Saturday, May 26, 2012

Commercial Radio and The Gatekeeper Effect

The Black Keys and other former "Up and Coming Artists" used to get attention and were routinely played on Los Angeles radio station The Sound 100.3. But no longer.  How much of the other music is being filtered by the fact that the Bonneville station is Mormon-owned or scrutinized by stockholders?

Op-Ed By Allen Bacon, The Daily Bosco

First of all, let me state that the Sound LA is still my second favorite music radio station in the LA Market and I'm generally happy with the way things are going since it's inception four years ago. Good enough to earn links on some of their programming from Bosco Radio: Music Channel and good enough to land in our favorite websites section. So, understand the focus of this article is not so much directed at them. This is a comment on the radio business in general right now.

The station manager for The Sound is a busy person. Getting a radio station off the ground in arguably the toughest market in America is not easy. He has to answer to his bosses at Bonneville, the parent of the biggest media companies in America.  So, I was grateful to get a phone call recently as he was winging home to Orange County from somewhere on the 405 freeway.

We chatted about a number of things. I love conversation about the business of radio and even though we had never met we hit it off instantly. We talked about how great of a job the Program Director had done with picking the DJ's a mix of some known (Andy Chanley, Mimi Chen) and not so known (Larry Morgan) in the Los Angeles market and how the playlist has evolved. We talked about the "greening" of the station and what they were doing for the ecology.

Then the conversation took an interesting turn. You see, Bonneville Media is owned by members of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or the Mormons, from Salt Lake City. There's a lot of good things about that. First of all LDS members are known for family values and are active in charity. In fact, many of the Bonneville Stations are actively involved in charitable causes that are the focus of the radio station.

They told me that each employee of Bonneville is given 40 hours off paid to take part in charitable ventures. This is a great thing. More companies need to do that.

The other thing that Bonneville does, or more accurately, does not do, is accept ads for alcohol products or Casino/gambling interests.

But then I got to thinking. How much of the LDS and even the corporate philosophy is going to filter into the playlist on the Sound in Los Angeles. This is a rock station that explores music. One ad calls it a "musical journey". By definition rock and roll music is about sex...that's where the name comes from. A lot of it is about drugs. A lot of it is blues...depressive stuff. How long before the Elders in the LDS church catch on? This is not the message that they are going to want to send out.

The Station manager has already said they will not play Rap music. Why? Is this not part of music exploration? You may never hear AC/DC's Highway to Hell or Eric Clapton's "Cocaine" either or the Who blurting out the question "Who the F___ are you?" But yet, this music is just as much a part of the musical journey than John Mayer or Donovan Frankenreiter or Trista Prettyman which the station no longer has on their playlist.

The other problem is that if you go too free-form and become a great music radio station like KCRW Public Radio in Santa Monica, you end up with very little listeners. A balance has to be struck to please listeners while appeasing the stock holders. And the Sound and their walk that tight rope everyday.

Programming from both the Sound and KCRW can be heard in Bosco Radio: Music every day in the sidebar.

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