Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Rationalizing the Process

Here's the deal: I started in radio in 1971. Junior Achievement in Providence, RI had a program where you could apply to be part of a radio station "company" sponsored by a local station. We learned by doing -- sales, production and on-air work. I remember selecting Baba O'Reilly from the then-new Who's Next as the opening theme to our weekly show on WJAR-AM (take that, CSI). The next year we moved up the dial to WICE-AM -- that was cool because it was a non-union shop and we got to actually touch the equipment. Those of you in the proper age group will nod in recognition when I recall the transcription-sized turntables that were controlled by light switches mounted into their base plates.

Looking back, I think it was the gadgetry that first got me hooked on this crazy business, probably followed by the thrill of hearing my own voice coming out of that little box (come on, admit it, you like it too even if it still sounds a little weird). And I needed more than just the school-year fix I was getting. So, in early 1973, I began aggressively hanging out at WBRU-FM, Brown University's Class B FM outlet, purchased for a song in the late sixties when no one thought FM would amount to anything. I ended up spending ten years at WBRU, starting as a techie, then a newsie, then programmer, Production Director and de facto weekend Program Director. During the latter part of my tenure, I generated the highest ratings ever recorded by the station while also doing a full-time "real" job.

In late 1982, for some weird reason, I decided to start a software company. I went through an agonizing period of introspection and finally decided that making the company a success would take all of my focus, and I'd have to walk away from radio. And I did, literally. One Saturday afternoon during my last airshift, I asked a young intern helping in the studio if she liked radio. She said yes. I said "Good. Do my job", walked out, and didn't look back until about 25 years later. But I did look sideways.

I've had the great fortune to travel all over the world. When traveling, I have always paid attention to radio -- scanning the dial, making station visits when I could, bringing back samples of local music. One of my favorite escapades was in the late seventies: I walked up to the BBC headquarters in London, introduced myself as an American radio guy, and spent a magical few hours in the studios of Radio 1 with Johnny Walker and David Hamilton as they broadcast to an audience of millions, talking about the differences between American and British radio (off air, unfortunately). Couldn't do that today...

About two years ago, I began looking at what had happened to both radio and the music business since I left. The outcome of my research was a new startup that attempted to marry the worlds of music and advertising, and radio played a major role. It landed with a unnoticed thud, for reasons which will be enumerated later. However, during that time, I kept hearing the sirens of radio calling to me, and I've tried hard to ignore them.

I love radio for what it can be, not, in the main, what it has become. I figure that writing this blog might be my last, best chance of resisting the call of the airwaves. Maybe if I bare my radio soul in print I can keep the smell of audiotape, the challenge of talking up a network feed, the frisson of a great seque and the satisfaction of building an engaged audience buried in the deepest recesses of my memory.

Or maybe not. Stay tuned.

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