Radio, Music & Michael Jackson Died Together

One cannot help draw comparisons between the death of the King of Pop, the music industry that created him and the radio stations that made him a star.

First of all, there would be no MTV videos, no world tours, no enormous record sales without radio stations playing Michael Jackson's music.

In fact, without radio there would likely be no Michael Jackson.

Those of my programming brethren who, like me, played plenty of Michael Jackson hits (and catalog items disguised as recurrents and oldies) know this for sure.

The music industry, busy lobbying Congress for the repeal of radio's performance tax exemption, would rather concentrate on all that good free content the nice folks at the labels are giving away to radio -- or so their spin goes.

But there is no denying that Michael Jackson's success was started and fueled by radio even though stations could not receive any of the profits.

Can you imagine Steve Jobs ever going for that deal?

Radio was free to listeners and free to record labels. Now they want to be paid for radio making their talent popular.

In fact, Michael Jackson barely made any money off the labels considering he sold $300 million worth of music before his death -- only $12 million a year on average for an icon of the stature of Elvis, Sinatra and John Lennon.

There was a fascinating article circulating recently called "Michael Jackson and the Zombieconomy". As the author points out, "The world's top hedge fund "managers" regularly pull in hundreds of millions. That's an order of magnitude difference".

Jackson is remembered for "Thriller" and putting music videos in the public consciousness and for breaking race barriers with his music.

And, becoming a U.S. world export in an era when this country is importing more than it exports.

Without radio during Michael Jackson's career, there would be none of this today.

Not so in the future.

When I was interviewed by reporters after the death of Michael Jackson they wanted to know if we will ever see the likes of his iconic self again.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

This is taking absolutely nothing away from Michael Jackson.

But the next Michael Jackson will be made of the Internet and mobile space. Fueled and possessed by social networking. Unprecedented stardom will be available to the next icon that is born even though we will not be measuring success by the number of albums they sold.

We can't even measure Michael Jackson's death in terms of records sold any longer.

Bob Lefsetz, the music industry blogger, writes "MJ only sold 422,000 albums. But he sold 2.3 million individual tracks! Now that album figure is physical and digital combined. 225,000 were digital. And there was only so much physical product in the stores. But it turns out that online people only want the single!"

Fans are not pining for Jackson's entire albums. They are cherry-picking the cuts they want.

When Elvis died, fans were forced to buy his albums -- and the commemorative ones that followed --- if they wanted to own his music.

Jackson's death will turn out to be the demarcation point in history to best illustrate the changing of the guard.

News of Michael Jackson's death was broken by TMZ not CNN even though the parent company, Time Warner, owns both news organizations.

The New York Times failed to adequately cover the Jackson death and all the strange events that accompanied it consistent with its motto "all the news that's fit to print".

In fact, print had nothing to do with getting the news of Michael Jackson's death.

His many generations of fans were not getting the word from news radio or for that matter radio. And radio came up lame in lots of places including being slow to drop voice tracking and syndication to take control of live programming on appropriate formats.

Radio was on auto pilot.

MTV passed the job of mourning Jackson in a fitting way to VH1 -- in my opinion.

We've already covered the music industry's plight -- not enough product in the stores and not enough consumers wanting to buy "product".

This was a shining moment for YouTube as more people decided to watch "Thriller" for free than own it. That, in and of itself, tells you where the music industry is headed.

The value of music in financial terms is now zero.

Free downloads through bit torrent sites. Social network sharing.

Young people already know all of this.

The media establishment -- the one that thought HD radio was the next thing or that consumers would still pay for albums -- is as clueless as ever.

The torch has been passed.

The death of Michael Jackson marks the passing of a singer the nature of which we may never see again because the yardstick for measuring future success had already changed at the time of his death.

A few years ago everyone was crowded around a TV set to await the verdict in Jackson's child molestation case. New media, YouTube, social networking were just a gleam in the eye of a new generation.

Now, perhaps it's fitting that the Assistant Chief of the LAPD trying to avoid congestion at today's downtown public memorial for Michael Jackson told the public to watch it on TV and the Internet.

He never mentioned radio.

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