The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture and Style By Nelson George

Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture and Style

 The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture and Style

 

Excerpted from The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture & Style by Nelson George. Published by © HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reprinted, reproduced, posted on another website or distributed by any means without the written permission of the publisher.

 

Chapter 1 Windy City

 

One of the problems during the period when we started Soul Train was the lack of opportunity for black talent on television. I’m talking the sixties and part of the seventies. It was a medium that didn’t feature minorities as much as it could have. And it was a medium that didn’t feature minorities in a positive way as opposed to a negative way … it bothered me personally and that’s kind of why I wanted to get a spot on television. So that maybe I could do something about presenting black people in particular in a positive way. —Don Cornelius , 2009

THE LANDSCAPE of black images on television and in film in the mid-1960s was pretty barren. I’m not sure anyone who came of age in the 1980s or beyond will ever understand how absent “negro” faces were once on television in America. There was no Winfrey network. No Steve Harvey talk show. No argumentative sportscasters like Stephen A. Smith. The news broadcasts were when a dark face could be seen protesting, or an angry Malcolm X or an inspiring Dr. King or a local civil rights activist being interviewed about “the negro problem.”

But as far as entertainment went, Sammy Davis Jr. was one of the few blacks who was a regular on network variety shows, largely because he was part of Frank Sinatra’s revered Rat Pack. An act from Berry Gordy’s Motown Records stable, like the Supremes, the Temptations, or the Four Tops, popped up on American Bandstand, Shindig, or other teen-appeal music shows singing “the sound of young America” and executing exquisite choreography. Crossover comic Bill Cosby costarred on the NBC series I Spy for several years in the mid-1960s, the foundation of his long successful TV career.

The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Culture and Style

Nelson George

(HarperCollins; US: Mar 2014)

In September 1968 the lovely Diahann Carroll was made the lead in Julia, a half-hour NBC sitcom in which she portrayed a single mother and nurse. While its existence was groundbreaking, the show’s writing and plotting was bland. Moreover, during all of the show’s eighty-six episodes, the team behind Julia was as lily-white as the rest of America’s big three networks. At the time Julia was cautiously opening the network TV door, Donald Cortez Cornelius was already on his journey toward pop-culture immortality. Unlike a lot of prominent black figures who emerged in the civil rights years, Cornelius wasn’t a southern immigrant to the north, but a native son of one of America’s biggest cities. He was born on September 27, 1936, in Chicago’s Bronzeville, a densely packed, segregation-created black community on the city’s South Side. Two of the greatest works of postwar black literature were set on these same tough streets: Richard Wright’sNative Son (1940), which features a restless young man named Bigger Thomas whose life ended tragically, and Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun(1959), which featured a restless young man named Walter Lee Younger who made mistakes in search of a better life for his family. Wright’s bestseller was draped in despair, while Hansberry saw a brighter future in the face of racism. Perhaps the difference between the two characters is the difference between America in 1940 and 1959.

Don was twenty-three years old in 1959 when Hansberry’s play first appeared. He must have shared its optimism and, thankfully, was way more Walter Lee than Bigger. He attended one of the city’s most important black high schools, DuSable (named after the black trader who founded Chicago), and after graduation he joined the Marine Corps and served in Korea for eighteen months. He married Delores Harrison in 1956 and quickly had two sons, Anthony and Raymond. His personal ambition can be seen in the jobs he worked prior to moving into media: he sold tires and automobiles, briefly was a policeman, and dabbled in insurance—a rapid journey from blue to white collar in the space of a few years.

He was tall and handsome, and it wasn’t long before that foghorn voice gave him the idea of doing radio. In 1966 he took a three-month radio course, and a year later he landed a job at Chicago’s WVON, one of the greatest of the rhythm and blues radio stations that were the backbone of black music and the communities they served.

These are the early biographical details of Don Cornelius, but we can’t introduce him without also discussing the quasi-mystical, midcentury quality popularly known as “cool.” Professor Robert Farris Thompson, a historian of West African culture, traces the concept of “cool” to Yoruba and Igbo civilizations. Thompson has argued that “The telling point is that the ‘mask’ of coolness is worn not only in times of stress, but also but in times of pleasure … I have come to term the attitude ‘an aesthetic of the cool’ in the sense of a deeply and completely motivated, consciously artistic interweaving of elements serious and pleasurable, of responsibility and play.”

Whatever its roots in Africa, among black Americans, “cool” signified a certain elegant restraint, a control of facial expression, posture, and gesture, that projected danger as well as grace. Behind this outer calm, rivers of deep emotion and passion might be felt, but the exterior projected a laid-back hardness that intimidated men and seduced women. Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis gave musical expression to this ethos with his exquisite suits, red sports car, and musical mastery. With the 1957 release of his album Birth of the Cool, he became the poster child for cool. Cool wasn’t limited to black folks. (White movie idol Steve McQueen definitely possessed the required chill.) Nor could every black person achieve it. For many black big-city brothers, cool was an elusive prize. In their strident attempts to achieve cool, many became self-conscious parodies of the persona. Trying too hard to be cool was not cool. Cool was a way of being, not a goal to achieve. You were cool when others perceived you as such. It was not something you could declare yourself. Truly cool people are anointed by those around them and baptized by the appreciation of others.

Don remembered overhearing two girls in high school talking: “‘You know, Don Cornelius thinks he’s cool, doesn’t he?’ And the other girl said, ‘No, honey. He is cool.’ That’s just something, for whatever it’s worth and for whatever it means, that’s something that’s just born in me.”

In the Chicago of his young manhood, cool was a currency that drew people to you, garnered respect, and made upward mobility easier. Cornelius’s cool would help him impress authority figures, whether they were advertising executives, radio station personnel, or record-business gatekeepers. Cool was the intangible element in Don’s rise that would be much commented on in later years but, in this early part of his career, it was the unspoken element that gave others confidence in him.

Now, to understand the heritage of WVON and why it was such a crucial stop in Cornelius’s journey, we have to go back to the post– World War II period when, for the first time, black radio announcers with ethnic voices began appearing on the nation’s airwaves. Black announcers had been on the radio before the war, but usually they’d been instructed to lose any black accent and cleanse their vocabulary of slang.

Arthur Bernard Leaner, aka Al Benson, a onetime vaudeville performer and sometime storefront preacher from Jackson, Mississippi, would break the mold and, in a number of ways, set the stage for Soul Train. At the time, there were no stations dedicated to serving black listeners in the Chicago market. (In 1947, Memphis’s WDIA became the first “negro”-oriented station; in 1949 the first to be black owned, WERD, opened in Atlanta.)

When Arthur debuted in Chicago radio in 1945, he hosted a fifteen-minute Sunday-night show during which he preached the gospel while a choir sang in the background. He’d expected to get underwriting from local advertisers, but a dispute with station management led Arthur to revamp his persona. Out went the preaching and the choir. In its place he became Al Benson, “the Ole Swingmaster,” and he began playing blues, swing, and the emerging style of dance music eventually labeled rhythm and blues. By 1947 he was broadcasting twenty hours a week on two different stations and garnering advertising support from businesses around the city.

By 1948 the Chicago Tribune had declared Benson the most popular disc jockey in Chicago, white or black. Key to Benson’s popularity was what he called “native talk,” meaning that on the air he spoke with a southern black accent, used current slang, and referred to the struggles black immigrants from the South were confronting in the Windy City. By playing electrified urban blues or rhythm and blues, sounds then being released exclusively by independent labels like Chicago’s Chess, Benson established a template for how black DJs could compete with their white counterparts and, eventually, for the sound and style of black radio that continued into the soul era and endures today in hip-hop radio.

With radio as his power base, Benson staged shows at the Regal Theater, Chicago’s answer to New York’s Apollo, and he started his own record label, Parrot Records. In 1951, a year before the debut of American Bandstand, Benson hosted his own variety show on a local station, making him the first black DJ in Chicago to do so (perhaps the first in the country). So Don Cornelius grew up with Al Benson as a huge, innovative figure in his world.

Benson’s business acumen was very much in keeping with the energy of black Chicago, which, more than any other American metropolis, was home to some of the most important black businesses of the postwar era. John H. Sengstacke’s weekly Chicago Defender was a force championing civil rights and the integration of the armed forces and encouraging southern blacks to move North. John Johnson founded Ebony, a monthly black version of Life magazine, in 1945 and followed up with the pocket-size Jet in 1951, both of which remain staples in black households. Black hair-care companies based in the city prospered as well, with Fred Luster’s Luster Products, founded in 1957, and George Johnson’s Johnson Products, started in 1954, both generating millions in profits and thousands of jobs in factories and beauty salons nationwide. And Chicagoan S. B. Fuller was one of the slickest black businessmen ever. He started selling products for a white company—soap and deodorant—door to door to South Side blacks in the 1920s. By 1939 he’d made enough money to open his own factory, and almost ten years later Fuller purchased the company of his white distributor (while wisely keeping his black identity secret). During the 1950s Fuller was likely the richest black man in America.

It was in this context that WVON, which arrived on air in 1963, made an immediate impact by serving as an outlet for black entrepreneurs to advertise products to a growing consumer market using an on-air delivery and music that Benson pioneered. The station was owned by Leonard and Phil Chess, two Polish brothers who ran Chess and Checker Records, home of Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, and countless other legends. While WVON’s location at the far end of the AM dial and tiny 250-watt signal meant it couldn’t be heard all over the city, the station still squarely hit its target—the city’s densely packed black neighborhoods in South and West Side Chicago.

Though the radio scene had changed considerably since Al Benson’s heyday, his stamp was still felt at WVON. He had sponsored contests for prospective DJs around the city and gave them airtime, inaugurating many of their careers, including those of Sid McCoy (who’d later be the voice of Soul Train) and Herb “the Cool Gent” Kent.

By the time Cornelius reached WVON in 1966, Benson was no longer a force, although he thrived through the voices of on-air personalities Kent, Pervis “the Blues Man” Spann, Wesley South, and news director Roy Wood, who guided the station’s civil rights coverage. WVON’s playlist was filled with music made in the city itself. Blues stars like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf were starting to lose their hold on black listeners, but an exciting generation of local soul singers led by singer-songwriter Curtis Mayfield and including Jerry Butler, the Impressions, Gene Chandler, Fontella Bass, and Tyrone Davis were starting to deliver consistent hits and strong ratings.

Given the station’s pedigree and power, it’s not surprising that Don never landed a regular on-air slot playing music. Instead he was given the job of news reader and street reporter during one of the most tumultuous periods in Chicago history. In January 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. relocated to a Chicago housing project to dramatize the de facto segregation in real estate practices in the “liberal” North. King would face resistance from political boss Mayor Richard Daley, be confounded by nefarious dealings with black elected officials who were puppets of the local Democratic machine, and endure brutal harassment from Chicago’s white residents during public marches. A photograph from this period shows a young Don with microphone in hand, covering the civil rights movement for WVON, walking down a Chicago street with King.

Don also covered the riots in the wake of King’s assassination in April 4, 1968, and the violent events of that June’s Democratic Convention that left demonstrators bloody in the city’s streets. The Black Panthers organized successfully in Chicago under the leadership of Fred Hampton, who was then murdered in a one-sided shoot-out with the city’s police, another story Cornelius and WVON reported.

During this intense period in Chicago’s history, Cornelius made his television debut, hosting a show on local UHF station WCIU called A Black View of the News, just one of scores of public-interest shows that were popping up around the country in response to the civil rights movement. Most had names as on the nose as the one Cornelius hosted, names that unintentionally suggested that “the black view” remained not merely segregated but exotic, even foreign, to the American mainstream.

Today the UHF broadcast band is used primarily for mobile phones and two-way radio. But in the 1960s UHF stations, which broadcast on a higher frequency than the standard VHF stations of commercial TV, were an alternative viewing experience. The signals had limited coverage and performed as a precursor to public-access TV years before cable’s introduction. And this relationship with WCIU, initially based on Cornelius’s news experience, led to the birth of Soul Train. The idea of doing a dance show was far from original. Aside from Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, which aired nationally on ABC, there were local dance shows all around the country that catered to teenagers and, to varying degrees, included black singers and dancers. Almost none of the shows I’m aware of from the period placed soul, or “black music,” so front and center: most of them used teen appeal to keep local advertisers and TV programmers comfortable. Don’s genius was seeing that the time was right for a more explicitly “soul”—that is, black—show.

Nelson George is an author and filmmaker who specializes in documenting and celebrating African American culture. He has written several classic black music histories, includingWhere Did Our Love Go? The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound, The Death of Rhythm & Blues, and Hip Hop America. He also coedited The James Brown Reader: 50 Years of Writing About the Godfather of Soul. His most recent novel is The Plot Against Hip Hop. He has also contributed major articles on the films The Help, Pariah, and12 Years a Slave to the New York Times. George directed the HBO film Life Support as well as the VH1 documentaryFinding the Funk.

By: Mike Love   -  In: Review   -  0   Comments

Westwood One Pacts With NextRadio

Westwood One Pacts With NextRadio

By Al Peterson

Cumulus Media-owned Westwood One has announced an agreement with NextRadio that will enable all U.S. radio stations to use advertising inventory to fund the industry’s payments to Sprint. Over the past year, broadcasters have been asked to commit dollars and/or inventory to fund the Sprint NextRadio Initiative, which plans to sell at least 30 million FM receiver-enabled smartphones in the next three years. Broadcasters can now meet their commitment by providing two minutes per station per day (Mon-Sun/ 6am-midnight) that Westwood One will sell on NextRadio’s behalf to pay the proceeds to Sprint. “We are confident that NextRadio is a game-changer for the radio industry and will reignite growth,” said Jeff Smulyan, Chairman and CEO of Emmis Communications – and the driving force behind NextRadio. “The addition of Westwood One to focus on the sales effort will allow companies to use ROS inventory to fulfill their pledges instead of writing checks. This gives every company an option.”

 

By: Mike Love   -  In: Radio News   -  0   Comments

COLEMAN INSIGHTS AND KNOWDIGITAL FIND OPPORTUNITY FOR NEXTRADIO

Coleman Insights/KnowDigital recently completed a two-part study for NextRadio

by Hassahn Liggins…Radio Facts.Com

The first phase of a two-part study completed by media research firm Coleman Insights® and its knowDigital® division reveals that NextRadio®, the new app that allows consumers to listen to local radio stations using the FM chips already installed in their smartphones, has the potential to address the portability needs of radio listeners. This is the most striking conclusion from one-on-one interviews in which consumers were introduced to the capabilities of NextRadio. Theinterviews served as a qualitative prelude to a large-scale national quantitative study that Coleman Insights and knowDigital will release later this month.

 

The research was funded by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and completed in cooperation with Emmis Communications (Nasdaq: EMMS), which developed NextRadio and has spearheaded the radio industry’s support for its rollout. Its first phase is based on one-on-one, in-depth interviews with smartphone owners between the ages of 20 and 39, which revealed a perception among many consumers that their ability to consume broadcast radio is restricted by their lack of access to devices that can receive broadcast signals. These consumers overwhelmingly cited that they have little access to radio outside of when they are in their cars, and as a result, they turn to other sources of audio entertainment when they are not driving. Furthermore, these consumers—after being introduced to NextRadio and having an opportunity to use it during the interviews—expressed the belief that NextRadio would make FM a truly mobile medium, allowing them to listen to radio while engaging in other activities during which they believe it is currently inaccessible.

“To anyone over 40 years old who grew up with transistor radios and Walkmans, the idea that radio isn’t mobile is striking,” commented Coleman Insights president/chief operating officer Warren Kurtzman, who—along with knowDigital president Sam Milkman—conducted the interviews. “That is, however, the perception among many consumers in their 20s and 30s and it appears that NextRadio has a great opportunity to address that challenge.”

“What I find most encouraging about these findings is the interest in listening to FM radio on smartphones,” said NAB executive vice president of communications Dennis Wharton. “Consumers want radio and they want it on the devices that accompany them everywhere they go.”

A streaming video presentation of the study’s findings featuring clips from the consumer interviews is available for viewing at www.ColemanInsights.com/NextRadio. Furthermore, Coleman Insights will release the results of the second phase of the research—a national, representative quantitative study of 18- to 49-year-old smartphone owners on their interest in NextRadio—later this month.

By: Mike Love   -  In: Radio News,Video   -  0   Comments

What’s next for former V103′s Ramonski Luv

Clear Channel Chicago Releases V103′s Ramonski Luv

Yet another Chicago radio veteran was released this week. WVAZ-FM/V103 top-rated host Ramonski Luv was let go earlier this week by Clear Channel Media + Entertainment Chicago. No reason has been given for the host’s abrupt exit.

Ramonski Luv was part of the #1 rated nighttime program, V103′s “The Real Show,” which he had long co-hosted with his on-air partner Joe Soto. The duo had celebrated their 10th anniversary together this past April.

He was last heard on the air on WVAZ-FM on Friday, hosting V103′s all-day 4th of July House music marathon, and then again on Sunday where he took part in an anti-gun violence special. Instead of returning to the airwaves on Monday night, Joe Soto was hosting the 6:00pm-10:00pm show by himself. No word was spoken about Luv.

Luv was completely scrubbed clean from the V103 website this week and the Facebook page for “The Real Show” was deleted.

While a few other Clear Channel radio veterans across the country were released this week, this does not appear to be a mandatory, corporate-ordered, wide-ranging layoff situation. The decision seems to be locally-ordered for reasons not yet known publicly.

Requests from Clear Channel Chicago for clarification on just why Ramonski Luv was released brings in a standard statement which is being given to all similar requests. That statement from Clear Channel Chicago’s spokesperson reads “It’s our policy not to discuss employee matters for privacy reasons. Joe Soto will continue to host evenings on V103.”

Ramonski Luv, whose true name is Raymond Wade III, graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 1984 and immediately began working in radio. He has spent his entire 30-year radio career in Chicago, much of which has been with Clear Channel Radio. He worked as a producer for numerous hosts at WGCI-FM, including Doug Banks, which is where he picked up the nickname of Romanski Luv. In the 1980s, he also created and hosted what is being called as Chicago’s first all-rap show, “Rap Down.” From there he went to host and co-host numerous other shows on WGCI-FM, and since 2000, on WVAZ-FM.

Over the years at stations like WGCI-FM and WVAZ-FM, “Ski,” as he is called affectionately, was known for his engaging personality and sense of humor, as well as his flamboyant fashion sense.

He also was a strong supporter of initiatives to help Chicago’s youth and communities. He has been taking part in “Back to School is Cool – Say No to Drugs & Yes to Education” promotions since 2006 and often spoke at Chicago schools. He frequently took part in anti-gun violence specials on the radio. To further help out local communities, Luv and his wife started a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization called Four Rivers Inc in 2010. In 2011, Ramonski Luv was honored with the Chicago Far-South Suburban NAACP President’s Outstanding Community Service Award for his work in addressing various social issues and challenges in the city.

Luv, who turns 52 this year, is married and the father of four children.

He has not yet offered any comment publicly or even to his many friends who have reached out to him, offering their support.

By: Mike Love   -  In: Radio News   -  2   Comments

Ebony Steele Exits Rickey Smiley Show

Ebony Steele Exits Rickey Smiley, Replaced by Claudia Jordan

A Statement from Ebony Steele and what’s Next with Rickey Smiley’s Response!

I will be leaving “The Rickey Smiley Morning Show” as of today. I feel so blessed to have been part of such a special family for 7 great years and have so enjoyed radio, TV, and my association with Reach Media, and Radio One.

Here’s a hint on what’s next! I am going to do something that I have always wanted to do and it involves expanding my entrepreneurial interests. I’ve always taught females that at some point in their lives they have to spread their wings take a risk on faith and grow. No matter what! Now it is my turn to lead by example. It is equally exciting that I am likely going to be able to pursue my dreams right within the same radio family… It is my vision that my new endeavors will allow me continued contact with you, my loyal fans… Stay tuned and stay in touch.

Your girlfriend, Ebony Steele

Rickey Smiley’s Response:

After 7 years with “The Rickey Smiley Morning Show,” our girl Ebony Steele is moving on. We’ll miss her wit, charm and funny personality, and we thank her so much for everything she brought to the show. She will always be part of my radio family.

By: Mike Love   -  In: Radio News   -  0   Comments

DJs’ decline | How technology killed the radio star

DJs’ decline | How technology killed the radio star

VIRGINIA BEACH

The room doesn’t look much like a radio studio, but the man inside is clearly a disc jockey – disheveled sandy blond hair, a nondescript button-down oxford, shorts and white sneakers with athletic socks.

It’s the look of someone who doesn’t care about stock options or board meetings but could easily spend a half-hour debating the best cover of Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You.”

Eric Worden has worked 35 years in radio. It’s all he has known. He’s good at it. He has the pipes – and encyclopedic music knowledge – to entertain listeners for four hours a day.

Worden, 53, works the weekday morning drive on102.1 FM The Tide, a fairly new station that operates in the adult album alternative format. Worden’s show is something of a throwback, a program that allows him to play what he wants and talk music for more than the typical four minutes an hour.

For those too young to remember, it’s what radio used to be like.

The medium’s cultural impact has diminished considerably in the past 20 years. Fewer voices, limited playlists and the Internet’s growing influence, especially among the coveted younger demographic, means DJs like Worden may be the last of their kind.

Their numbers have dropped by more than 20 percent in the past 17 years, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook will only get worse. A 2014 BLS report said station consolidation and the increased use of computers will continue to eliminate shifts and allow multiple stations to use the same announcers.

Given this, it’s easy to see why Worden is thrilled with his new job. Still, he is realistic.

“If this job ends tomorrow,” he said, “I’m probably not going down this road anymore.”

So don’t become some background noise / A backdrop for the girls and boys

Who just don’t know or just don’t care / And just complain when you’re not there

– “RADIO GA GA,” QUEEN

On a recent Friday, Worden was in The Tide’s small studio, scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad, preparing for his trademark “9 at 9” program. He begins and ends each segment with a long breakdown of the songs, tossing in facts about the tunes, or the musicians.

The program, which caused a small controversy when he brought it over from his former job at BOB-FM last fall, gives Worden the freedom to play music from any year. And not just the hits. So, for example, while a recent set list from 1993 included the obvious hit “Bittersweet” by Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Worden also sneaked in the obscure treat “Biker Like an Icon” by Paul McCartney.

“I like to think of this station as one of discovery,” he said. “Maybe out there, someone tunes in and hears something they missed. Maybe they learn something. Maybe they become a fan.”

Some would call that kind of thinking quaint in a world where a growing number of people turn to the Internet for their music. Sites like Pandora, Spot¬ify and TuneIn allow us to access radio stations, or create one catering specifically to our tastes.

With more than 80 million users, Pandora is the biggest name in this trend. It’s already in the car stereos of several manufacturers, including Chevrolet, Hyundai and Toyota.

Edison Research found that as many as 75 percent of 12- to 24-year-olds were listening to online radio, with nearly half of them using their phones to do so while in the car. Essentially, if you are younger than a certain age, you don’t listen to terrestrial radio anymore.

The numbers don’t surprise Tim J. Anderson, an Old Dominion University professor and author of the new book “Popular Music in a Digital Music Economy.”

“You go into my class and ask the students, ‘Who likes radio?’ No one will raise their hand,” he said. “No one.”

A long time ago there were pirates / Beaming in waves from the sea

But now all the stations are silent / ’Cos they ain’t got government license

– “CAPITAL RADIO ONE,” THE CLASH

Worden still remembers the first record he played on air – the one-hit wonder “Driver’s Seat” by Sniff ’n’ the Tears. He still has it.

“I was 14,” he said. “My voice hadn’t even changed yet.”

Born in Los Angeles, Worden grew up in Roseburg, Ore., where his father worked as the station director for KRSB, the small lumber town’s only FM radio station (home of the “Dog Gone” report – if you lost your dog, call the station).

As a teen, he ran the station’s “American Top 40” program and dreamed of becoming an architect. But he loved music and couldn’t leave it.

Now, three decades, three marriages and more than a dozen DJ jobs later, he still loves spinning records and engaging listeners.

He came to Virginia Beach in 1993 and became a well-known disc jockey and sought-after voice-over artist, working the longest at WKOC The Coast, now known as BOB-FM.

That job didn’t end well. Worden said the changes happening to DJs everywhere started happening to him: less air time, less money.

The reasons for this are complicated. They include the changing tastes of listeners, a growing set of music options and two major changes in the industry.

The first change came in 1996 when Congress passed the Telecommunications Act, a law that eliminated caps on the number of stations a company could own nationally and increased to eight the number of stations a company could own in a single listening area.

Eighteen years later, 10 companies control two-thirds of the country’s listeners and ad revenue; two of them – Clear Channel and Infinity Broadcasting – own more than 40 percent of all stations.

There are around 40 radio stations in the area, about two dozen of them operating in the world of commercial popular music, which includes everything from Top 40 to urban and rock. Six companies rule this world, owning almost all of them: Clear Channel, Saga Communication, Sinclair Communications, Entercom Communications, Max Media Radio and Local Voice Media. That is about average for the country.

According to the nonprofit Future of Music Coalition, the effect of consolidation has been fewer opportunities for musicians on air and a limited selection of songs on the radio. You’ve probably noticed this as you’re driving along and hearing the same songs over and over again on multiple channels. Same company. Same playlist.

It’s not hard to see how that kind of music oligarchy would limit opportunities for disc jockeys, especially when companies specialize in certain types of music. It wouldn’t help the bottom line to split a market between DJs.

In my mind and in my car / We can’t rewind we’ve gone too far

Pictures came and broke your heart

– “VIDEO KILLED THE RADIO STAR,” THE BUGGLES

The second major change came in the early 2000s. That’s when Arbitron, the agency that researches station ratings, shifted from a diary system to “personal people meters.”

Ratings have always been something of a devil’s agreement between TV and radio programmers and the advertisers they woo. Both sides realize the numbers are not reality but agree to live with the results.

For years Arbitron, now Nielsen Audio, asked participants to record every station they frequented. The concept was flawed from the beginning. What 25-year-old college student would diligently fill out a radio diary?

Radio companies long suspected the system didn’t accurately reflect listening habits. So around 2001, Arbitron started using PPMs, or portable people meters, which were little beeper-sized units that allowed participants to record data on every radio frequency they came into contact with.

The new devices also were far from perfect. The results were only as good as the focus group. Arbitron lost a lawsuit over failing to send the meters to a culturally diverse group of listeners, a mistake that could lead to unfairly low ad rates for minority-owned stations.

And, to be fair, the meters judge not what you like, but rather what you come into contact with, whether it’s in your car or in a colleague’s office. Still, with the data, programmers across the country devised new strategies, which included eliminating clutter, being judicious with new music and cutting down on DJ patter.

The results were dramatic. The changes came overnight.

Bob Frantz co-hosted the popular “Mike and Bob Show,” an irreverent all-talk program that had been a mainstay on 96X for a decade. PPMs debuted in Hampton Roads in 2010. Within a year, Frantz was out of a job.

“We went from being the No. 2-rated show in the afternoon to last in a matter of months,” he said. “For 10 years we were geniuses. Then we were unemployed.”

In an interview at the time, station owner Bob Sinclair was quoted as saying, “According to the ratings, listeners want more music, less talk.”

Frantz said after the initial drop in ratings, the station moved the team to mornings. When that didn’t work, he found himself getting paid a lot to do very little.

“I went from talking 45 minutes an hour to talking 6 minutes an hour,” he said. “They were paying me too much to do that, so it was really just a matter of time.”

Frantz, 36, now lives in Cincinnati and is a stay-at-home dad. He tried to get another radio job in Hampton Roads, but with only a handful of companies owning stations, he quickly ran out of options.

He left the area to get away from the constant reminders. The end came one night when he was waiting tables.

“It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m signing somebody’s shirt after bringing him a salad and I think to myself, ‘I’m done,’ ” Frantz said.

Frantz said he would love to get back into radio, but the opportunities are no longer there. The role of DJs has been so reduced that there is no money in the job for experienced professionals.

“I don’t want to be 40 and making $10 an hour,” he said. “What kind of life is that?”

I was trying to find my way home / But all I heard was a drone.

Bouncin’ off a satellite / Crushing the last lone American night.

– “RADIO NOWHERE,” BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN

James Duvall used to dream about being a disc jockey. That fantasy died one day in college when a professor delivered some hard truth.

“He said, ‘If you are getting into radio for the music, don’t get into radio,’ ” Duvall said. “It was a wake-up call.”

Duvall, 35, is music director for AltRadio.org, an alternative music stream created by John Heimerl in 2005. The stream is available on the website of WHRO, the local public radio station that also features “Out of the Box” with Paul Shugrue on its sister station, WHRV-FM. Shugrue’s program likewise presents an eclectic mix of artists and styles.

Shugrue, who has worked in radio since 1978, said his program would not exist on commercial stations.

“Shooting for the numbers is all they are about,” he said.

But then, really, that’s all commercial radio was ever about.

Longtime DJ and local icon Mike Arlo still pumps out the classic rock on 106.9 The Fox. He said that even in the glory days, only certain jocks could play whatever they wanted.

And, while he acknowledges that there are fewer jobs for DJs and less time for interacting with listeners, he tries to remember that the world has changed. And will keep changing.

“Look, people used to listen to only one station. They were loyal.

But now, man, you go to commercial and they’re punching that button,” he said. “So I understand why we have to be careful with which songs we play and how long we’re on the air.”

Arlo is in his mid-60s and hopes to keep working in the industry well into the golden years. He still loves it. And this isn’t the first time someone has predicted radio’s demise.

“MTV was supposed to be the end of radio. Well, we’re still here, and I don’t even think they play music anymore,” Arlo said. “The world is changing, but I believe, in some form, you will always have that voice booming from the dashboard.”

And I’m sending you out / This signal here

I hope you can pick it up / Loud and clear

– “YOU TURN ME ON, I’M A RADIO,” JONI MITCHELL

Worden lives in a spacious house near the Lafayette River in Norfolk with his son, Colby, and his beagle, Dierks.

Art, music and family are the most important things in his life; his walls are testament to that.

Scattered around the two-story home are photos of his three children – two of whom are grown – and pieces of his own art. Worden likes to take old guitars and alter the bodies into interesting, colorful shapes.

He bought the home during better times, when salaries were climbing. He is fortunate his voice-over work remains steady. Chances are, even if you haven’t heard the show, you’ve heard him pitch a product.

“Look, we all knew this day was coming,” he said of the changes that he believes are killing radio. “But there should be a place for a well-done radio show; for something more than just playing the same 20 songs all day. I mean, where would you rather eat, Todd Jurich’s Bistro or Golden Corral?”

In this analogy, the Bistro is The Tide, a small boutique station that offers a different menu. Worden started in November and loves the format and free-wheeling style.

How is the station doing? Hard to say. Nielsen Audio doesn’t make its ratings public. Stations pay as much as $100,000 a year for the research and share it at their discretion. The Tide doesn’t subscribe.

“The kind of people who would take part in that are not the kind of people who listen to this kind of station,” said Tom Davis, The Tide’s owner. “But the number of people who like this kind of variety is very high.”

Davis’ company, Local Voice Media, operates nine stations in four markets. He owns four in Hampton Roads. He believes in the format and points out that The Tide has 20,000 followers on TunIn.

He also believes in his DJ, even allowing Worden to begin his show every other morning from home, so the now-single father can get his 14-year-old son off to school.

If you listen, every so often you can hear Dierks howl in the background. The bay window downstairs provides too tempting a view of squirrels in the yard.

On those mornings Worden gets the playlist moving and jumps in his car to drive Colby to the bus stop. From there, he races down the interstate to the station.

It is a small irony that some of the same technology pushing DJs out of work enables him to keep doing his job. But the only people who care about irony are writers and graduate students. Worden will do whatever he can to keep playing music.

So if you see his gray SUV cruising down I-264 some morning before 9 a.m., maybe wave to him – and move out of the way.

He’s got a show to do. For now.

Clay Barbour’s Pop(totem) column appears regularly in the Evening Pilot, The Virginian-Pilot’s online magazine for tablets. Reach him at 446-2379 or clay.barbour@pilotonline.com.

By: Mike Love   -  In: Radio News   -  0   Comments

Radio One Charlotte Hires Mary K For PD Duties

Radio One/Charlotte Hires Mary K For PD Duties

RADIO ONE has tapped MARY K. for PD duties at Urban AC WOSF (OLD SCHOOL 105.3) and Gospel WPZS (PRAISE 92.7)/CHARLOTTE, NC.

MARY K. told ALL ACCESS, “I am thrilled to join the RADIO ONE team in the exciting city of CHARLOTTE.  I must thank JAY STEVENS, COLBY TYNER, GARY WEISS and NATE BELL for believing in me and making me feel like part of the RADIO ONE family.”

RADIO ONE Programming/SVP JAY STEVENS expressed to ALL ACCESS, “MARY K’s creativity, leadership, varied programming experience, and successful track record will help to lift our CHARLOTTE station to new heights.”

Regional VP GARY WEISS said, “MARY K. has worked with some of radio’s legendary Urban programmers, learning a lot along the way.  She has boundless energy and enthusiasm.”

Most recently, MARY K. had been programming Top 40/Rhythmic WHZT (HOT 98.1) and Urban WJMZ (107.3 JAMZ)/GREENVILLE-SPARTANBURG, SC.

- See more at: http://www.allaccess.com/net-news/archive/story/130955/radio-one-charlotte-hires-mary-k-for-pd-duties#sthash.UeTIxERK.dpuf

By: Mike Love   -  In: Radio News   -  0   Comments

Music streaming, promotion, and the next song on your radio station

Payola was a big problem in radio, but will digital streaming evolve past it?

For discreet promotional relationships, one need not look further in the music industry than payola. The practice of labels paying DJs to play their music ran rampant in the 50s, with one Chicago DJ paid $22,000 to play a record. A Congressional investigation led to USC 317, which prohibits radio stations from playing for pay.

For years after, radio stations and labels tried to work around the law using independent promoters and intermediaries. But in the mid-2000s, New York state attorney general Eliot Spitzer sued several labels for continuing the practice using this loophole. Universal Music Group, Sony, and Water all settled out of court for millions of dollars, while EMI is still under investigation.

Four major radio companies including Clear Channel also settled over investigations from the FCC over the loophole in 2007, for a total $12.5 million in fines and an agreement to not participate in payola and give a certain number of hours of airtime to independent labels.

While these investigations would seem a fatal blow to the concept of paying money for a platform to play music, the regulations, the investigations, and the original payola law apply strictly to radio stations; that is, music disseminated over airwaves. But what about all of the digital music services that have cropped up in the last few years, and even the digital radio stations that they let users generate? Though they’ve started to earn suspicion, and certainly have the right tools, promotion is happening, but not like we might expect.

Promoting in a new age

Unlike radio, services like Spotify or Rdio have compound income streams from both ads run in between songs and subscription fees paid by users. Spotify has even specified how it pays out this income among labels and rights holders and what it keeps for itself.

With the amount of data and control at Spotify’s fingertips it seems possible the service could be tweaking the playback behavior of, say, users’ individual shuffled playlists, or bubbling up more popular music on a user-created radio station, effectively emulating a modern version of payola. Yet an internal source confirmed to Ars that Spotify doesn’t, to their knowledge, do anything like this.

Steve Savoca, head of Spotify’s label relations, also spoke to Ars on the record about the company’s various promotional practices. Spotify has several “ad products” that music labels can buy, Savoca said; for instance, placement on the Discover page or advertising of its artists’ playlists are something Spotify can offer. But in terms of actually getting music onto, say, a radio station, or pushing it into a higher frequency on a shuffled playlist, Savoca says it does not happen. “There is no exchange of money to win the opportunity to promote on a service,” Savoca said.

When asked if Spotify could target promotions for a new album based on a user’s liking of one artist, Savoca said that Spotify doesn’t have that kind of granularity. The Discover page does work its advertising magic by relating promoted material to what a user already listens to, but the music itself never gets pushed to a user’s radio station, for instance, Savoca said. Spotify will employ plenty of strategies to get music in front of users, all the way up to the point of actually playing it. The algorithm is part science and part human-influenced curation, Savoca says, but never promotion.

This isn’t to say that Spotify doesn’t offer plenty of avenues for labels to promote their content throughout the service. In fact, more of the service is promotionally “curated” than may be immediately clear. Spotify stated that areas like its Discover page are influenced by relationships with labels. Savoca said Spotify also has a system of organizing and promoting playlists through influential users that can help get music out there. Influential users can include artists, bands, or well-networked consumers. And Spotify knows its promotional efforts are effective, as it takes credit for Kendrick Lamar’s “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” reaching number two on the Billboard charts.

Pandora, which runs a much more guided experience than Spotify but also manages its music, rights, and royalties differently, also does not accept money to promote music through increased play. Whether Pandora would use its rotation algorithms to promote music is “not totally off the table,” said Eric Bieschke, Pandora’s chief scientist. “We would be interested in doing it if it were the best thing for listeners.” But Bieschke said that type of promotion would be at odds with the company’s ethos. “To me payola feels like a foreign thing, culturally,” Bieschke said.

Why not, and what else

With an opportunity to implement both a more effective and less noticeable form of payola, it’s surprising that these music services aren’t already trying it. It may have something to do with the original use of payola as a way to influence listeners to become fans or even buy music. If someone’s already listening to something on Spotify, their motivation to buy the relevant album is more or less zero.

But within the constraints of a streaming service, getting music out there does have its own circle of influence—friends who follow each other on the service see what the other listens to. Rdio even lets users curate reviews of music they like. But as far as moving society’s musical taste needle, the likes of Spotify and Rdio may not register where, say, Clear Channel once did: the company topped out at 1,200 stations in the US in the early 2000s, many of them for mainstream-oriented music. Not only are digital music listeners of far more diverse taste, they are not a captive audience the way radio listeners tend to be.

This hasn’t stopped the possibility of digital payola from entering indie artists’ consciousness as a threat to their mindshare. The Future of Music Coalition, an advocacy organization for independent artists, published a piece in mid-June stating that “Consumers have no way of knowing whether recommendations and curated playlists are based on curatorial choices, or whether big money tips the scales.”

FMC points out that there are virtually no laws for disclosure with digital distribution services: “The Communications Act requires that broadcasters must disclose “if matter has been aired in exchange for money, services, or other valuable consideration,” making undisclosed payola illegal on AM/FM radio. But when it comes to online services, regulatory agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission have no jurisdiction. The Coalition also noted that the way digital music can have shades of retail mixed into its streaming business can muddy how payola laws might be applied, if at all.

Despite that it would seem trivially easy to implement the type of good-old-fashioned payola where sponsored music gets played more, companies and internal sources claim they don’t do it. Perhaps the skepticism of how streaming is fitting into the music business as a whole is unearned. Maybe there are more effective ways of promoting what the labels want. Or maybe the business just isn’t there yet.

By: Mike Love   -  In: Radio News   -  0   Comments

Radio’s weapon remains its personalities

Radio’s weapon remains its personalities

“It’s a people business” is an overworked expression.  But when it comes to radio, it’s the real deal.  A new survey from Kassof & Co. finds that a vast majority of Americans believe radio is better when there’s a voice on the other end of the listening experience.

Nearly half (47%) said personalities make radio “a lot better” to listen to, with nearly 39% saying hosts make it a “little better.”   Women and older listeners are most pro-personality, but consultant Mark Kassof says the results are pretty similar across all demographic groups.  Just 9% think personalities make radio a less desirable experience.

“Among those who think the people on radio make it worse, it’s about the music more than anything else,” Kassof says.  His data shows one-quarter of that group only wants to hear music — nothing else — and 20% think DJs talk too much and don’t play enough records.

Reinforcing the importance of show prep, 12% labeled hosts as uninteresting and 10% said they aren’t funny, even though they try to be.  Fortunately, when asked to name a DJ’s top characteristic, a quarter of survey talkers said they’re humorous.  Other high marks were for being interesting and engaging, informative and entertaining.

“This research shows that personalities are a powerful asset for traditional radio in meeting the challenge posed by music-only alternatives,” Kassof says.

The findings are based on 953 online interviews conducted June 18 and 19 with 18-64 year-old listeners to broadcast radio, web-only radio services, podcasts and satellite radio.

- See more at: http://insideradio.com/Article.asp?id=2810497&spid=32061#.U7RkdY1dUi4

By: Mike Love   -  In: Radio News   -  0   Comments

Soul Music Legend Bobby Womack Dies at 70

Soul Music Legend Bobby Womack Dies at 70

Bobby Womack, the multi-talented singer-songwriter-guitarist who left an indelible mark on R&B and soul in the 1960s and ‘70s but battled drug addiction in his later years, died Friday at 70, his record label XL Recordings confirmed. He had been diagnosed with colon cancer in 2012.

A gutsy singer and a superlative axe man, Womack charted nearly 50 hits, the majority of them self-penned, during his career of more than 40 years. His No. 1 R&B entries were “Woman’s Gotta Have It” (1972) and “Lookin’ For a Love” (1974), a remake of a number he recorded with his family act the Valentinos for Sam Cooke’s SAR label.

Womack also notched a top 20 hit with “Across 110th Steet,” the title number from the 1973 crime thriller starring Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Kotto; Quentin Tarantino appropriated the song under the opening credits of his 1997 pic “Jackie Brown,” and it was also employed in the 2007 Denzel Washington starrer “American Gangster.”

Born in Cleveland to a musical and religious family, Womack began singing and playing guitar at an early age. He toured the gospel circuit with his brothers. Cooke – also a product of gospel music, and the former lead singer of the Soul Stirrers – took the act under his wing, and recorded for SAR with a new moniker. After scoring a No. 8 hit in 1962 with “Lookin’ For a Love,” the group reached No. 21 in 1964 with “It’s All Over Now,” which the Rolling Stones turned into a top 30 pop hit the same year.

After Cooke was shot and killed in an incident in a Los Angeles motel in 1964, the Valentinos disbanded. Womack scandalously married Cooke’s widow Barbara three months after the singer’s death.

Womack initially made an impression as a sideman, playing guitar on crucial sessions at FAME in Muscle Shoals and American Studios in Memphis behind Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett (who also cut several of Womack’s compositions for Atlantic).

He recorded some lesser R&B chart singles for New Orleans’ Minit Records before signing in 1971 with United Artists Records, where he found his greatest commercial success. His hits for the company – which combined his trademark grit with a softer, acoustic-based sound – included “That’s the Way I Feel About Cha’” ((No. 2, 1971), “Harry Hippie” (No. 8, 1972), “Nobody Wants You When You’re Down and Out” (No. 2, 1973), “You’re Welcome, Stop On By” (No. 5, 1974), “Check It Out” (No. 6, 1975) and “Daylight” (No. 5, 1976). He also crafted some outstanding albums for the company, including “Communication” (1971) and “Understanding” (1972).

Womack segued to Beverly Glen Records in the late ‘70s; there he recorded the mellow, widely praised album “The Poet” (No. 29 in 1981) and its 1984 successor “The Poet II” (No. 60).

He wrestled with a serious cocaine addiction that scuttled his career in the ‘80s. He recorded sporadically thereafter, and published an outrageous autobiography, “I’m a Midnight Mover,” in 2006. His later life was marred by tragedy, including the murder of one of his brothers, the death of two sons, and the jailing of a third.

However – after making an appearance on Gorillaz’s 2010 album “Plastic Beach,” his career enjoyed a latter-day renaissance. Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn co-produced the 2012 XL set “The Bravest Man in the Universe,” which served to reinstate Womack’s reputation as one of the top do-everything talents in R&B. He played a show at L.A.’s Wilshire Theatre earlier this year, and had been scheduled to perform several tour dates in Europe this summer.

Womack was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.

By: Mike Love   -  In: Radio News   -  0   Comments

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