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February 5th, 2003:

Brian’s back

Brian Linse is back from the wilds of London, and he notes that he was blogging about John Lott before it was cool. Welcome back, Brian!

Demographically appropriate music

When I’m in my car, I generally listen to what I call “demographically appropriate” music on the radio. Basically, what that means is that there are only two radio stations that play stuff that I generally like – the All-80s station and the Classic Rock station. I’ll sometimes flip to the Oldies station or the mostly-metalhead Album-Oriented Rock station if the other two are both playing commercials, but that’s pretty much it. It’s the music I’m familiar with, after all.

There are other choices in Houston, as this recent article notes. Some of them are likely to appeal to others in my demographic group. You could look at the variety of different formats on the dial and conclude that corporate radio domination isn’t such a bad thing after all:

Since the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996 eased restrictions on station ownership, a corporation may own as many as eight stations in a single market. With multiple stations, owners are increasingly carving out a unique identity for each one.

“They don’t want their stations competing with each other,” says Robert Musburger, associate professor in the University of Houston School of Communication. “They’d rather find another niche someone else isn’t doing.”

The graying of baby boomers also has shaken up what is heard on the radio as stations target adults with jazz and oldies formats.

“(Radio stations) have ignored us old farts for the past 10 years,” says Musburger, 67. “Suddenly they realize that we do have money. We’re very careful how we spend it, but when we spend it, we spend it on big things.”

The problem that I have with radio nowadays is not that I can’t find stations that play music I like. The problem I have is that all of the stations that do play music I like play the same damn music over and over and over again.

Not that this is a surprise, since after all I listen to stations that say up front that they only play certain types of music from certain time frames. But after listening to these types of stations for a decade now, I can honestly say that I pretty much have their entire playlists memorized. I’m bored out of my mind with them.

When KIKK flipped to KHJZ, Cox Radio spotted an opening. It changed its Hot 97.1 format, which aimed hip-hop and pop tunes at teens and young adults, to a “country legends” format geared to an audience over 30.

Now Country Legends 97.1 picks from a playlist of 600 songs recorded before 1989 by country greats such as Johnny Cash, Tom T. Hall, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.

Early response has been better than the station expected, says Chris Wegmann, vice president and general manager of Cox Radio Houston.

“We average 100 e-mails a day from people saying it’s great. It has brought a lot of people back to radio, because there was no place they could hear that music,” Wegmann says. “The passion that people have for this format is incredible.”

I’m very happy for them. It was the same reaction that I had when 106.9 became the All-80s station The Point. They started playing stuff I hadn’t heard in years, and it was great fun. But a year or so later, it’s dry as dust. I don’t know if they’ve narrowed their playlist (it sure feels like it to me) or if the life span of such a station is that limited, but I guarantee that the novelty will wear off. In fact, unless there’s a typo in this section, it’ll wear off quickly. I mean, 600 songs? That’s 50 or 60 CDs. If a radio station plays 50 minutes of music per hour and the average song is about four minutes long, they’ll go through their entire collection in two days. Will you still love “Ring of Fire” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough” after you’ve heard them every day for nineteen straight days?

Formats today are just too restrictive. We all know there’s plenty of people like me who enjoy Classic Rock. Isn’t it likely that what we’re enjoying is a style of music rather than a fixed set or bands or a fuzzy reminder of our youth? Why not expand the Classic Rock format to include songs by more recent bands that are similar in nature to the ones that we’re already known to like? For example, why wouldn’t a Classic Rock station play songs off of Carlos Santana’s Supernatural album? It’s not like “Smooth” would offend someone who’s only heard “Evil Ways” and “Oye Como Va” before. And once you’ve crossed that line, why not play stuff by newer artists that you think we’ll like?

But they don’t, and a reason they don’t is a fear that they’ll cannibalize their own audience. You want variety, you must listen to our Mix station, even if that means sitting through Celine Dion and Ja Rule as well as Barenaked Ladies and Matchbox 20. Segmented markets lead to consumer loyalty, as there’s no other choice. Perhaps if there were some real competition, it would be different.

There used to be radio stations like this – 102.7 WNEW in New York was a good example back in the day. Another good example is the best radio station I’ve encountered in recent years, 100.3 The Q! in Vancouver. Tiffany and I spent hours listening to this station as we were driving around the Pacific Northwest last summer. Here’s what they’re playing now as I type this:

What’s on The Q! right now:
10:44:45 am – Sheryl Crow, Steve McQueen

What’s coming up next:
10:51:21 am – Scott James, The Q’s New Music Lab — Juliana Theory (2002)


and what’s played recently:
10:03:11 am – Zwan, Honestly (2003)
10:06:51 am – Stevie Ray Vaughan, The House Is Rockin’
10:11:23 am – Coldplay, Clocks (2002)
10:16:31 am – Queen, We Will Rock You / We Are The Champions
10:21:27 am – Shivaree, Goodnight Moon (2000)
10:25:30 am – Crash Test Dummies, Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead
10:32:21 am – Tragically Hip, The Darkest One (2002)
10:36:42 am – Moist, Underground
10:40:57 am – Gin Blossoms, Hey Jealousy

Stuff I know and like, plus stuff that I don’t know but might like if I heard it, and very little (if any) stuff that I surely won’t like. What’s so outrageous about that? I can tell you their batting average was pretty darned good for the time we were listening.

Which leads me to wonder if tightly formatted radio isn’t a factor in the dropoff of new CD sales. I don’t ever get exposed to new music on the radio, so how in the world can I know what’s out there that I might like? There’s no effort to reach me.

So forgive me if I’m not impressed by the “variety” of local radio stations. It still looks like the same old same old to me.

Oh, those polls

Kos links to this LA Times story about President Bush’s continually falling poll number, which contains the usual ambivalence about invading Iraq:

The public remains unconvinced of key elements in Bush’s case for war. Nearly three-fifths of respondents said they did not believe the report from U.N. weapons inspectors last week — it was sharply critical of Iraq — by itself provided “sufficient cause” to go to war. And just one-third of those surveyed said Bush had presented enough evidence to convince them of his charge that Iraq and Al Qaeda had established links; 56% said they remained unconvinced.

Despite those doubts, poll respondents, by 57% to 38%, still said they would support Bush if he decides to “order U.S. troops into a ground attack against Iraqi forces.” That’s virtually unchanged since December.

But that support is qualified by reluctance to invade without an explicit authorization from the United Nations. Fully 65% of Americans agreed the U.S. “should take military action against Iraq only [with] … the support of the United Nations Security Council.” Just 30% said the U.S. should act without such authorization.

Today there’s even more bad news for Team Bush in the polls:

Just 45 percent of registered voters said they are now likely to support Bush for re-election, while 40 percent said they were inclined to back the Democratic nominee, the survey found. Fifteen percent said they don’t now lean in either direction.

As recently as last December, just more than half of adults in a Times poll said they would likely support Bush for re-election in a question that was phrased slightly differently.

Though opinions are likely to change several times before voters go the polls in 2004, the new results suggest that the close partisan balance that defined U.S. politics before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is slowly reasserting itself.

The fall in the percentage of voters committing to support Bush’s re-election parallels a decline in his job approval rating since last fall and the return of sharp divisions along party lines about his performance and priorities.

This is also from an LAT survey, with the article being written by the same author. Why they chose to separate out this story from the other one is unclear to me, but whatever.

One of the more cynical assumptions that has been made about an Iraq invasion is that it’s as much about ensuring Bush’s reelection as it is about sound foreign policy. (Really, considering how much the War on Terra was politicized during the 2002 election cycle, it’s not even that cynical.) So I’ve got to wonder: Given the poll numbers, which have consistently shown high levels of doubt about unilateral invasion and our alleged casus belli, is anyone still convinced that an invasion which is done over the objections of the UN will be a political boon to Bush?

Personally, I think his approach has boxed him in, much like he’s boxed in with North Korea. Large segments of the public have not bought the rationale for invasion, and the UN inspections have not provided a smoking gun. If after all this, Bush winds up going hat in hand to the UN to start building an international invasion force, I think he’ll have a hard time claiming full credit for Saddam’s eventual deposement. Surely the Democratic candidates will remind him often that they were the ones who argued for working with the UN in the first place.

It’s also possible that Team Bush isn’t really paying attention to these numbers. They may sincerely believe that invading Iraq with or without international support is the right thing to do regardless of the possible political fallout. Or, and this is more likely in my opinion, they think that everything will go as planned and they’ll be swept to electoral invincibility by the inevitable wave of adulation.

That’s a pretty high-stakes game to play, and as Wampum reminds us, other issues may still swamp their boat. I sure hope they know what they’re doing, but I’m not counting on it.