Monday, November 25, 2013

Call for On-Air Radio Talent

WOOK-LP Radio DC announces over 50 openings for on-air hosts of D.C.-based music and public affairs-themed radio programs for its low-power FM project.   No experience necessary; students are encouraged to apply.  Proposals for 'live', pre-recorded, and/or syndicated productions from:
  • performing artists (incl. DJs, spoken word artists, and comedians)
  • educators and schools
  • activists
  • journalists
  • webcasters and Internet radio stations
  • recording labels
  • small businesses & entrepreneurs
  • event promoters
reflecting the culture of Greater Washington, D.C. will be given top consideration.

Time slots will be reserved on a first-come basis. On-air hosts will be required to participate in the station's membership campaigns, but will have the opportunity to use their shows for fundraising on behalf of charitable causes, or to earn income from 3rd-party sponsorships and/or promotional agreements.  The fee for hosting a weekly 1-hour program is $75/month; a $50 non-refundable deposit is required.  More details are available on the station's website.

For an invite to apply in person at an upcoming monthly mixer, R.S.V.P. by 'liking' WOOK-LP Radio on Facebook, or leave your full name and e-mail address in the 'comments' section below. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

'Black' Radio: Revisited

Several months ago, I wrote an op-ed countering the so-called demise of 'Black' radio in America.  Premiere Networks' (Clear Channel) cancellation of Michael Baisden's syndicated radio show, and longtime New York City Urban Contemporary outlet WRKS-FM's format switch to sports talk triggered the customary round of reactionary handwringing and conspiracy theories from industry insiders, activists, and critics predicting Black radio's iminent extinction.  I responded by first pointing out the number of radio stations -- broadcast and Internet -- owned or operated by African-Americans is higher today than at any point in history, even as growth among Af-Am owners of broadcast properties has roughly stagnated since the mid-90s.  Second, the number of Af-Ams currently working in the U.S. radio industry is higher today than at any point in history (racial/ethnic demographics of ownership notwithstanding).  Third, the cumulative total of radio programming inclusive of Af-Am themes and/or aimed at predominantly Af-Am audiences is also greater today than at any point in history.  It should be noted, however, that Af-Ams remain disproportionately underrepresented in all areas of the U.S. radio industry and underserved as a market.

I'm now following up on the first op-ed with a deeper analysis of the milieu as IMO the State of Black Radio sucks.  This time my observations are largely anecdotal and mainly concerned with aesthetics, especially the areas of marketing and programming.  Assuming Black radio to be programming principally representative of Af-Am culture, it does a terrible job putting the full range of Af-Am-oriented content on exhibit.  Black stations seem to come only in one of three flavors: R&B/Hip-Hop (more frequently marketed as 'Urban Contemporary' or 'UC'), 'Adult-oriented' R&B ('Urban Adult Contempory' or 'UAC' -- R&B for late Boomers and Gen Xers), and Gospel.  There are a handful of Af-Am news/talk stations, including WURD-AM in Philadelphia and Radio One's WOL-AM (Washington, D.C.) and WOLB-AM (Baltimore) scattered about the country, but in many cities where Af-Am represent > 10% the metropolitan area population Af-Am-oriented news/talk is practically nonexistent.  To be fair, there is a growing number of Af-Ams launching radio talk shows online, but the economics of Internet radio are such that it's doubtful many webcasters are building the audience needed for their stations to achieve financial viability.

I realize that business considerations influence radio stations' programming decisions, even for Black/Urban radio stations.  Yet, managers of these stations regularly complain they receive few ad buys relative to their ratings performance.  Urban radio's executives accuse advertisers and media buyers of redlining: fixing a percentage of the total ad dollars that are to be spent among all Af-Am-themed media.  Media buyers and ad agencies fire back by citing many of the listeners of Urban stations are young adults, < 25 years old, who aren't yet decision makers shopping for durable goods; i.e., cars, appliances, etc..  Therefore, the sponsors of Urban stations tend to be fast food restaurants, beverages, and toiletries/personal grooming items, along with other impulse buys (including entertainment media and lottery tickets) and special events. 

Many Af-Am-themed stations have chosen to brand themselves as 'Urban' rather than 'R&B', 'Hip Hop', or even 'Black' outlets to escape redlining, but the strategy has failed on two fronts: 1) programming remains narrowly focused on contemporary R&B content from a limited number of Af-Am content producers promoted and distributed by an even smaller number of non-Af-Am-owned media conglomerates, 2) stations' marketing efforts aren't in sync with their branding.  It stands to reason a generic UC station would feature programming with a greater mix of non-Af-Am artists across a similarly wide cross-section of music genres matching its local demographics.

It appears today's Black radio management simply lacks the imagination and fortitude for their stations to avoid appearing as anything but dull.  It's no surprise that so many critics regard Black radio as moribund.  Still, the potential for growth with Af-Am themed radio programming is vast and mostly underdeveloped.  It can and should be redefined in a way that results in more diversified programming and greater revenue streams for both individual stations and across the industry.

A good first step would be to distinguish 'Black' (or, 'African-American', 'Afrocentric', etc.) stations from UC, R&B, Gospel, and similar formats.  The hypothetical Af-Am station would feature content reflective of the African diaspora; a cross-section of several music genres; i.e., R&B, Jazz, Rock, International, etc., blended with local and regional news and public affairs relevant to Af-Am listeners.  Af-Am stations could further differentiate themselves from their UC counterparts by exhibiting content produced over a wider time period.  To counter tepid ad sales revenues, listener membership campaigns could be implemented as auxiliary (or even primary) revenue streams.  The added value from listeners having an interest in the station would also be a boon for its branding.  Many radio consultants recommend social media and digital content sales -- especially of metadata -- as revenue sources, but I believe event planning and production hold more potential as revenue sources for broadcasters and webcasters.

Ownership remains the biggest challenge facing Af-Am radio.  While Af-Am ownership of radio stations has exploded since the 90's, nearly all of the growth is in Internet radio with its relatively low barriers to entry.  Despite the growth, few online-only radio stations of any genre ever break even, let alone become competitive with their broadcast counterparts.  However, an individual webcaster's financial viability -- and their station's ability to compete with AM and FM stations -- is perhaps less important to the big picture of Af-Ams empowering the voices of our communities through the use of Internet radio technologies.  Considering also the standing opportunities for Af-Ams to launch or acquire AM and FM stations and networks through syndication, leasing, and investing to operate as low-power, full-power, commercial, or non-commercial entities, the conventional narrative describing Black radio's downfall is in dire need of a rewrite.

Friday, July 19, 2013

AMPLIFY DC Community Radio Mixers for July 2013

React Radio Network announces two July mixers on behalf of community radio for D.C.-based music and culture. These FREE events are open to the public and begin 3 p.m. Saturday July 20 and 7 p.m. Tuesday July 23 at the Fire Station Tavern, 8131 Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring.

The F.C.C. has announced it will accept applications this October for Low Power FM radio stations as a way to promote the voices of our communities.   Individuals can contribute to our July goal of $5,000 with the purchase of a $25 ½-hour or $50 1-hour sponsorship; small business sponsorships are available from $100. All contributions are tax deductible.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

AMPLIFY DC Community Radio Mixer, SATURDAY JUNE 1ST!!

Join DC's indie music fans, media pros, neighborhood leaders, and entrepreneurs in creating a community *broadcast* radio station for showcasing local music and public affairs 3 p.m. Saturday June 1, 2013 @ Fire Station Restaurant & Brewing Company, 8131 Georgia Avenue Silver Spring, MD. 

Discover how to support the music of DC, MD, and VA as an on-air host, member, or sponsor of AMPLIFY DC.  Income and ownership opportunities are available.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Death to Rotation (Long Live the DJ, Part I)

Perhaps the biggest complaint voiced about broadcast music radio stations in the U.S. is the practice of playing a narrow list of songs repeatedly.  Known as 'rotation', it's a staple of adult contemporary, contemporary hit radio, and urban contemporary programming at stations across the country.  A typical rotation might feature 40-60 songs -- including 10 or so that are the most recent releases from major record labels -- that are to be played over a 6 hour span.  The playlist itself may be sub-divided into 'new', 'current', 'oldie/classic', and 'recurrent' (a hit released within the past 6-12 months) sections, with 'current' songs receiving the most airplay.  Promotional efforts; e.g., ad buys, by record labels also influence which songs receive the most plays.  The commercialized aspects of radio promotion
and rotation are seen by many artists, music industry pros, and fans as de facto 'payola'; a breach of artistic ethics and an illegal act in broadcasting.  Nevertheless, radio stations employ rotation more today than at any point in history, rationalizing the practice as a reflection of satisfying listener demand.

I started in radio at a time when individual announcers had considerable influence over the music they broadcast over the air.  Disc jockeys (!) were the heartbeat of a music radio station; artists entrusted with introducing to the public new music acts and their releases consistent with the prevailing (if not vague) artistic standards of a given genre.  Top DJs knew their milieu upside down and inside out, aided by a network of record label owners, promoters, music venue operators, musicians, and fans.  It wasn't uncommon for a DJ to moonlight in nightclubs or by spinning for private parties.  The social contacts and extracurricular activity worked to develop the DJ's ear for gauging their audiences' preferences.  DJs who could tap into the public zeitgeist for anticipating or covering in-depth music audiences would embrace rewarded their stations with big ratings numbers.

Deregulation of the broadcast radio industry has eaten away at what was once the province of the DJ, reducing the role of today's on-air talent to that of talking head.  The emergence of corporate groups operating multiple stations in multiple markets triggered a generic comformity in music programming content corporate radio executives love, but music radio fans hate with a passion.  All the songs in a given station's rotation seemingly sound the same, regardless of the artist, as playlists are determined by the centralized division of a parent company.  Those songs deemed unsuitable for popular
consumption -- or whose artists/labels can't afford to buy enough ads to justify their entry into rotation -- receive no airplay.  The result is shallow playlists offering little by way of diversity or imagination.  As a parent company often owns or operates multiple stations in a market, the strategy is implemented at all their affiliates whereby the music across stations of supposedly different formats sounds remarkably similar.  Their effect upon radio's creativity and entertainment value is chilling.  Now when we tune in to our favorite music radio station not only do we hear the same rotation over and over again, the few songs in rotation are indistinguishable from one another.

Short of the FCC resurrecting strict limits on radio station ownership -- especially for a single market --  broadcasters face little pressure to innovate.  We're not likely to see a local origination requirement placed on radio broadcasters either, given the public's cavalier attitude toward the concept of public interest.   Modern broadcast radio executives and managers see their roles as selling proprietary time and space to content producers.  They aren't artists.  They aren't curators or patrons of music.  They continue to fight against paying performance royalties as do satcasters and webcasters (perhaps a moot point as nearly every broadcaster also streams their programming over the Internet for which they do pay performance royalties).  On-air talent has been reduced to 'labor'; disposable (and therefore inexpensive) human assets.  I seriously doubt today's commercial AM and FM music
stations will empower announcers or program directors to act as A&R reps or otherwise have much input in programming.

Still, it should be noted playlists serve a legitimate function, and formats, although at times hyper-segmented, have value to broadcasters, advertisers, content producers, and audiences.  Rotation, generally speaking, has its merits within the context of commercial radio.  My concern is the adverse effect narrow playlists featuring songs in rotation 4, 5, 6 times per day have upon creativity at AM
and FM music radio stations.  I'd like to see playlists at these radio stations expanded to include more local and indie music, and a reduction in the maximum number of spins  new or current hit songs receive.  I'd also like to see individual DJs be permitted more input and discretion in the songs
selected for airplay.

But maybe AM and FM music stations are on to something by focusing their programming at a large center mass.  There's a place in the music radio market for 'latest hits' programming.  Presuming I'm correct, it may explain satrad and web radio's emergence in the market as supplements to broadcast radio, rather than competitors.  In fact, much of Radio 2.0's branding of Internet and satellite radio emphasizes the greater content diversity delivered by those channels.  Web radio and satrad outlets serve up wider and deeper archives of music content; programs are often hosted by traditional DJs who are free to experiment with music from indie acts as well as probe niche formats in depth.  The result is a radio landscape that despite its quirks offers something for both casual music fans and enthusiasts.

Monday, January 28, 2013

AMPLIFY D.C.'s Airwaves Meetup

Join music lovers, entertainment professionals, neighborhood leaders, and entrepreneurs 2 p.m. Saturday February 2, 2013 @ Austin Grille, 919 Ellsworth Drive in Silver Spring, MD.  Support radio airplay for the music of DC, MD, and VA as an on-air host, small business member, or sponsor of AMPLIFY DC.  Income and ownership opportunities are available.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Call for Radio Hosts - Open Conference Call January 23, 2013

react Radio Network announces over 50 weekly 1-hour slots for on-air hosts of music and public affairs-themed radio programs with its Silver Spring, MD AM project.  No experience necessary; students are encouraged to apply.  Proposals for 'live', pre-recorded, and/or syndicated productions from:
  • performing artists (incl. DJs, spoken word artists, and comedians)
  • educators and schools
  • activists
  • journalists
  • webcasters and Internet radio stations
  • recording labels
  • small businesses & entrepreneurs
  • event promoters
representing the communities of Greater Washington, D.C. will be given top consideration.
Time slots will be reserved on a first-come basis.  On-air hosts will be required to participate in the station's membership campaigns, but will be permitted the option to use their shows for fundraising on behalf of charitable causes, or for commercial purposes to earn income from 3rd-party sponsorships and/or promotional agreements. 

The conference call is scheduled for 9 p.m. Wednesday January 23, 2013.  The conference's phone number is (305) 848-8888; enter 6252883374 as the code to enter the conference room.  In-person applications may be scheduled by clicking 'like' on react Radio Network's Facebook page and the 'Call for Radio Hosts' blogpost, or by leaving your full name and e-mail address in the 'comments' section below.