Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Desperate times call for desperate measures

by Don Keith N4KC

In the face of unprecedented assault from rapidly changing technology, broadcast radio has resorted to many desperate tactics lately.  Unfortunately, the most common defense is to cut every possible expense and do little more than stream music or "ride the satellite," running piped-in syndicated programming for most of the day.  None of this seems to be working.  Listenership and revenue are down, down, down.

Recently, a Canadian radio station, CKMP in Calgary, Alberta, did something even more drastic.  In order to make the claim that they played more songs than any of the streaming services (such as Pandora)--even with the commercials the station has to run--they simply edited each of the songs they played so they were all about 90 seconds long.

That's right.  They cut the songs by about 50% so they could play more of them!

OK, there was a time when stations did similar goofy stuff.  Some broadcasters used to speed up the songs a bit so they could play an extra one or two per hour.  In some cases, that also caused the same songs on other stations to sound a bit slow and lackluster.  Even so, listeners eventually noticed the songs sounded as if they were being sung by the Chipmunks and revolted.

Well, that is about what happened in Calgary.  Artists and record labels were the first to call foul.  They wanted the songs aired the way they created them.  I'm not sure that protest would have been enough, since stations are desperate enough to ignore any party that does not keep a rating book or carry a listening-measurement device.  But then listeners let them know how crazy the idea was.  They, too, wanted to hear all of their favorite songs, not just the half of them that the station decided they would play.

Three weeks into the experiment, the station gave up.

What's next?  To what lengths will desperate broadcasters go to try to save the medium from its demise?

One thing you can bet on: it will not involve putting better and more compelling content on their air.  That costs money, takes creativity, and requires a willingness to take a risk.

Those are three commodities sorely lacking in traditional broadcasting these days.

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