Tonight I listened to a discussion stimulated by John B. Wells during his show, [that I treasure], titled CaravanToMidnight, available online. Mr. Wells was one of the first broadcasters I heard speaking about protecting his creative freedom to cover controversial topics of his choice, speaking in ways he chooses, without having to censor his programs to avoid offending large corporate sponsors.
Wells recognized a while ago that the very need to serve large corporate sponsors imposes a negative effect on broadcasting: it stifles creativity and innovation. That was also much of the discussion of his show this evening.
Tonight’s show was about the evolution of the broadcasting industry from thousands of local radio stations to a handful, or fewer, massive, national broadcasters. From independent locals to a few mega-media corporations. With that shift goes the loss of broadcasting diversity and local reporting, the very stuff that helps to differentiate and define a town or city from other towns or cities.
As I thought more about this topic, I realized that on a number of occasions I’ve waxxed nostalgic for the thrill of listening to undiscovered recording artists. One of the memories I miss most from the days of my youth was the enjoyment of tuning into what used to be called “Underground FM” stations to find emerging artists who were likely to make the charts long before they were discovered by the masses, or even before my friends who also were roaming the various underground FM stations in search of new talented musicians. Those stations were the ones playing artists who were just establishing a foothold with innovations which had not yet become popular.
The one station, in particular, that I enjoyed back then was WABX-FM from Detroit, Michigan, USA.
At that time, the brave D-Js of that station played music by unknowns and did so UNINTERRUPTED by commercials. In many instances those unknowns evolved into national and international stars. It was an adventure, a discovery. And, it was exciting and fun.
It was because of WABX that I discovered an artist who became one of my all-time favorites, Laura Nyro. She was an artist. She literally painted her songs with her mind, felt them. In her words, “I think of music in terms of colours, shapes, textures, and sensory things.” See End Note 1 I learned of Laura’s sensory experiences that went into shaping her music and that made her music all the more delightful to me. It turned her music into a magical, rich experience.
Today, stifled D-Js are no longer allowed to experiment or to let their music run on for too long, nNor can they discuss controversial topics which may offend large sponsors.
As local broadcasters get absored into a large national broadcaster operating costs rise and so does the pressure to conform and please.
DIVERSITY of music, from artists of all types and from just about anywhere in the world is giving way to uniformity, a singularity; individualism, to conformity.
As I travelled from one coast to another of this “once-great” nation, I noticed that the singularity has taken hold.
Whether news or music, flip from station to station and you will hear much the same from one channel to the other, the result of head office edicts issued from a head office located hundreds or thousands of miles away.
But it is not just diversity that is at risk. It is the medium itself that is at risk.
Once local radio stations are folded into a few mega corporations, centralized into one, instead of many, is there any need to have a SPECTRUM for FM that once was needed to accommodate and serve thousands of independent local stations?
NORWAY, is reported to be the first country to phase out FM entirely. See End Note 2
Norway is justifying its transition away from FM to digital by pointing out to the citizens that the sound quality will be better and there will be more functionality in the face of a declining audience.
A declining radio audience?
What makes people turn away from listening to the radio? Certainly the internet is making its mark, but is it not also because there is no longer a curiosity, a need to switch on local radio broadcasters since both the news and programming is pretty much uniform across all media, from newspapers, to radio, to TV? Turn from one to the other and the programming and information is much the same. But we should expect that is a mega-corporation controls all those broadcasting outlets. Back in head office there are great economies to producing one manuscript or one video and emailing that to its branches across the nation.
If you can flip on TV and listen to the very same news and programming as you can from your local FM station, both subsidiaries of a the same mega-corporation issuing the same output to each of its branches, why would you need to bother turning on an FM station?
Yet, for those of us wishing to hear undiscovered artists, or to get micro news, (neighbourhood or town news), rest assured that there exists some people who will respond to fill this growing need. Despite the governments’ best attempts to channel listeners into fewer media platforms, and into one or two national mega-corporations, there will always be those with ingenuity, innovative thinking, and courage who are ready to spring into action. Sooner or later we will see a counter revolution within the broadcasting industry: the rise of PIRATE FM BROADCASTING.
Pirate FM Broadcasting is the equivalent to white and black hat computer hackers. There already exists some of these pirate stations. We can expect this to become a movement once FM officially disappears, as has happened in Norway. “One station was streaming foreign online radio broadcasts over an FM frequency using illegal transmitters, at least two of which are placed somewhere in Oslo.” See End Note 3
Individualism can NOT be suppressed for long. Not even in the radio broadcasting industry. Meanwhile, while you still can, enjoy what little broadcasting and musical diversity you can find on the air waves.
- “Laura Nyro remembered: ‘A musical force of nature’.” by Lura Snapes. UNCUT. June 9, 2017.
- “Norway becomes first country to end national radio broadcasts on FM “, By Agence France-Presse in Oslo. The Guardian. Dec. 13, 2017.
- “FM radio fans air pirate broadcasts”, By Nina Berglund. NewsInEnglish.no. December 14, 2017