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“Only On The Inside”

11-11-2013

An oppressive heat and humidity of a late summer Saturday night backlit our consciousness, overwhelmed as we were by flashing lights, the constant jostling in a large, boisterous crowd, and the guilty thrill of knowing we were treading on the edge of unfamiliar, and likely forbidden, territory. The regular hollers of grown men and screams of momentary terror from young women confirmed our schoolboy suspicions. Pointed invitations to witness a show of mutated people or to view an authentic Arabian harem were offered to all, including the inebriated young men and their likewise tipsy, female companions. The possibility of experiencing the strange, the bizarre, and the exotic was close to a certainty. This produced a heightened expectation for an imminent breakout of some form of sex and/or violence, or, at the very least, something rude, crude, or lewd. It was all “only on the inside!”

Meanwhile, along the midway, pitchmen with their bulky Electro-Voice 664 microphones (which also doubled as tent-peg hammers) attached to neck and chest harnesses were hawking some kitchen invention or other gizmo that was going to change the course of human history. At some “joints,” free samples came sailing out into the crowd through the glare of a thousand blinding light bulbs. Surprisingly, the potential for injury was real. While out of our element, for a few extraordinary hours, we were in the best place in the world.

At one end of the midway – a judicious distance from the “adult” attractions – was another area. This one had a miniature version of a rollercoaster, a tiny Ferris wheel, a short and shallow boat cruise, a couple confection stands, some smaller swings and slides, and an actual “live pony ride.” A large sign hung on the entrance arch sporting multi-colored stars, moons, and planets welcoming all to “KIDDIE LAND.” Obviously, there had been a minimal investment in this area and, to be fair, not much was required. After all, kids impress easily. To their credit, and the satisfaction of their attorneys, the prime concern of the midway owners for these attractions was “safety.” I also noticed a number of teen kids from our neighborhood who had been hired (at less than minimum wages) to tidy up the grounds and assist munchkins and their sometimes plumper moms in getting in and out of the rides.

Almost all the other, young employees of the outfit were wearing company t-shirts and ball caps. As I learned much later, they were kids who were working long hours for poor wages who had, for the most part, “run away to join the circus.” The ride operators, though, made a little extra cash from coins that fell from the pockets of upside-down patrons on the tilt-a’-whirl and other “arse-up” attractions.

As to how any of this relates to modern, music radio…

If the entertainment, news, and advertising business were broken down into analogous components, modern music radio would be KIDDIE LAND. The grown-up audiences, advertisers, and their agencies are 95 percent involved in other media. Television, print, and the Internet are what the adults support and where the big kids play. This is an unchallenged fact. The other worrying reality is that radio has had decades to grow up. We have refused to participate in that process. Further, and sadly, it is also highly unlikely music radio will be meeting the Maturity Fairy and cutting a deal.

We have been sentenced to a "kiddie land" of our own construct. I am appalled at the reticence radio demonstrates by refusing to accept the near criminal behaviors of withholding audience and advertiser services and products as so outrageously self-destructive. I am insulted that innocuous cheerleaders are wagging those radio pom-poms so feverishly with delusional giddiness – frantically encouraging a team whose star players have already been given their outright releases. Many of those who remain are lying on the field bruised, bloodied, broken, or unconscious.

So many people in this business are so badly stricken – many unknowingly – they have to pretend they are operating in actual radio stations. Yet, it continues: the safe, but insulting banality of syndicated programs, voice-tracked day-parts, or maudlin, anemic performances and commercials from severely restrained local talent. From those sources there will be no grown-up thrills, no grown-up chills and, certainly, no adult spills. “Kiddie Land.” 

Radio provides almost nothing resembling grown-up attractions – not even the crackling immediacy of continuous, “live,” personality-driven broadcasts. Radio minimizes its investment and plays a “safety only” game. Audiences and advertisers may not consciously know that any more than we knew if the “Fabulous Madame Gazonga” could tell fortunes.

Unlike the ridiculous ramblings of radio’s promoters, apologists, and those heavily invested in the status quo, the folks at the carnival midway and the crowds that gathered had a mutual understanding: A stroll through their exotic neighborhood cost a couple of bucks. But, there will be a story worth telling…for years.

While I am eager to help bring some in music radio back to a place of legitimacy, credibility, and greater prosperity, I do fear that it may be too late for the whole medium to undergo and survive the necessary surgeries and rehab. Radio, our audiences, and our advertisers have no such mutual understanding, as did the carnival and us rubes. Nor can radio provide a similar appeal – or a story to tell.

But, every night the men would come around… and lay their money down. – Cher.




(11/12/2013 5:00:06 PM)
Understood, Steve.
Meanwhile, the big kids have moved on to Art Classes while our gang still struggles to keep their crayon colorings within the lines. Or, as Daffy sez, "That's embarraskin!"

- Ronald T. Robinson
(11/12/2013 3:44:30 PM)
Sorry to say, but even the kids aren't all that easily impressed these days.

They have access to more entertainment and information in their hot little hands than ever before and they know all to well that radio ain't the only game in town.

To them, radio is something that plays over the lousy speaker system at Home Depot.

- Steve

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