Radio Killed the Roneo Star?
In 1885, at the same time he was developing the rudiments of mimeography, Edison was also applying for a patent on an electrostatic coupling system for elevated terminals, for which he was granted U.S. Patent No. 465,971 in 1891. His buddy Nik Tesla, along with Englishmen Oliver Lodge and Alexander Muirhead, Russians Alexander Popov and Dmitry Lachinov, plus a slew of others, very nearly killed each other in the race to achieve liftoff. But it was Italian Guglielmo Marconi who was granted a British patent in 1897 for the first working wireless communication device, and after he eventually obtained the other necessary rights from Edison and started the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company, the world shortly had its first radio and began its inexorable ascent into the telecommunications Cloud.
Understandably, when the starter's pistol went off in 1885, the ensuing radio race was a lot more exciting than the mimeograph race. There was a big trainload of money coming down the track for radio communications, and they all knew it.
The world changed
Then it changed again.
And then it changed again. But Radio did not kill the Roneo Star, after all. It got killed.
Here it is, July of 2012, and the only jazz radio programming available to Los Angeles' 10 million plus listeners are KKJZ, a publicly supported FM station owned by Cal State University in Long Beach, plus KCRW and KPFK, the NPR affiliates in Santa Monica and North Hollywood. A few other grace notes are broadcast here and there, like breadcrumbs scattered for dedicated and hungry listeners to find where they can, but most jazz fans are busily creating their own internet-based listening stations. In April of this year, Doug McIntyre's employers at Cumulus informed him that he was to remove the tasteful, far-ranging selection of old and new jazz he had always used as his long-running KABC talk show's bumper music, and replace it with more acceptable pop and rock. Fun like the in-studio interview I heard one night with John Pizzarellicomplete with a live display of improvisational ingenuity as the multi-talented musician did his signature unison scatting/guitar soloinghad to go too, of course. Thus does endeth the history lesson on the short, happy life of jazz programming on AM radio in Los Angeles.
Something about this news felt darkly apocalyptic. Your humble correspondent was growing restless.
What could be done about this tumble down the slippery slope into an oblivion of self-designed programming? Where is a person to turn for musical adventure in the midst of all these incestuous, social media-driven choices based on a porridge of earlier choices? Not that I don't appreciate being able to create my own "radio" stations online, but the illogic inherent in this approach is obvious. If the people who are trying to venture into realms of new musical experience are choosing the music with which to create their customized radio station, how far will they venture? The availability of millions upon millions of choices helps a small percentage of inquisitive people, but overwhelms far more of them. Desperate to hear something enjoyable without spending an entire lifetime looking for it in the MP3 Sea of Anonymity, it is easy to choose something familiar. The inbreeding of the closed system inevitably kills it. No matter how big your iTunes library gets, you've heard it all before.
The solution? Easy. Get more people like the pre-April-2012-KABC Doug McIntyrepeople who listen to music that you or I might be unfamiliar withto share it in a broadcast on a public forum. People like the late, legendarily great Chuck Niles of KKJZ (nee KLON) in Los Angeles, or Michael Bourne on WBGO, or the ubiquitous Bob Parlocha on NPR.
I know, I know. You can't turn back the hands of time, right? You can't un-ring the bell. You can't go home again. Right?
Wrong. Technology can be steered in any direction. Anything that could be accomplished in the past can be accomplished again. Our 21st Century technology has not killed commercial radio. Commercial radio has slowly been killing itself, through its own slavery to the bottom line and criminal neglect of long-available broadcast tools. By trying to make their shareholders happy in controlling the marketplace and creating programming that appeals to everyone, radio marketeers have managed to create a product so bland that few people want it or are willing to pay for it. And to appease those grumpy shareholders, they've stupidly told someone like Doug McIntyre to play inoffensive pop music when he goes to a break. When that defeatist strategy fails, then what? Muzak?