Clear Channel cutting more on-air talent across the country -- is this the end of local radio?

radio-dying

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Terrestrial radio is often taken for granted as a free thing that is always around and always will be, and even though most of it is invariably not very good, it’s a comforting curiosity to see how it varies from city to city any time you find yourself driving late at night in a rental car far from home.

There are always left-of-the-dial curiosities to be found and strange, static-filled discoveries to be made, even amidst the standardized pop, hip-hop, and classic-rock playlists. And for artists, there was the ever-present chance that a DJ could fall in love with a song and help it break out on a national level.

Though those playlists are carefully controlled and closely adhered to, there was typically enough room for variation to allow for some surprises in between spins of the latest Rihanna single or the umpteenth play of “Moves Like Jagger.”

Those days may be gone for good, though, with the recent moves made by Clear Channel, the country’s largest radio company and controller of roughly 850 radio stations. The company laid off hundreds of local DJs late last week, further cutting into one of the few things their 600-ish small market stations had going for them: Their inherent connection to the cities and towns they spring from.

ClearChannel’s plan is to eventually move away from local programming altogether and consolidate stations with the aid of syndicated national shows that will operate off a centrally-devised playlist that is market-tested to death (and, let’s face it, far more susceptible to payola or other shady radio dealings that still go on even though nobody ever talks about them), free of much (if any) deviation and completely devoid of local flavor.

You could fill hundreds of terrible stand-up comedy routines with the complaints about local radio DJs — especially the borderline-psychotic morning show zoo crews — but the charm of those personalities was often rooted in the fact that they belonged to the area they were broadcasting to.

They hung out at the same bars, reacted to the same news, drove on the same roads in the traffic reports, listened to the same bands who came around to play the station’s festival at the local raceway. It wasn’t always charming, but it was distinct, and those shows were often a comforting entry point in the entertainment world of any given city.

The music will suffer, too. Playlists are already hammered out in boardrooms and have become much more limited and streamlined for the sake of advertising dollars, and with centralized programming having to serve a handful of distinct markets, there will be even less wiggle room than there is now. Local acts won’t be able to get on the air at all, all but the most heavily-marketed indie groups will be turned away, and even second-tier major label artists will have a tough time breaking in.

Sure, there’s satellite radio and the entirety of the Internet, so music discovery will still be available via other avenues, but there are still a lot of people with limited time and resources who depend on their local terrestrial station to let them know what’s happening in the music world.

Here in New York, local radio stations aren’t as big a deal (there’s not really a car culture, which plays heavily into radio listenership). But growing up in suburban Connecticut, my local radio stations were my entry point into the greater music world. Even though the modern rock station that emanated from Hartford had a pretty sturdy regular playlist, there was always room for more underground stuff (in fact, sometimes entire programming blocks devoted to under-heard and local music).

I distinctly remember first hearing songs on the radio that became instant obsessions and went on to become huge hits. Obviously, people stopped relying on other people to curate their music for them about 10 years ago, but there was something to be said for having some educated guidance (which is likely part of the reason you come to websites like this in the first place).

ClearChannel is clearly in trouble, as the New York Times reports that they are carrying nearly $20 billion in debt. They are also reporting that most all of the syndicated programming that has replaced local shows has done better ratings, so if people want to hear the centralized shows, it’s hard to stand in the way of the numbers.

And yeah, a lot of people like Ryan Seacrest. But tell us: Have your listening habits been impacted by these layoffs? And what do you think of ClearChannel’s new philosophy? Broadcast your thoughts in the comments below.

Read more on EW.com:
Ryan Seacrest reups with Clear Channel
The Kings of Music
Lost in Transmission: The Future of Radio

Comments (91 total) Add your comment
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  • PF

    Non commercial radio FTW. : )

    • chun

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      • Grumpster

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  • ks

    I like my local radio stations. Nothing like putting even more people out of work!

  • ackmaui

    Last year they laid off my brother who was a dj after 10 years…two months after our mom died…Clear channel sucks

    • Cris

      Clear Channel is a massive company. I’m sure they have no idea who your brother is or what his home life was like. I don’t imagine it makes you feel any better, but I was also laid off recently by a large company. I’m upset and a little bitter, but I also know that this had nothing to do with my work or my home situation. These are cold, emotionless decisions.
      Hate Clear Channel if you want to for firing your brother. But don’t make it sound like they purposely knew his situation and still fired him.

      • The Chew!

        You don’t know the first thing in the world about why his/her brother was fired. You don’t know anything about what Clear Channel knew or didn’t know. Truth is, you don’t know much of anything except about your own situation. So keep your opinion on this guy/girl’s situation to yourself, you heartless dolt.

      • Ghetoff Mylon

        Even though no-one at corporate had any idea that ackmaui’s mother had just passed away, they were surely in touch with their local administrative staff, who should, at the very least, have informed corporate of the situation. Not that them knowing probably would have mattered in the least to corporate, but don’t kid yourself that they were unaware.

  • Bernadette

    ClearChannel killed the music scene in here in Cleveland a loooooooong time ago. I’ve been listening to a station out of London, UK (AbsoluteRadio) online for the last seven years.
    Glad someone pointed out the craptastic music they force on us.

  • beachmom

    I grew up in CT, too, probably listening to the same stations plus a couple of Boston stations I could tune in. They impacted my musical tastes for sure — I heard U2 for the first time on FM radio. In the ’90s, I moved down South and enjoyed an alternative rock station that kept me fairly up to date with modern rock. But by the turn of the century, FM radio became unlistenable. Too many ads, depressingly narrow playlists, no hope of hearing something new and exciting. So I stopped listening to the radio (and brought my CDs with me), and sadly, stopped discovering new music … until I discovered the big world of internet radio, blogs, and so on. Now it’s like a golden age of listening opportunities. But not on terrestrial radio. I’m not trying to be condescending but I don’t get why anyone would listen to FM radio anymore. It doesn’t take that much planning to plug a mobile device into your dashboard or grab a CD or a book on tape. Anything but that garbage.

    • etm

      Did you every pick up WFNX from Boston? That was a great alternative station that I grew up listening to. It really declined around the end of the 90s and it was a shame. I discovered Sirius radio when Howard Stern went there and I don’t miss terrestrial radio one bit. Though it is sad to see the demise of the local DJ.

      • Bob

        Although billed as a Boston station, FNX was based in Worcester, which would have made it more available to someone living in Conn. Great station back in the day.

      • Musicfan

        FNX got me thru college! Loved that station

      • Kris

        Have you listened lately? FNX is one of the few real stations left in Boston and as Clear Channel and god knows what happened to local radio stations, they’re made the smart decision to return to their roots of local, indepent, un-playlisted radio. Where else will you hear Bside clash next to Petty or U2? Love FNX, and Julie Kramer’s Leftover Lunch. I’m still hoping they don’t fall victim soon!

      • Cap’n Geech

        ‘FNX’s broadcst tower is in Lynn, MA. It has never been based in Worcester. They do have several satellite stations that broaden their coverage, one in Worcester, Providence, Sanford, Maine and a couple of others.

      • Terry

        And now FNX is gone too… taken over by the monopoly called Clear Channel. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely and Clear Channel is already there.

  • beccaeve

    I live in Detroit and already rely heavily on the Winsor, Canada stations that play more interesting and diverse music, if my local programming disappears, I’ll be relying on them even more. (And listening to a few more audio books and homemade playlists).

    • Travis

      I used to pick up detroit stations where I used to live, and agree there are better stations from Winsor

  • anon

    Howard Stern, as usual, was right. Terrestrial radio is a dinosaur and will eventually become extinct. Satellite radio will replace it completely — but satellite needs to be even more on-demand than it is now. You should be able to tell it exactly what you want to listen to, even if that program isn’t running at the moment. If it’s Saturday and you want to listen to the Stern show from Wednesday starting at 2 hours 32 minutes where you last left off, you should be able to do that. Maybe they can even use Apple’s Siri technology so you can just tell it verbally what you want to listen to — it would seem appropriate, given the name.

  • Mary

    Very sad and baffling to see a company kill its own product. Unfortunately, the current owners of Clear Channel seem to have forgotten that you must first make a decent product before you can expect people to buy it.

    • Graciele

      Thanks, Hal, for the link to this wedfornul website. I found many parallels to our current situation at KBCS.

  • Lansing Burns

    I remember discovering the Stones, Yardbirds(Beck,Paige, Clapton) and Beatles on local Boston stations in the early sixties not to mention great local bands like the Standells (“Dirty Water”) and Question Mark and the Mysterions (96 Tears) and a few years later in ’69 learning about a little get together coming around in upstate New York (Woodstock) from WNEW in NYC. Thank God Clearchannel can’t touch the college channels. I hate to think that young people today won’t feel that thrill of turning on the car radio on a beautiful summer day and hearing a local dj break a great new tune to his listeners like when I got my license and put the top down and heard Ray Davies sing “lazing on a sunny afternoon”. Magic.

    • John

      Yes, but how many decades ago did a commercial channel expose you to anything? That’s the problem. In the 80′s, local radio was already dying because we where getting our exposure from MTV (they used to have a lot of cool late night programming) and bootleg tapes sold around on college campuses. Of course, MTV is dead, the mix tape has been replaced and local radio lost it’s magic and influence years ago. And I absolutely love the freedom and variety granted by all of this new technology. Stations from other countries, streaming audio…even local pod-casts…I wish we had this stuff when I was a kid. Embrace the future fore it is good (music wise, anyway). It serves the local stations right for losing their backbones and falling into Nazi lockstep with every other radio station. I will be happy when the local stations are finally put out of their misery.

      • j

        There are a few stations trying that these days – wnwv in cleveland for example. I think the format is called adult alternative.

  • Pam

    Clear Channel is slowly but surely committing suicide. Thank goodness for satellite radio, Pandora, and a few local privately owned stations!

  • John

    THANK GOD! I grew up on local radio in Syracuse, Sacramento, and Charlotte and guess what? Local radio in small cities have sucked since the late-80′s and even the stations in large cities like NY and San Francisco have all become homogenized and interchangeable. And most morning DJ’s suck. I used to deliver pizzas and chauffeur through high school and college…and I would have to listen to the same 10 songs all freakin’ day. Of course, you can listen to classic rock and hear the same 3 Zeppelin songs that have been in rotation since the 1970′s….they have, like 9 freakin’ albums! When I discovered XM radio and then later, streaming and internet radio, I never looked back. Now,I listen to stations out of London, France, and there is a good one in Seattle (there is still a couple of decent stations in this country). With even the cheap smartphones, you have access to any and every kind of music where ever you go. I haven’t turned on local radio in years. My 11-year-old daughter barely knows what it is. Whenever I am exposed to it, it is the same crap they played 18-months ago. As The Smiths once said…..HANG THE DJ! and good riddance to the past.

  • The Chew!

    Glad that my city still has one independent radio station. Lady Gaga, Maroon 5, Kesha, and Rhianna are NOT on the playlist, fortunately. Hopefully, the family that owns the station can stay strong and keep it real.

    • Angela

      LED Writing are great rlcaepement for any wooden boards that are used in , restaurants, nightclubs or shops. Totally new product on the market!

  • Jason

    HAven’t listened to the radio since I got an Ipod. Why listen to 50 songs played over and over when you can virtually program your own radio station with an Ipod and a shuffle setting.

  • Tim

    Deregulation is what ruined radio. Thats it in a nut shell.

    • Ellen Ripley

      I agree. Deregulation in the mid-90s ruined radio.

  • Randy

    Clear Channel is also targeting their News/Talk stations for a major overhaul of local on-air personal. One of our local Clear Channel talk stations recently fired two long time hosts and replaced them with nationally syndicated guys who I had never heard of before. Plus, the CC Classic Rock station started using John Tesh’s drop-ins for at least 8 hours a day. I mean I’m sure that he’s a nice guy but enough is enough.

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