Reditorial: The Future Of Radio

The recent retirements of CKNW talkers Philip Till and Bill Good raises the question: where are radio’s up and coming young stars?

I was asked to talk at the conclusion of another successful night at the Arts Club Theatre production of Red Rock Diner about radio today. I said if I was a young man today I wouldn’t enter radio. The reason is simple: it is truly a dead end street. Each year BCIT‘s broadcast division graduates about 30 students. Why? There are 90 talented radio people who can’t find work in the industry because they cost money. Corporations want to hire only entry level people and it sounds like it when you turn the dial. These young people have energy and enthusiasm, but soon learn that there is nowhere to grow. so they opt for film, video production or a technology career. Can you blame them?

When I entered radio in the mid 1950’s the airwaves were filled with personalities. Each one had a distinctive sound and personality: Vic Waters, Wilf Ray, Al Jordan and Jack Cullen not only brought personality to their shows, they were working with creative ideas.

Tom Petty’s song The Last Deejay says “The last deejay says what he wants to say and plays what he wants to play.” Those days are gone as so-called consultants step in and tell you how you should perform. I liked the old era where if you got listeners in numbers you kept your job, but if you failed to get listeners you would find yourself out of work. I loved the challenge.

Now, for the most part, it’s how you play the game to keep head office and the consultants happy. They pick the music, supply one liners on cards and generally create your show. This is why radio today sounds like the various shows have gone through a cookie cutter. Booooring!

SONIC’s Kid Carson is allowed to create his own product and CFOX’s Drex has great potential if someone would let him have the reins for a while. QMFM’s Nat and Drew are proven entities and the move from Z95 has not curtailed their performance in any way. TEAM 1040’s Bro Jake is now a sports jock and a great self-promoter. Most of the other on-air performers don’t get promoted on television or on buscards the way they do in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. I bet you can’t name 10 radio performers in the Vancouver market.

We need radio professionals calling the shots and not someone from a meat packing plant in Ontario. I have actually been told that radio and television are the same as all other businesses. Pardon the pun, but that’s plain baloney! These are the people who took the “show” out of show business. Most media in this country is controlled by five corporations and most of them are in Toronto. Decisions on radio and TV stations located west of Toronto are much like the colonies of the past: what’s good for Toronto is good for the nation. They seriously think that the Raptors and the Blue Jays are our national teams!

If baseball or football played by the same rules there would be empty seats in stadiums across the land. Can you imagine a game with no major, and I might add expensive stars? Well that is radio today. Even the stage has people trained and standing by if the star of the show falls ill. When you don’t invest in talent, it won’t exist. Why has this happened? My answer is people who don’t understand the dynamics of broadcasting and are only interested in pleasing the shareholders… and the people on top are the major shareholders.

By cutting back on-air talent and sales you can save yourself into eventual oblivion. But the corporations look at everything in quarters. There is little long range planning. Of course this makes money for the corporations and the shareholders.

And sadly, they aren’t about to change the game plan.