terrestrial broadcaster is starting to abandon you in other ways.

Jim Heddle is an erstwhile commentator on the industry, an expert on the garage bands that rose from the 60s rock and roll melting pot in Ann Arbor, and a former announcer at WPAG back when the station was located above the Hutzel’s womens’ store and in the same building with a beauty salon. (It took Jim years to realize that radio studios didn’t have to smell like hair chemicals.)

Here’s what he sees from his perch in Tucson, Arizona.

It all started in the spring of 1965, with a little Sony transistor radio that picked up the signal of a certain AM station out of Detroit at 1270 on the dial, and a former Keener D.J. named Dave Prince spinning Top 40 rock & roll records. Now, 44 years later, it looks like my long time affair with listening to the radio is over.

It was just a couple of months ago that I turned 55 years of age, meaning I am no longer in the much sought-after 25 to 54 age group of radio listeners. Now, almost as if on cue, the oldies station here in Tucson has made an “adjustment” to their playlist. While before they were primarily a sixties radio station that mixed in a few songs from the seventies, now they are a seventies station that mixes in a couple of songs from the mid- to late-60s each hour.

That won’t work for me – no way! Obviously the programming geniuses are hoping that by throwing their regular listeners a bone or two an hour will keep us hanging around, while their steady diet of seventies slop will theoretically rope in a slightly younger audience as well.

What they fail to realize is that the oldies format was born in the early 70s when a significant number of radio listeners (including myself) became disenchanted with the direction that popular music was going at that time. We preferred to hear “oldies” over what was currently popular. And now they expect me to continue to listen to their station, when they are playing THE SAME 70s MUSIC THAT CHASED ME AWAY FROM TOP 40 TO OLDIES RADIO IN THE FIRST PLACE?

I’ve got the car well-stocked with tapes, which I plan to listen to from now until the geniuses finally figure it out – and I’m not holding my breath. Sayonara, radio! It was fun while it lasted.

We here at Keener13.com are optimists, just like Mrs. Knorr was in the days when WKMH was “number 32 in a 30 station market.” We believe that somebody, somewhere will embrace the same values that built the WKNR legend and we will again find a relationship with a team of pros who truly care about each listener, one at a time.

We’re waiting.

And what of those devotees to the audio art who no longer have the traditional broadcast careers they once enjoyed? Jerry Del Colliano offers some thoughts on how you can become the entrepreneurs that the original owners of the stations you worked for once were.

I just came back from the annual “Hamvention” in Dayton, Ohio. It’s a yearly gathering of tens of thousands of amateur radio devotees. If there was ever a hobby that conventional wisdom said was headed for the tar pits, it’s ham radio. While hams continue to innovate and remain our first line of communication when the traditional networks collapse, the average age is now over 60 and the landscape is sometimes populated with curmudgeons who still think you should learn Morse code as a prerequisite to entry.

But in one corner of the arena, I saw some exciting signs of hope. There were a group of kids, all under 21, who were brainstorming how to make the hobby relevant to the text message generation. “Amateur radio is just one of many technological hobbies that compete for our time,” one youth told me. “We need to show how it can build both our understanding of the world and lifelong friendships. If we can do that, the sky’s the limit.”

Translate those last two sentences to broadcasting and you have the secret.

May 18th, 2009 | Posted in Keener
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