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Has radio lost its diversity?

by Dr. Spin
February 24, 2003

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The Last DJ_Dr. Spin-Has radio lost its diversity? Dear Dr. Spin,

Aside from Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears, I can't hardly think of a mainstream (non-swing, non-ska) rock band with a permanent horn section. Why is that?

Wynton M.

Dear Wynt,

Permanent horn sections just cost too much, man. If you make $1000 at a gig, would you rather split it with seven members or three? Add traveling expenses, hotel accommodations; it’s just not cost effective. Plus, with synthesizers much more capable of imitating brass instruments, who needs it?

Dear Dr. Spin,

In the 1970's there were several rock acts who were able to create many great hit singles and often great albums because of their willingness to be adventurous in how they wrote, arranged, and recorded their songs. By the 1980's it seems that many of them, from Heart to Chicago to David Bowie and even Bruce Springsteen, "sold out" and started to record hit singles according to a formula - often giving up creative control in writing or producing.

Is my assessment fair, and if so, why did this happen?


Jim W.

Dear Jim,

The ‘80’s were the decade of greed; therefore artists were more willing to “sell out” by giving up creative freedom at a cost of a hit record. Perhaps it was the threat of the new music video stars, where bands had to sell an “image” of being hip and looking good. Heart was a good example; Ann and Nancy Wilson had some of their greatest success with Heart’s self-titled album in 1985, yet other than contributing their voices and instrument playing, they had very little to do with it. Was it worth it? Looking back, the Wilson sisters say no.

Dear Dr. Spin,

Ever since I remember, I've heard critics complain that the rock scene has become too corporate, and that it's not like it was. But even though Top 40 stations may be even less diverse in style than they've ever been, it also seems that there are more niches and more choices for rock fans. How do you judge the overall scene in terms of quality and diversity of style?

Casey K.

Dear KCK,

Radio is becoming like cable; stations are more oriented to one style of music. On some levels, this is good; if I want to hear classic Rock, I know which stations to go to, and with corporations owning radio stations, there is a good chance that I can find a classic Rock station in any city. That’s the good news.

The bad news is if I’m the type of person who likes variety in my music (and I am), then I can’t find variety anymore. All the music on the station sounds the same, in fact, they keep playing the same songs, and that becomes monotony. Plus, what about music that doesn’t fit a genre? What station plays that music? The problem with “niche” stations are locked into one kind of music, and that doesn’t expose the listener to new music or at least music that’s new to him or her. If we rely on radio stations to expose us to new music (which I believe the majority of us still do), then “niche” stations fail us miserably.

Fortunately, I live in Chicago, which has an excellent radio station, WXRT. WXRT is one of the few stations in Chicago that plays a wide variety of music. I may not like every song they play, and they play a lot of songs other stations play, but I am more likely to hear something I’ve never heard on WXRT than anywhere else.

Overall, I think the quality and diversity of radio is reduced in the wake of specializing. We can hear the Beatles on “light Rock,” “oldies,” “classic Rock,” and “easy listening” stations, but where do we hear the more obscure bands like the Move? Maybe we’re lucky and have a DJ that plays “lost gems,” but if corporation continues, even those small venues will close up.

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