JAIMIE VERNON – CUTTING EDGE RADIO
It was slice and dice time this past week at Corus Entertainment – a media conglomerate bloated with 3D printer versions of radio stations and formats that run the gamut: talk radio, sports talk, business talk, knitting talk, pet talk, Hot A/C, Hot A/C light, Hot A/C dance, Hot A/C D/C, Adult, Slightly Adult, Slightly More Adult, Prematurely Adult, Classic Rock, Jurassic Rock, Pet Rock, New Rock, Modern Rock, Over The Hill Rock, and all fucking traffic all the fucking time.
Time cards were punched at CFNY (sorry, The Edge 102.1) and Q107 and I imagine dozens of other station around Canada all controlled by one corporate swinging axe. Among the biggest casualties at Q was long time “Legends Of Classic Rock” syndicated host Jeff Woods who had just migrated back from Calgary to set up shop in Toronto again – having worked at Q107 previously. And the most stunning upheaval, the loss of afternoon drive host and Wild Party guitar maven himself, Kim Mitchell.
Mitchell had been grousing about finding an alternate outlet for his career beginning earlier this year when he teased that once his deal with Q expired in 2016 he wasn’t going to renew. Well, the station fast-tracked his pink slip and off he went. Who’s replacing him? Gossip columnist and morning show chanteuse Maureen Holloway who will be teamed with weekend warrior John Scholes. Sounds good on paper but we’ll see if there’s chemistry and whether Loogin Nation will accept anything but Kim Mitchell’s sardonic output during the 3PM – 7PM slot.
Kim’s a music warrior and quite resilient. I have no doubt he’ll find ways to keep afloat – he is Kim Mitchell, after all. I wish the new duo a lot of luck. The audience is getting tired of the changes. First with the station’s format streamlining last year from the 14 year glut as Ontario’s “Classic Rock” gurus to the timid sounding regional “Toronto’s Rock”. Let’s face it, they didn’t actually CHANGE the format – they merely retired some of their Classic Rock fodder and added Grunge to make it more up-to-date with the occasional new artist thrown into the mix. And yet, the play list is still 20 years behind the curve. Which is still far too modern for the taste of its once devoted audience.
But this isn’t unique to Q107 or even Corus Entertainment. It’s endemic in an industry hustling a bottom line to deliver a product that’s on life support. It now has to compete with streaming music services – most notably Pandora, Spotify, Apple. But there’s a new enemy eating up precious entertainment time. Now there is Netflix, Shomi and CraveTV on-demand visual services where you can binge watch and mainline 130 hours of “Saved By The Bell”, “Full House” and “Brady Bunch” re-runs between “Orange Is the New Black”, “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards”.
Radio is throwing a panicked response and second guessing themselves because of this. But, like MTV, this fad too shall pass. The on-demand service is becoming the new radio. At some point every TV show mankind has ever created will be repeated over and over to the point that you’ll be able to catch a show you missed in the feed at the exact same place you left off….a year later. And the playlists will grow incredibly ubiquitous, bloated and boring. To combat that and keep audiences interested bean counters will suggest the division of genres and new streaming channels devoted, like the old network TV model, into niche boxes of similar crap. We called it TV Land. They’ll be sure to give it some other buzz word moniker.
Radio is already there. Everything’s been thrown at the wall. Everything is available to listen to – either on terrestrial radio, satellite radio or internet radio. On the losing end of this equation is terrestrial radio who are trying to sell the same old pop standards exactly the same way they always have. There’s one slight twist: they’ve recently added a website stream of the broadcasts in an attempt to catch up to a 20 year-old internet culture. It presumes we listen to radio for entertainment purposes when what we really do with radio is endure it during our painful commutes to and from work everyday. It’s why the morning drive and the rush hour drive portions of radio have the biggest audiences – and thus the highest paid DJs attempting to add a human element between traffic reports, the news and commercials trying to sell you the car you already own. Captive radio isn’t active radio. When you’re sitting at the cottage and can only receive one station in Muskoka with a name and call letters derivative of some tundra prowling animal in the hinterlands, you’re not tuning in so much as grasping at straws.
The suits know this. The playlists that were once free form became micro-managed and now, sadly, are micro-mangled. They’re after the demographic milquetoast quotient so that advertising can be built around the 1,000th spin of Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” without losing the listener – cause nobody wants to miss another iteration of “Freebird”, right? So all that’s left is how to market the same detergent over and over again in a different box. The buzz word for the last decade is to call this repackaging: ‘branding’. And branding means stamping a catch phrase on it, plastering it on billboards and the side of buses, rinse and repeat. When that doesn’t work you throw it in the spin cycle, add a new coat of paint and call it something else, yet again.
TODAY’S BEST ROCKING CLASSIC HIT OLDIES FROM FEBRUARY 18, 1957 TO JUNE 4, 1986 AT 3:15PM
It’s the only way to distinguish one station from promoting their station as TODAY’S BEST ROCKING CLASSIC GOLD OLDIES FROM FEBRUAY 18, 1957 TO JUNE 4, 1986 AT 3:15PM
It’s a giant game of semantic hair splitting. “We play pop music from 1959 to 1980” while their competing station says, “We only play music from 1965 to 1982”. How is this DIFFERENT? You’re playing the SAME songs. How you frame it doesn’t change the fact that everyone is playing “Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf at some point during the hour, the day, the week. Everyone’s playing “Walking On Sunshine”. Everyone’s playing “Hotel California” regardless of the name of the format. Excluding certain songs doesn’t make it different. Stop dazzling us with new branding and start changing what is ACTUALLY being played on the radio.
You know who the only station that ever truly played anything different was? CFNY-FM when they switched formats in the late 1970s because Q107 was nipping at their feet (prior to that CFNY was the only station playing Black Sabbath, as an example). Music Director David Marsden announced a new directive where the station would only play underground and import music. No playlist. No Top40 countdown. No bean counter controls.
Bring THAT back to radio and you’ve got an audience that will re-engage. When was the last time anyone uttered the phrase: “You won’t believe what I heard on the radio last night!” How about an all B-sides show? How about surf music from the Pacific Rim? How about pop records from Wales? THAT would be unique. That would be new. That would be worthy of branding your station CUTTING EDGE RADIO.
And it’s risky business. But, maybe it’s time to put the risk and rebellion back into entertainment. Because the safe harbour version of radio isn’t working. At all.
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Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon