3. The Decline of Radio
FOSTER REED: When you look back on history it becomes so obvious but when you’re in the middle of it it’s kind of hard to sort out. We’re trying to sell art music into a record industry that’s inherently commercial. And so there’s something with the proposition of doing that. Nonesuch had some success with that, ECM had some success, but their success was more due to a kind of cult aspect of certain performers they had than anything else, I think. But nonetheless, I take my hat off to their success. I think they did a great job. After that, nobody had success. When you look back to that era, there were vacuums where success was possible. It occurred in the 70’s with the kind of youth and/or college market that ECM and Windham Hill were able to tap into that the record industry wasn’t covering. So in other words, there was a lot of radio available in the 70’s and maybe the early 80’s. And that radio could directly affect a student body, who could then go down to their university bookstore and find Windham Hill or a very few select labels. By the time I came along radio in the United States had gone. I would say about 98% is payola and commercially driven. Alternative radio in the college world was basically another form of commercial radio. And, so those sort of methods of getting the word out to people who were interested, were no longer there.
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RealAudio sound clip
Excerpt from Morton Feldman: Voice, Violin and Piano
(from New Albion CD 085:
FRANK J. OTERI: When you think of college radio, the repertoire that comes to mind most strongly throughout the country is alternative rock.
FOSTER REED: Right, well, that’s what it became.
FRANK J. OTERI: And in the past I remember, I guess in the late 70’s, early 80’s, public radio was a great outlet for playing new music.
FOSTER REED: There was public radio available. And now that’s almost gone, too.
FRANK J. OTERI: Now that’s almost completely gone.
FOSTER REED: You know, we used to have a radio station, KQED, which was actually the first station to broadcast our music, and it’s now a talk radio station, entirely…
FRANK J. OTERI: Wow.
FOSTER REED: And, you know, it cuts to the traffic report, just like, you know, it has, sort of, intelligentsia talking heads, but every ten minutes it cuts to the traffic report!
FRANK J. OTERI: What stations now play New Albion?
FOSTER REED: There’s still KPFA, which is going through an incredible revolution. You probably have a Pacifica station here…
FRANK J. OTERI: WBAI.
FOSTER REED: Yeah, BAI. There’s this huge struggle between the autonomy of the board and the power of the listener body and the staff, and it’s just a bloody battle happening right now. But there’s a KPFA, there’s a university station KUSF and KAOW, another university station, and that’s it for San Francisco. The university stations are just very small, you know, post-midnight.
FRANK J. OTERI: I believe KDFC is now off the air as a classical station.
FOSTER REED: It could be. I haven’t checked. But KDFC and KKHI have been going through major changes and one of them, anyway, is part of a combine out of L.A., and I’m not quite sure…
FRANK J. OTERI: Right. KKHI just re-broadcasts the programs from KKGO in L.A.
FOSTER REED: They basically were trying to do repeaters across the West Coast. The whole classical conundrum is not being well met by any classical stations. From the one in Chicago on down, and it’s unfortunate because there is a listener, a listening body, and it’s rather large, but if they keep on playing Pachelbel’s Canon, they’ll never find it.
FRANK J. OTERI: Yet they claim that they’re bringing in larger audiences with that.
FOSTER REED: Well, I, you know, they may have a better audience in terms of their rating system. Take a station like WGBH in Boston.
FRANK J. OTERI: Uh huh.
FOSTER REED: They probably still have a passionate listenership. The one here, WNYC still has people who want to hear a certain host doing what they do. And when you go into places like Cincinnati, St. Louis, Denver, I don’t think they have the same committed listener body.
FRANK J. OTERI: Denver was the station that basically started the so-called notorious “Denver Report.” I don’t know how much you’ve heard about that.
FOSTER REED: I’ve sort of given up…
FRANK J. OTERI: This is the report where they said, “Well, we want to hold NPR news listeners with music and how do we do this? Well, we can’t play solo cello, we can’t play vocal, can’t play contemporary, can’t play…”
FOSTER REED: Oh yeah, I did hear about this.
FRANK J. OTERI: And you have to have program in modular units — they call it modal music, they completely destroyed the term “modal music,” which used to represent…
FOSTER REED: Something very different.
FRANK J. OTERI: [laughs] Modal music now means well, you have to have a certain tempo at a certain time of the day, you have to follow a certain type of piece with another type of piece. They’re very secretive about it all. I tried to access information about what they do as a Web link for our interview with Libby Larsen because she talked extensively about how the Denver report has changed radio. Nobody would give me information at all. It’s very proprietary; you have to pay to find out what it is. They have this company that’s charging public radio stations to get information which is essentially destroying their record collections and their playlists.
FOSTER REED: I no longer have the fight that I used to have to go and say, “Hey, wait a minute, listen to this.” I think that in their effort to be everything for everyone, they’re busy turning into nothing, and they know it, but they don’t have the courage to change, to try.