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All Rights Reserved ©1994 Duncan R Fry
Help - save us - just what is happening to Radio these days? Are we stuck in a time warp or what? Turn it on and you'll hear Cream played more than in the 60's. Hands up everyone who is as sick of the Classic Hits and Memories format as I am. Of course, I can't see you, but I'm willing to bet there's a whole heap of you out there. So why is every mainstream radio station playing this shit? Because the 90's have been hijacked by the baby boomers, that glut of births that followed WW2 (That's World War 2, not a web site!!!), who are all now in their late 30's or early 40's and desperately trying to regain their lost youth. All the programmers, the people who decide what the stations will play, are baby boomers themselves, and they're obsessed with playing stuff that makes them feel young again.
Where does this leave listeners under 35? Out in the cold, from the look of it.
OK - I admit it - I'm a baby boomer. I'm part of the post war bulge (anyone who's met you can see that, Dunk.Ed). But I'm not as obsessed with the 60's and 70's as radio programmers would like to believe - in fact I'm sick to bloody death of it all.
A Melbourne FM station ran a phone in last year to find out why the backside had dropped out of their ratings, and then we had to put up with them endlessly spouting this bilge: "Thank you for helping us rebuild this radio station. Now it's up to us. You told us you wanted to hear more classic hits...." and so on. What utter nonsense. When nearly every radio station is playing the same mix of classic hits, hits and memories, or whatever they want to call it, I simply can't believe that people would ring them up and tell them to play more of the same old shit.
I mean, it's not as if they played different tracks - it's always the same ones. If I hear the opening chords to 'Start Me Up' again I'll go heave (Note the copyright date on this story - it was written well before Win95!!!). The independent stations win by default. Sure they're a little bit 'Dr Martens and a Government grant please', but at least they play music that is more relevant than endless '20 Top Old Grogan's Partystoppers' that the commercial stations play. I'd never have heard the Sisters of Mercy if we hadn't switched the factory radios over to Triple J, and sometimes we even switch to PBS (when we're desperate!)
Of course, the major record companies (my favourite bloodsuckers) love all this classic hits format because it's safe. Money for nothing, or at least minimal royalties. Nobody has to make any difficult decisions about what new bands to sign up and release, they just keep churning out the stuff that innovative people back in the sixties and seventies had the foresight to release. Remaster some back catalogue stuff for CDs? Sure, spend whatever's necessary; it's a guaranteed moneyspinner. Sign up a new band? Sorry - too risky.
Is this really what todays 18/20 year olds really want to listen to? I remember all of these songs from when they were first released. I enjoyed them then because they were new, and they were sung by people of the same age group as me. Now they are boring old farts. I never wanted to listen to old farts when I was growing up in the sixties, and I can't believe that young people in the nineties want to either.
So what are all these Classic Hits? Well, a lot of them were absolute drivel when they were recorded, and are still drivel now. Pop music by its very nature is ephemeral. It's meant to be listened to, enjoyed for a while, got sick of, and then replaced by something new. It's not meant to be endlessly regurgitated as if it were some kind of Bulimic Rock.
For me, there are very few truly classic rock songs. My list wouldn't include any Elton John (Classic middle-of-the-road) or Moody Blues (Classic bland) or any 70's disco stuff (especially Born to be Alive - obviously written by someone for whom English is way down their list of languages). All that stuff is for Saturday night comedy shows to take this piss out of! My list would be something like - Jailhouse Rock, La Grange, Smoke on the Water, Black Dog, and Sharp Dressed Man.
That's my list. I'm positive other people might have a few more to add, but it wouldn't total more than an hour's programming, with ads. Hardly enough of a playlist to base a radio station around, is it? When I've heard all them, I'd like to hear something new. Something good. People are writing them, bands are recording them, but nobody in radio seems to be game to play them. If I was a young spurter today I'd feel really cheated by what I hear on daytime mainstream commercial radio.
And I'm sure they do. For instance, one station has the Top 30 at 7 - the top 30 most requested songs of that day at 7 pm. Do they ring up and request all the old crap the station's been playing all day? In a pigs arse! They request loud, angry, brash, raucous music - music created by young people for young people, not stuff that their parents used to bop to in their flares and beads.
But does this obvious antipathy affect the programming. No way. In fact, things are getting worse. Melbourne (and I presume other states, from what other people tell me,) is currently wallowing in a glut of Classic Rock nostalgia that would surely turn the strongest stomach. 30 years in 30 days from one station, heavily promo'd by pseudo huskily voiced girls they must have recruited from a 0055 Dial-a-Boner dirty phone call service. PS. Memo to the production engineers - ease up on the exciter a bit - it giveth the girlth a terrible lithp.
30 years! Holy hot camel shit, Batman, that's a long time ago. What would have happened in the 60's if radio had only played Classic Hits from the 30's and 40's? Sound crazy to you? Of course it is, but the time analogy is the same. Bands like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who, Zeppelin etc would have all given up in disgust and probably ended up working for the public service or selling insurance. Is this the future for today's young bands? It certainly is while commercial radio stations continue their necrophilious orgy of only playing songs that are at least ten years old. Talented young musicians are entitled to ask "What the FOX going on?" (A little pun for all you Melburnians; for others, FOX FM is a Melbourne station not immune to the problem just described).
This story first appeared in Connections magazine