Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Radio: My Friend, My Aggravation

I was 11 or 12 when my friend introduced me to 1050 CHUM. We would lie on the floor on either side of her small black radio, listening to the newest hits. She'd keep me in the loop between my visits to her place on the most popular singles since she had her own radio, and at that time, I was pretty much at the mercy of my parents' tastes: CFRB talk radio, 1010 on the dial. So began my love affair with radio. Of all the mediums humans have invented, radio is the most personal, friendly, and ubiquitous, which is why listeners get so ticked when stations make big changes and why I've been hunting for a new station for ages.

As I became more sophisticated in my listening and technological tastes, in the way teens do, I switched my allegiance to the FM dial and Q107. The better sound quality was stunning, plus it was much more cool to be a Q107 listener. Well, that was a while ago, obviously, for now both 1050 CHUM and Q107 are moribund, a safe place of nostalgia for aging boomers to go to when drinking on their own. But in their heydays, they epitomized what successful radio sounded like, especially Q. Radio is peculiarly personal because much of the time we're alone when we listen to it. It's not like its young days when people gathered around a humoungous receiver to listen to staticky, live broadcasts together. It's now been around so long that it has become the background to our lives: when waking up, showering, eating breakfast, driving the car alone on the long commute, standing on the bus with earbuds in on the long commute, working in the cubicle alone, cooking dinner when everyone else is off doing their own thing, falling asleep. It is company, it is informational, it is funny, it is varied so that it doesn't become boring, and most of all it is interactive. We call up our favourite DJ, not just during contest calls or call-in segments, but also when they're playing just too much Dylan and you want to voice your displeasure and end up laughing with the DJ over how he too is getting a bit unnerved by all that scratchy Dylan voice. We are part of the radio family, a family of Djs and listeners, producers and regular guests. Everyone who listened to the original Q were part of their listenership. That's what they called us; it pulled us in tighter into their family. Smart.

What I liked best about Q's programming was that the format changed throughout the day, just as the style of music changed with the day or time, to meet the listenership's tastes and to keep us engaged. It had the raucous morning show, the calming professionalism of the pre-lunch hours, the album sides, the all-listener request hours, the entertaining drive home, short news blurbs, Barometer (still miss that), rock talk, and the strange (to me) late night and weekend programming. In short, Q wasn't one long orgy of blandness, as 104.5 CHUM has been sinking into ever since CTV bought it out, infecting it with its idea that we Canadians are all wannabe Americans who only wish to listen to boring American pap. They've been slowly sanitizing it to the point that after the Christmas break, I discovered that the news has not only gone AWOL on the weekends, but it's no longer in at least one of its regular time slots weekdays and Roger is now giving the weather. What gives? Does CTV believe that young viewers are so mindless and stupid that they're not interested in what's going on in the world, local or international?

Q did. The dim bulbs in Q's programming department pulled a 'KRP – not quite as dramatic as the change 92.5 underwent a few years ago; still, they deeply betrayed their listenership. They intended to deep six Barometer without telling anyone until the last second of the last show. But some outraged soul (good for them!) leaked the news to the press, and we found out a whole day in advance. Bill Carroll fielded outraged callers. You see, when radio stations pull these kinds of stunts, especially stations that foster a sense of listeners being part of the radio family, it's like Mum and Dad announcing to the kids when they come home that this is home no more, they're moving immediately to a different continent where they speak a different language and live in towns filled with cookie cutter row houses, with same-coloured doors and same-coloured roofs. Oh, and they'll be getting a new Mum and Dad too.

Ever since then, I've been flipping the dial looking for a home station, a station that not only provides an enjoyable variety of music, but more importantly a few familiar voices and change that responds to its listeners, not betrays them. I settled on CHUM 104.5's morning show, but that is now becoming unbearable boring since CTV bought it and sidelined Rick. Mix-now-Virgin 99.9 has a more varied playlist, but every time I turn it on, I get ads! Very perplexing as FM isn't usually so ad-heavy. But then it is owned by the same company that owns CFRB, which runs an amazing number of ads, even after they cut out a whole two minutes a few months ago. Anyway, I tend to flip flip flip when I switch on the radio and hear an ad. The lower-numbered stations are like elevator music; 92.5 used to be highly entertaining but Rogers pulled a Jack and I left; the Edge is too loud now for my sensitive ears (sigh); and as I said before Q is mired in nostalgia, classic rock style. So what the heck am I supposed to listen to?

One day, I heard Carroll's voice as I flipped through stations AM and FM. I stopped. I was never a big fan of his, but his voice was very familiar. It reminded me of my youth, of being part of Q's listenership. I started listening to him and then started listening to other shows on CFRB. I listen now to 1010 when I want company or the two bald guys are on, funny boys that they are. CFRB's manager Steve has been shaking up that station. But he hasn't completely upended the entire station in one fell swoop like other stations, and so long-time listeners like my mother continue to tune in while new listeners like me tune in. And unlike Q and 1050, they haven't sunk into obscurity; as I understand it, they continue to dominate the market.

But they don't play music. And I'm still left with the question of which station will become my new home FM station. I think CHUM FM is going to sink. You can hear it in their voices. As talented as Darren is, I don't think he will save the station when the owner CTV doesn't seem to get radio, and thinks that television white bread with a topping of American sap will translate into radio. Maybe for a small population segment, like with Q and 1050 for their niche listeners, but not for Canadians who enjoy their own eclectic culture. Since Virgin took over 99.9 (which makes me wonder just how many Canadian stations are foreign-owned or foreign-run or foreign-formatted), they have changed the format. I'm not sure about the changes, especially as I'm oh-so-not-interested in what's popular in the US or UK. But Saturday night they had an on-demand format, which I assumed were songs asked for by the listeners, which appeals to me, yet unlike other request-formats, I didn't hear any listeners talking to the DJ. Of course, there were the interminable ads, so not much of the real stuff to hear before I had to switch off, and perhaps I missed the listenership interaction, which is the best part of radio. And then during the week, the morning show has to be the shortest on the dial. I like Mad Dog and Billie since their days on 92.5 before it got Jacked, but their show ends rather early.

What I want is a Canadian station playing Canadian music, with a smattering of other countries' music, introducing me to the rest of the CD of popular singers and bands so I know what else to download besides their hit single, entertaining us with a bit of talk FM-style on anything from rock to music to hot topics, keeping us informed through brief news segment that are not nearly as long as on talk radio, and exposing me to my fellow listeners' musical tastes. Apparently, I want the moon.

2 comments:

DoreenatDMS said...

Hey, Shireen ... nice post; i tend to agree with much of what you wrote. Increasingly of late, i'm being more and more drawn to CBC 94.1, esp. in the mornings on the drive in. Eclectic, and always interesting. I also subscribe to The Lefsetz Letter (lefsetz.com); Bob is prolific ... it's not really related to my 9 to 5, but with an interest in music, I always find him brutally honest, refreshing, no b.s. His language can be colourful, but he's honest.
One of his recent posts caught my eye in particular, esp. as I read it after your post here. You might find it interesting:

http://tinyurl.com/8pnshb

Thanks ... take it easy ...

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

I was wondering what Radio Two's call numbers were! I'm feeling particularly frustrated with the morning shows this week and was considering listening to their podcasts to see who had the best one.

Thank you for passing that post on. It's awfully reminiscent at the beginning of what I am thinking. I hadn't thought of how being successful now for a musician is so different than decades ago, although I think Canadian artists are doing better because we're now interested in listening to our own (due to CanCon rules I'm sure).

Thank you for visiting!! :D