Radio Waves: September 16, 2022

Killing Corporate Radio

I’ve taken a lot of flak over the years from what I call the “corporate radio apologists” on various internet groups. I don’t understand the pressures of modern radio (I do, but most pressures are brought on by the owners themselves) and radio the way I like it is a thing of the past.

I’ve also gotten a lot of support from owners, programmers, DJs current and past, and behind the scenes employees across the country — most often off the record due to ties or potential ties with those same corporate companies such as Cumulus, iHeart and Audacy wherein they basically say I have it right. Or at least close.

My long-held contention is that radio has created most of its own problems, going back to  the 1970s and ‘80s when AM pushed listeners to FM and the late 1990s and 2000s when FM started pushing to listeners to non-radio entertainment, first satellite radio and iPods, later streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify. Yet I still hold it can be reversed, and I think a recent survey from my own students (see the column from August 26) and comments taken from a 2019 Edison Research survey available at The Edison survey was recently highlighted by InsideMusicMedia.Com’s Jerry Del Colliano.

It all basically comes down to too much clutter, and far too many commercials. Song repetition is mentioned as well, but that can easily be fixed. Here are some of the comments from the survey participants listening to a Ryan Seacrest morning show on KIIS-FM (102.7):

“A lot of commercials. Still goin’!”

“I might change the station and get involved in something else … and forget to flip back.”

“Oh, here’s the car commercial I hate.”

“If all these commercials were on the station I was listening to, I’d be on Spotify now.”

“How long have the advertisements been on now?”

“This is crazy.”

“Especially if you’re in the car … your ten-minute drive is all commercials.”

“There might be something I want to listen to, but it’s not worth it.”

I present: THE REASON radio is losing favor, especially among young people.

Yet it’s not like we don’t have a how-to manual available on how to run a radio station. When KHJ launched Boss Radio top-40 in 1965, a huge part of the appeal was “more music.” And there was: the station limited not only the number of commercials per hour, they were also limited per break. Six minutes per hour; two commercials per break. This gave them a chance to charge more per commercial as advertisers got more value for their dollar, and it attracted more listeners than ever to the format. Within months, KHJ was the number one station in town.

KHJ lost its way for a while, in the mid 1970s, but showing that the idea works: Chuck Martin brought KHJ back in a huge way in 1979 with a tremendous staff, great music selection, and … you guessed it, limited commercials. 20 minutes continuous with no more than three commercials per break, usually two.

Not enough? When KIIS-FM dominated radio in the mid 1980s, they had limited commercials as well. Same for KMET (now KTWV, 94.7 FM) and KLOS (95.5 FM). The problem is, the debt-laden major companies as mentioned above are all so desperate for revenue, they add more commercials to the mix, driving away listeners and ultimately driving down ad rates.

The best thing for radio would be for Cumulus, iHeart and Audacy to go away. And I don’t care if Audacy CEO David Field thinks I am a hater for saying this (He does).

The Good Stuff

That doesn’t mean I am a true hater of radio. I LOVE radio, and love its potential. It is stations like Go Country 105 (KKGO), Alt 98.7 (KYSR), KROQ (106.7 FM) and even KIIS that I turn to when I turn on the radio … which I do a lot. Alt’s The Woody Show is among the best morning shows LA has ever had. Go Country is a great place to hear modern country music (yes, I know … it’s not “real country” but I still like it). There’s a lot of great new pop on KIIS. Frankly, I could go on and on. 

So here’s my challenge to you. Let’s pretend you were given a new station. You know that there are already numerous stations appealing to the older generations. Is there something you could think of that would attract young people to the AM or FM band? Or in general, how can we as pretend station owners and managers going to attract listeners back from Spotify?