[JPL] "Computers are Useless" - response to Brad Stone's post

Bob Rogers rwsfin at hotmail.com
Tue Sep 5 23:02:06 EDT 2006


Dear Brad,

Thank you for your thoughtful response to my “Computers are Useless” post.  
I’m delighted to know we share the free-form experience.  My introduction to 
it came at KPRI in San Diego in the late 60’s-early 70’s, which was the 
first radio station I ever managed.  I had, and still have, several friends 
who worked at San Francisco’s KSAN.  But having said that, I'm not nostalgic 
for those particular “radio days.”  It was fun at the time and I didn't 
actually die of a drug overdose.   But I’ve never been one to hearken back 
to old times.  Truly things ain’t what they used to be, they never were and 
that suits me fine.  Today and tomorrow have always been more interesting to 
me than yesterday.

I don’t think my views come from an idealized world.  I’m a pretty 
practical, results-oriented person.  As someone who has managed radio 
stations and/or my own business for the past 40 years or so, I don’t have to 
be convinced that music directors are necessary, nor would I argue the point 
that they are more necessary than ever today.  And in stations where you are 
working with a mixture of seasoned air staff and students, I seriously doubt 
that I would do or advocate anything different than what you are doing.  
I’ve listened to your station and I read your play lists.  If I lived in 
your market I’m sure you would be my first choice station.  Same thing 
w/KUVO were I in Denver.  The stations sound good and it is obviously 
working.  I’d keep it up and I’m grateful that you, Arturo and others are 
doing so.  (As a former resident of the Bay Area, I think you’re a hell of a 
lot better jazz station than the nearly-sanctified KJAZ ever was.)

Most of what I say about radio programming in any posting is really based on 
an assumption that the station is presenting music as the main element of 
its programming, that it broadcasts 24/7 in a highly competitive large or 
major market, and that it has a seasoned air staff.  I realize how limiting 
that is for many JPL participants but that’s the only context from which 
feel qualified to speak.

Regarding your observation that "One of the problems with free-form radio, 
where these DJs have complete control over their own shows, is that it is 
very easy to get stuck in a rut and at times not be as creative as they may 
be capable of”, I agree that slacking off has always happened and that it 
probably always will.  But I believe that the role of program management in 
those situations is to be the slackers worst nightmare, a demanding, 
no-holds-barred son-of-a-bitch with a keen nose for, and intense hatred of, 
complacency, someone who is ready to demand that every DJ be ‘on his game’ 
every shift, hard as that is.  While such hard-assed attitudes are probably 
still SOP at major market commercial stations, maybe that’s not acceptable 
in the noncommercial world.

Here’s what worries me.  It’s a problem of a different kind that also arose 
from free-form radio.  Free-form morphed into AOR, which became so 
consultant-driven and top-down centralized that, over the years, it became 
too formulaic and inane to survive.  Its virtue?  It was “consistent.”  No 
surprises at all, unless you count the fact that the cursed thing lasted so 
long.  When I read accounts today in the public radio trade press of what I 
consider to be superficial drivel regarding music programming coming from 
so-called consultants or “station spokespersons” as they announce 
programming changes, I think about Yogi Berra’s remark, “It’s déjà vu, all 
over again!”

Regarding your last paragraph, that a radically more free-form approach 
won’t work for every listener nor for every radio station in every market, I 
could not agree more.  I said as much in my previous post, entitled “Special 
Programming.”  It’s just a viable option for a very few programming 
organizations, and very few of those are radio stations.  But for those few, 
it is viable, inevitable, smart and practical.

And yes, it is good to be talking about programming.  Thank you so much, 
Brad.  Keep up the good work in those younger demographics.  I look forward 
to seeing you in January at the IAJE.

Best regards,

Bob Rogers

****
Dear Bob,

I remember you posting a similar argument on the JPL a few months ago.  I 
wanted
to respond then, but it was Arturo, I believe, who eloquently answered with 
a
very similar response to what I was going to make, so I didn't.  This time, 
I
decided to take this up.

As a product of listening to the old free-form FM days (and having worked at
several free-form stations), I certainly understand where you are coming 
from,
and empathize with your line of reasoning.  In an ideal world, maybe what 
you
say would be true - and your plea for independent control of all the music 
on
each individual show is something that already exists and works on some
stations.  However, I must respectfully disagree with your argument from a
practical standpoint.

I would argue that music directors are more necessary than ever.  With the
advent of satellite radio, internet radio, etc., it makes it that much more
challenging, and important, for radio to produce smart programming, rather 
than
to be willy-nilly all over the place from show to show.  With the plethora 
of
new releases that we receive every week, it becomes more and more important 
to
make judicious decisions about what goes on the air, and what doesn't.  
Having a
bevy of shows that results in spinning everything that comes in, results in 
one
spin here or there in a month, does little for the artists.  A disciplined
playlist therefore can help to give significant spins to the releases that 
are
chosen to be on the playlist (i.e. in rotation).

I understand what you mean by having enthusiastic, passionate announcers who 
are
knowlegeable and bring their own art to their programs.  One of the problems
with free-form radio, where these DJs have complete control over their own
shows, is that it is very easy to get stuck in a rut and at times not be as
creative as they may be capable of.  We all get into routines where it 
becomes
"easy" to just put on the cut we played last time, or a familiar cut, 
thereby
becoming complacent.  I have witnessed this time and again with DJs at these
sorts of stations - it is work to be "on one's game" every shift - and it 
has
certainly happened to me where I realize that I've gotten into the same old
pattern.  One of the reasons that I love operating from a regular rotation 
is
that it challenges everyone on the air to be creative.  We need to work to 
build
sets around the scheduled albums that are in rotation - it forces you to 
really
think every hour how the music that you choose will fit in with the new 
albums
on the playlist - and keeps you on your toes.  This can really help to keep
stimulating creativity.  We are very fortunate to have 3 community staffers 
who
bring the sort of passion and knowledge about the music that you espouse to 
our
station.  Our rotation is one that is about equally divided between "music
director's decisions" and "DJ decisions".  These DJs (Mike Schwartz, Kevin 
Foley
Ariente and Karen "The JazzCat" Gentile) are adept at building sets around 
the
rotation material (including blues and world music), keeping their shows
extremely creative while putting their own stamp on the sound (in a separate
posting, I will give you examples of their show playlists).

Another factor is that we are a University radio station, and therefore 
dealing
with teaching students about radio.  Most of our announcers are students, 
and
many of them do not have much knowledge about jazz.  Some of them are 
terrifed
with the prospect of having to do a jazz show, but the rotation makes the 
whole
process much easier and comforting for them - a student can go on the air
without knowing much about the music and still sound professional.

The last point I will make in favor of rotations (set playlists) and music
directors is that I believe that it is important for jazz shows, on a 
station
like ours, to have some continuity from one show to another.  There needs to 
be
some connection, some common thread, that makes us sound like who we are.  
The
music director can (hopefully) control this sound in an intelligent way, 
that
makes sense for the positioning of the station in that particular market.  
For
instance, in our case we have KCSM in our market, who do a great job with 
their
programming, so given that we are University radio, it makes sense for us to 
try
to be on the more progressive side of things - to appeal to young people 
while
giving other listeners in the market a reason to tune us in during jazz 
shows.

I agree that radio has been presented a whole new set of challenges this 
decade,
that we continue to need to address.  While, as a listener and music junkie, 
I
enjoy hearing eclectic, free-form programming - that does not mean that it 
works
for every listener, nor would it work for every radio station in every 
market.

Cheers,

Brad Stone
KSJS-FM
San Jose

P.S. DELIGHTED to see the thread of postings in recent months about 
PROGRAMMING!




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