Radio is slowly dying. And as a radio nerd whose earliest career aspirations included leading a morning show, it hurts to jive with the notion. Not only is the medium withering out of our memories as cars become increasingly equipped to play satellite radio and internet stations via Bluetooth but radio just aint jumpin’ like it used to (word to Usher Raymond). Weven’t got many other options than to let it burn.
As Justin Charity of The Ringer mentions in a recent piece of his, one of the nation’s most popular stations gears their content toward YouTube. Add to the fact that while working at a radio station a few years back I learned that jocks were to talk for seven seconds or less and dip out (no, Mike D’antoni was not the program director) and it’s clear that what was once the major draw of a radio station -the personality- has gone pretty much extinct. That is despite legends like Big Boy, Ryan Seacrest and FunkMaster Flex still rocking airwaves. Peep how Ebro’s old, angry ass made the switch to the new and hopeful Beats 1 with Zane Lowe at the helm. And when’s the last time you were excited about a Tim Westwood freestyle?
During it’s Golden Age, radio was everything to the populace: Presidents gave us game with Fireside chats and sporting events took place in our imaginations as broadcasters did their best to paint a picture with their transatlantic drawls. Later on, you could only make that mixtape for future bae with the help of a mixshow or a Top 40 rundown.
In 2016 though, we’re faced with a different problem. And it’s more harrowing than hearing “For Free” and “Alright” twice an hour, respectively, on the same station not to mention. Music, as radio once facilitated, is evolving and unfortunately, we have no Rodney Bingenheimer or KROQ to lead us into it. KROQ still exists by the way.
Our dependence on radio to bring us the new and daring is awashed in ad revenue and the current bid for CBS to sell the majority of their holdings across the country. The luster of the medium is gone and it’s unclear whether radio is the helpless victim of the global digitization or if it’s tied a headphone cord around its neck and hung itself with the “On Air” sign still lit.
Childish Gambino released two songs from his upcoming and anxiously awaited Awaken, My Love in the last few weeks. Both of the tracks are rebellious in their nature, invoking the sounds of Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield and Bootsy Collins, pioneers who’ve brought music to its current state in one way or another by breaking -and then changing- the rules.
It’s Black. It’s Rock ‘N Roll. It’s experimental. It’s 2016. And while the songs sync with the nation’s psyche more than most other music this year, it’ll fail to connect to people where they are most tuned in; that FM dial.
As end-of-the-year lists roll out and decide for us what our favorite albums were, one man, Frank Ocean, will sit atop most of those lists for his legacy-sealing efforts on Blonde. However, the most commercially successful cut from the album, “Nikes”, peaked at 79 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album went #1. Considering this Hot 100 dictates what radio stations play anywhere from 25-25,000 times a day, there’s an obvious disconnect between what people are buying and what they hear on commutes.
How is it the game’s newest darlings in Anderson .Paak and Frank Ocean are absent from the Soundscan?
The attributes describing Childish’s two game-upsetting tracks are the reason. Mans are out of place in this static radio landscape -no pun intended.
Years ago I learned from a radio jock that, at least here on the West Coast, Black radio had been RIPd. Gone were the days of Theo and 92.3 The Beat. Power 106, formerly the home of Big Boy and Co. is a shadow of itself in the days of Aaliyah and Timbaland, Brandy, D’Angelo Dr. Dre and Blackstreet. So the idea of a .Paak getting plays from Yes Lawd! or Blonde getting the nationwide recognition it deserved as one the most important projects of the year remains but a dream. And the responsibility of a station to present them sits around unaccounted for when previously program directors (those who choose the music) and jocks would run back these buzzing offerings several times.
At the very least, “Pink and White” and “Ivy” are radio-friendly songs capable of garnering Frank much more of the attention he despises. For .Paak and Knxwledge “Lyk Dis” and “What More Can I Say” could be good plays for the duo and better for the listener when they’re reviving the days of Jaheim throughout the album.
Even more secluded will be Awaken, My Love as its Rock elements and some of the electro instances are too revolutionary for Black radio. Naturally, the songs would find homes on the KROQs around the country; its bluesy wallows and metallic growls aligning more with a Black Keys transition than Gambino’s own anteceding catalog. Call it what you will, though, whether it be discrimination, gatekeeping or flat out racism, but them songs won’t get play on the alt-
right rock megaliths around the country. Blood Orange couldn’t crossover with songs like “Best to You” where The Strumbellas prosper.
A responsibility to bridge the evolving and the similar suits radio well in theory. How sweet it would be for an Imagine Dragons diehard to find that .Paak really went in on “Come Down” and that it meshes quite well with Dragons’ “Roots”. In that way the masses might learn what it seems we run from every day; the idea that we’re not as different as we’d like to think. Plus, the fluidity of the music would complement our consciousness as a nation as Gambino imbues us to “stay woke”.
Clearly though, radio, notwithstanding all of the infrastructure to do so, is not built, in its current format, to tell a truth of this magnitude; to house an idea or movement where it can flourish into a potentially revolutionary entity.
Thankfully, options do exist for most of us and the oligarchy of tight-canaled radio programmers is sometimes drown out by the technology made available by our cars and smart devices but the moves made by Black artists and other pioneers alike are falling on deaf ears as good, new, weird shit rolls out everyday. However, what radio once was (and what Beats 1 is working to become) as both an institution and exploratory space is not only precluding the masses from engaging in the zeitgeist of Black music in 2016 but it’s precluding the nation from getting in formation to thrive, cry and learn on one accord. The fission of what we’re getting from Apple Music compared to what KIIS FM offers is similar to the split in the nation that wasn’t clear until the evening of November 8th. What the people wanted is out there and growing legs as we speak but that masses are not getting are the truths of this music that tells the story of us for the near future.
When radio plays like the electoral college, do we abolish it?