Radio -- The Day Michael Jackson Died

The music industry lost an icon Thursday.

A very big one.

Apparently Clear Channel’s John Slogan Hogan, Citadel’s Farid “Fagreed” Suleman and Cumulus' CEO Lew Tricky Dickey forgot to plan ahead again.

1. We know they didn’t look beyond over-paying for their radio stations to see if it was possible to service the considerable debt in good times as well as recessions.

2. We see that they just assumed radio would continue to grow and that kids would always be available to listen to radio (not ever imagining the Internet, iPod, file sharing, social networking – anything—might be a competitor).

3. Their actions prove that firing employees has left their stations threadbare but they keep acting like local radio doesn't have to be done locally.

4. They neglected to factor in news and weather emergencies when conjuring up grand schemes to build various repeater radio platforms. That’s why during this Spring’s tornado season, a radio station would be your worst choice to remain safe and sound.

Now, Michael Jackson, one of the music industry’s biggest stars and a huge ingredient to many radio music genres gave tribute to the Man in the Mirror by offering the most unfitting tribute of all.

Voice Tracking.

That’s right, at the majority of stations the hits just kept on coming – just the way Central Command demanded it.

Some stations didn’t even break for news of Jacko’s death.

News? What’s news.

The local PD and jocks couldn’t respond fast enough, well -- because there arent many local PDs and jocks.

Hogan’s heroes were busy feeding tripe down the line so stations could repeat it.

Ladies and gentlemen, Michael Jackson died Thursday.

And radio died right along with him.

Most radio stations just kept John Tesh rolling, Ryan Seacrest babbling and voice tracking mindlessly ploughing through the playlist.

By comparison Elvis died way before consolidation and within ten minutes most stations were broadcasting on-air tributes, news accounts and playing wall-to-wall Elvis. Not so easy when your local program is coming from national headquarters.

People not only remembered where they were when The King died, but which station they were listening to.

Not yesterday.

For most of the day before it could respond, radio was at best forgettable. Hell, if it can’t jump on the death of one of its A-list music performers to an audience waiting to soothe their shock, what could it do?

One of my readers checked in and said:

“Are there any radio tributes?

Only one I could find is on a local CBS station that is usually Hip-Hop/Rap. I sat in my car and scanned from Miami to West Palm. Only heard one other distant MJ song”.

A major market talent told me:

“I think THIS is the kind of thing that makes me MORE angry and saddened than EVER about radio. The real point of my message to you is this:

I know of many local stations that are VT’d from 10AM – 5AM!!! So I wonder if their audience will have to wait until 5am local time to find out from their station they THINK is on the ball?

I am furious.

Those audiences were served REALLY well huh? Local my ass”.

By late in the day and into early evening, many more stations were reacting to their original misjudgment and started to ramp up on Jackson programming. Better late than never, I guess.


Stations went from voice tracking to backtracking when they felt the backlash.

Traditional media also missed the boat on reporting Jackson’s death.

TMZ, the Internet gossip and news site did all the heavy lifting.

The LA Times was the first traditional media outfit to report Jackson’s death with any certainty but the rest of us already heard it through TMZ which continued to provide updates and even a live streaming camera at UCLA Hospital.

CNN was clueless. It seems like they were more interested in Farrah Fawcett's death -- I'm just sayin'. Just an opinion. Anyway, long before yesterday's events CNN lost its soul.

The New York Times was just as bad.

The Times eventually reported Michael Jackson was demise – according to other sources.


No wonder newspapers are dead.

Why television is so lame.

Why radio is just a free iPod programmed by John Hogan’s pals.

A disappointed Brock Whaley of Honolulu checked in:

Clear Channel Hawaii was the first to break in with Michael Jackson music and live phone calls from distraught listeners. Across all of their music formats, including their alternative outlet. They did good.

One station, owned by a national chain, announced the news, and then played music from a totally unrelated artist.

Another local station group was very slow to respond with both news of the death, and the appropriate musical tributes even though it fit several of their formats.

On the other hand, we have an NPR affiliate that clears "All Things Considered" in real time. Even NPR had the story, and played a Michael Jackson song, before the aforementioned local chain had broken any news or dumped their voice tracking”.

To be fair, a few stations did it right.

Tribune's WGN in Chicago. My friend Bruce St. James was on-air at Bonneville's KTAR telling MJ stories. And of course, CBS-FM in New York. (Forgive me for not mentioning all of those who got it right).

Most, however, did not.

Until the pressure became immense. I'm sure by the time you read this, the stations caught with their pants down will be trying to convince many people that they're on it now.

Look, I’ve never liked the effects of consolidation. Somehow, the demise of radio has been documented on the pages of our trade publications and even then the writers didn’t make it seem that all that bad.

Now, we’re beginning to see in real-time and in real ways the effects of running a radio station like an investment banker.

Tornadoes that don’t get broadcast.

Dangerous news events not aired.

Flood waters not warned (at a recent Clear Channel outdoor event with 60,000 people).

Loss of connection with our local communities.

Separation from the local personalities that once made radio great.

No wonder this day has finally come, where one of the most prolific artists in radio’s history became a footnote to voice tracking.

This is the sort of day that made one of my readers say this about non-local radio, "we deserve whatever we get".

Michael Jackson sang about the “Man in the Mirror” and the message could easily apply to the consolidators who are ruining radio.


And No Message Could've
Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World
A Better Place
(If You Wanna Make The
World A Better Place)
Take A Look At Yourself And
Then Make That . . .
(Take A Look At Yourself And
Then Make That . . .)

To quote my Hawaiian friend:

“North Korea has a missile aimed at us. Better keep your iPhone”.

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