Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Don't fall for it

Someone recently sent me the below report. It's an interesting read, though funny in places, and depressing in others. (It is a real reminder of the music industry's power to establish rhetorical norms that a word like "eclectic" can be defined in such narrow terms.) A few thoughts:

1. Jazz recordings are noticeably absent from this discussion. Surprise!

2. This is an absurd statement: "Bob Perry, a veteran radio programmer, started the variety format on the Internet radio station JACK.FM in 2000." Eclectic programming has been around since the beginning of radio itself.

3. This is an absurd mantra for the stations described below: "We play anything." I propose revising as follows: "We play anything commercial (even if it's old)" or "We play commercial songs (i.e., music with words)."

Of course, some variety is better than none, so this may be a move in the right direction. Read on and decide for yourself.

* * * * *

And The Revolution Begins: Variety Format Takes Off At Radio Stations & Noon Play list On Chicago's Nine FM
Posted: Tue., May. 24, 2005 09:22:45 PM MST

CHICAGO (AP) -- The posters hanging on the walls of the broadcasting booth at Nine FM are as eclectic as the music the radio station plays -- Pink Floyd and Aerosmith sharing space with the Marx Brothers, the Rat Pack and the Beatles.

"We play anything" is the station's mantra, and to prove it, program director and afternoon personality Matt DuBiel's afternoon mix moves from Boz Scaggs to Prince to Cheap Trick.

With names like Jack and Bob (or Fickle and Nine), radio stations promising an anything-goes mix of pop and rock hits are springing up across the country. The variety format is seen, in part, as a way to appeal to listeners used to loading their own iPods with music from different genres -- or to keep those thinking about switching to satellite.

But more than that, it's a mea culpa to music lovers who started tuning out as their favorite stations shrunk their playlists in the 1990s, leaving the same old songs to play hour after hour.

The stations tell listeners "we play what we want" or "we play anything." But they're really carefully crafted to keep advertisers happy, observers say. Song choices target a lucrative but musically hard-to-define demographic, 25- to 54-year-olds, who want to hear new music but not rap and bubblegum pop, and who declare themselves too young to listen to
the oldies.

"This is oldies wrapped up in new wrapping paper and a new bow," said Tom Taylor, editor of Inside Radio, a trade publication owned by Clear Channel Communications Inc.

The variety format began in Canada three years ago and migrated into U.S. markets a little over a year ago. While the original Canadian formats, called Jack and Bob, differ somewhat -- Bob introduces more new music and Jack sticks to older hits -- they and other U.S. variety stations share some basic themes.

They're heavy on the '80s and '90s. They play mainly hits, but hits that haven't been heard on the radio for a while. They aren't afraid of "train wreck" segues, running, for example, a classic rock hit into an '80s pop confection.

For Harvey Wells, vice president and group station manager for Newsweb Radio Group, Nine FM's owner, inspiration struck sitting at a college bar with his 21-year-old daughter. After hearing hard-rock AC/DC followed by pop from Huey Lewis and the News, then followed by country singer Kenny Chesney, he asked her if she thought the mix was strange.

"And she said, 'Why strange?'" Wells said. "'It's just good music.'"

People always liked a variety of music, but as radio stations consolidated under corporate owners, playlists got shorter, said Bob Sinclair, president of Sinclair Communications, which launched the first U.S. Bob station in Norfolk, Va., 14 months ago.

"The big suits worried about their Wall Street stock price ... and there were these so-called experts telling station owners (that) to be successful you have to narrow your focus to a particular segment of music," he said.

Listeners tuned out. Americans 12 and older now spend about 19.5 hours a week listening to the radio, down from 21.5 hours a week in 1998, according to Arbitron's annual American Radio Listening Trends report. Radio advertising, which boomed in the 1990s, grew only 2 percent last year, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau.

Bob Perry, a veteran radio programmer, started the variety format on the Internet radio station JACK.FM in 2000 and later licensed the name for terrestrial stations in Canada and the U.S.

One of the converted is 32-year-old Stacy Jill Jacobs, who recently started listening to Jack FM in Los Angeles. Jacobs has an iPod loaded with her favorites, but likes the station's eclectic nature and element of surprise.

"It's completely random, and the choices that they make are hilarious," Jacobs said.

Not everyone is a believer, though. Michael Saffran, who worked for years as a DJ, has listened to Fickle in Rochester, N.Y., and doesn't expect it to stick around for long. The scan button on his radio dial does the same job, he said.

"If you're going to listen to some wide range of music, it might as well be the stuff you pick yourself," Saffran said.

The Canadian Bobs and Jacks have had staying power, giving variety radio backers a weapon against naysayers who call the format another fad akin to all-'80s or jammin' oldies, both of which came and went quickly.

Sinclair's variety stations have done well in the Arbitron ratings, and only one -- in Honolulu -- has fizzled. Bob Sinclair notes Bob FM in Austin, Texas, has rated No. 1 in its market's 25-54 demographic.

Variety stations are rarely the leaders in any particular market, but they have proven a reliable way for station owners to boost their market shares, said Sean Ross, vice president of music and programming at Edison Media Research, a consulting firm.

In Chicago, Nine FM, playing on three frequencies, hasn't made a dent in the ratings yet. But since its entry into the market, the city's alternative station has expanded its playlist and declared itself "on shuffle," and a hot adult contemporary station now says it plays "today's new music ... and whatever we want."

The stations will have to figure out a way to keep listeners once the novelty wears off, said Ross. That may include introducing new music into the mix, or finding interesting personalities -- many now eschew DJs or give them little air time.

"The big mantra for Jack and Bob and all these formats is that they're a mile wide and an inch deep, and that will have to give eventually," Ross said. "That said, I'm not one of those people who believe this is a fad format."

Noon Play list On Chicago's Nine FM

The following is the May 13 playlist for the noon hour on Chicago's Nine FM, one of the country's new "we play anything" variety format radio stations:

Donnie Iris, "Ah! Leah!"

The Doors, "Love Me Two Times"

Switchfoot, "Dare You to Move"

Sonny and Cher, "I Got You Babe"

a-ha, "Take On Me"

Toad the Wet Sprocket, "All I Want"

Manfred Mann's Earth Band, "Blinded by the Light"

Del Amitri, "Roll to Me"

Tom Petty, "I Won't Back Down"

Five for Fighting, "Superman (It's Not Easy)"

The Pretenders, "Back on the Chain Gang"

Cracker, "Low"

Boz Scaggs, "Lowdown"

Prince, "1999"

Cheap Trick, "Don't Be Cruel"

Read it and weep...

Oscar Brown, Jr. is gone.

Though I'm an agnostic, I feel compelled to cite one of the refrains from Ellington's autobiography, Music is My Mistress: "God Bless Oscar Brown, Jr."

Friday, May 20, 2005

Another cultural institution in trouble...

This time it's LACMA.

What isn't mentioned in this article is the fact that the venerable Monday evening music series that has been going on at the museum since the 40s will be no more come 2006.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Oscar Brown Down...

...but not out. Send him your good thoughts.

Some details, from a publicist:

"Legendary Singer, Songwriter, Playwright, Oscar Brown, Jr. Hospitalized

Industry attorney Jon Waxman reports to us that Chicago native, legendary singer/songwriter, playwright, and true American musical treasure, Oscar Brown, Jr., is in intensive care at St. Joseph Hospital in Chicago.  The 78-year-old veteran entertainer was recently admitted to the medical facility in severe pain and reportedly has suffered paralysis to both of his legs.  Brown underwent successful 14-hour emergency surgery on Monday, May 16th to stop the spread of an infection in his lower spine.  He is presently listed in stable condition recovering from the surgery, however, his prognosis remains uncertain as of this time.

Oscar Brown, Jr. is hailed as a cultural icon and Civil Rights activist, noted for his classic compositions including, The Snake, Signifyin' Monkey and his lyrics for Miles Davis' All Blues, Bobby Timmons' 'Dat 'Dere, and Nat Adderley's, Work Song. Early in Brown's career, he hosted Steve Allen's Jazz Scene USA and the PBS series From Jump Street/The History of Black Music.  Brown has mentored several aspiring young performers and in 1968 hosted a Gary, Indiana talent show that led to his discovery of The Jackson Five and singer/actor Avery Brooks.  In 1969, Brown is credited for rewriting the comedy production Big Time Buck White, and his musical version of the show was presented on Broadway, featuring former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in the lead role.

The Brown family requests "Prayers" from his Global family at this time and will provide a formal statement following his recovery period.  For information about Mr. Brown and to send to him any personal messages you may have, please visit his web site at http://www.oscarbrownjr.com, which will also accept messages for Oscar.  Good wishes from all of you will go a long way to help aid in his recovery."

Monday, May 16, 2005

Googlin' Fool

Wow... I just learned that Google maps is providing satellite photos as part of its content. Can you see me in this photo?

Then there's this take-off on Google: Toogle. Check out the most popular searches. (The basic premise: create an image of the thing you searched for, made entirely out of copies of the word itself.)

The fun never ends.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Blogs in Books

The first in a series, apparently: a printed collection of some of the best (i.e., most critical) blog-born assessments of that callous nitwit they call Donald Rumsfeld. Will be interesting to see how the genre translates to paper.

Deflating the "Digital Revolution"

In a recent BBC poll, the bicycle was chosen as the "most significant innovation since 1800." It got a whopping 59% of the vote. The next closest gadget was the transistor, which only got 8% of the vote. The computer came in fourth, with just 6%, while the much-touted Internet ran a downright embarrassing race, limping across the finish line in seventh place with a unbelievably wimpy 4%.

I feel so insignificant, given that I spend most of my waking hours somewhere near a computer. I haven't ridden a bike in years.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Jerry Springer, the opera

Hmmm. I can't think of a post that can compete with that subject line. So here's the link.

It's Worth a Try

Find out more about the campaign to save CBGB. Hopefully we won't be one of the last bands to play at this historic venue...

Friday, May 06, 2005

Attention, People of the Future!

The Time Traveler Convention should not be missed!

As for everyone else, hopefully we'll all get to attend this event some day in the future, when we can travel back to the past, which right now is still the future. (Er, I guess it doesn't make sense to say "right now" when I really mean "the future." Sorry.)

Anyway, see you there!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

"Winning Uglier"

I've said this before, but it bears repeating: this war with Iraq should really be looked at in the context of our misguided "police action" in Vietnam.

I give you Exhibit A, by Paul Rogers. The following paragraph, for instance, is loaded with a gloomy deja vu for anyone who has some knowledge of the US's recent history in southeast Asia:

"It is obvious that the United States occupation forces – despite the overwhelming superiority in conventional military firepower available to them – are unable to control the insurgency. The undertrained and overstretched Iraqi security forces offer little help. It is becoming clear that the insurgency is too deep-rooted and pervasive to be defeated by the usual American counter-insurgency tactics, and the repeated use of heavy firepower in urban areas, including yet more air-strikes in recent days, is doing little more than deepening hostility to occupation as the 'collateral' casualties increase."

And then there's Exhibit B. Here Todd Gitlin actually makes some key distinctions between Iraq and Vietnam. In the last paragraph, he's certainly right (as are the pro-war folks) that Saddam Hussein is no Ho Chi Minh. That doesn't make this war any less painful, of course, and it doesn't guarantee a happy resolution. Perhaps we should really be focusing on Gitlin's next observation: that Americans will not launch any meaningful anti-war protest until the US casualties start to become more obscene in scope.

Just what that would mean is difficult to say. Do we need to have soldiers killed 100s at a time instead of "merely" a death here and there every day or two? Either rate can ultimately produce the same number of bodybags--it's just that the latter is stealthier, and easier to miss.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Is it...

...somebody's crass get-rich-quick scheme, or a valuable service for people in mourning? You decide.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

You can scream if you want to...

Ah, Men Without Hats. When will we see their like again?

Anyway, here's a program to make your desktop cower in fear every time you feel like screaming at it (or at something else).

Unfortunately they don't have a version for Mac yet, but you can watch the movies at the bottom of this page to get a vicarious thrill.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Percy Heath (1923-2005)

The last surviving member of the Modern Jazz Quartet died this week. RIP, Percy.

Maybe I have a special affinity for the MJQ, because they used to get some of the same critical flak that we get (too "intellectual" and "restrained," whatever that means). Ellington too had to deal with that sort of criticism regarding his extended works.

I learned today that PH carried a fishing pole around with him all the time, and once said, "I made a living to go fishing." Right on.