Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ignorance of History

Surrounding the death of the founder of our newsletter, we have spent a couple of weeks drenched in nostalgia and apparent longing for the good old days, I would imagine that our younger readers are a bit confused. What good old days?

Even someone who entered our industry in the year of our founding, say at the age of 23, would be 50 today—hardly a younger reader.

Working the other way, a 30-year-old radio person with ten years under his or her belt signed up in the year 2000. By then, the seismic shifts caused by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 were pretty much behind us. That radio person’s world has always consisted of mega-groups, market managers and regional DOSs. The concept of “seven and seven” is as foreign to him or her as, well, Foreigner.

But really, why is it important that anyone remember “Inner Sanctum”? Or “Make Believe Ballroom”? Or any of the great radio personalities down through the ages—whether Arthur Godfrey, Jean Shepherd, George Michael, Dan Ingram or—and he’d hate me for including him in this list—Rick Dees? (A certain consultant wrote a great piece listing all the accessories any old jock can relate to, like Ampex 350s, carts and 77DXs. . .but he’s notoriously protective of his work, so it will never appear in these pages.)

What about Newton Minnow? Reid Hundt? Miles David? Eddie Fritts? (Or David Rehr, for that matter?) Gary Fries?—and he will hate me for including him.

One of my favorite quotes—and I’m a huge quotes guy—is from early-Twentieth Century Spanish philosopher George Santanyana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

So, whippersnappers of the radio world, why should we take seriously Santanyana and something he wrote 107 years ago? Why is any of this important?

In truth, most of it isn’t. Most radio ramblings can be chalked up to the fact that each of us has a time of life that is most comfortable to recall. (Ask any Oldies programmer.) Each of these eras is the best for those who cherish them, but one isn’t inherently, historically better than another.

I think there are two aspects of history—radio’s, America’s, the world’s—that we disregard at our peril.

First are the lessons that, if well learned, will keep us from making the same mistakes again. As one who has weathered more than one downturn in his career, I feel for the first-timers who assumed the boom would last forever. Learning a little history might have helped them to cope better.

Second are the people who have displayed inventiveness, integrity, intelligence and leadership in their lives and careers. If more of us studied those people and followed their lead, our business would be a better place.

Fourth Estate Fire Sale

Back around the time our newsletter began, I consulted a station whose owner would gleefully frame and hang on his office walls the last editions of failed newspapers. He had maybe four or five of them.

We all thought it was great fun to find weakness in a strong industry, in a formidable competitor.

If that owner were around today, his walls would be, well, wall to wall with framed failures. And it is no longer great fun.

I for one feel that our society would suffer a great loss were printed media to become extinct. I get a lot of information online, but that medium doesn’t offer the quality or depth of a New York Times or a Wall Street Journal. Yet.

Actually, I’m more of a weekly kind of guy. I keep up to date by listening to the radio and checking my Google Reader, but for perspective, I turn to Time. But in the wake of the Newsweek situation—they are for sale, but who’s going to buy?—I fear for the future of the genre. Those Times are getting pretty thin, after all, reflective of a precipitous drop in circulation.

As much as I lament the inevitable, I have no printable words for the recent FTC idea-floating exercise designed to rob the strong and subsidize the weak—or should I say, rob the just getting by and further subsidize, since periodicals have long enjoyed a more-than-generous postal rate. (All I can say is, this idea is comparable to something else that floats.)

It’s one thing for our federal friends to exercise their power over electronic media to achieve their selfish and/or ill-intentioned ends—the cigarette ad ban and campaign finance reform come to mind—but now they want to add insult to injury by taking our money and giving it to a competing medium?

Why not? Since the beginning of time—well, 1926—we’ve been the low-hanging piƱata for our governmental masters. I can only hope that this floater is so manifestly wacko that for once it’ll be flushed without further ado.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


BOB DOLL It’s not often that we have a feeling of closure when a close friend dies, but I must confess to that feeling among the many that rushed in when I learned of Bob Doll’s passing. It turns out that just last week I had the opportunity to thank Bob for the many ways he enriched my life, all of which sprang from his giving me the opportunity to publish this newsletter.

Read what I said

Our inbox is brimming with notes about Bob, offering sympathy and remembrances. Many people tell basically the same story of their first encounter with Bob: when asked where they’re from, and mentioning the name of some tiny town that barely rates a dot on the map, Bob responds with a complete rundown of the stations in and near that town, replete with ownership history—and, more often than not, at least one colorful personal anecdote.

Bob and I were close, but we only spoke maybe a couple of times a month. As I reflect on our loss, the lyrics of a James Taylor song come to mind:

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again

I’m not qualified to comment on Bob’s current whereabouts or whether he’s aware of the outpouring that his passing has prompted. But I can conjecture that if he were in fact a witness to the proceedings, he would wonder aloud, probably with a mild profanity, just what the fuss is all about.