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Satellite radio is the future.

With apologies to Rolling Stone critic John Landau, I have heard the future of commercial radio. It doesn't have much of one.

My conversion started with a trip to Johnny Londoff Chevrolet for a test drive of a vehicle equipped with satellite radio. It blew me away. I can't remember the last time radio compelled me to circle the block again to hear a song.

Commercial radio is dead to me, with the exception of KMOX (1120) for traffic or news.

On satellite you can hear original American Top 40 shows, recreations of classic stations and, most important, records that have not been burned by constant repetition. All of this with no commercials, with the exception of some of the talk formats.

The Department of Justice has signed off on Sirius Satellite Radio's buyout of XM Satellite Radio, giving the combined firms 17.3 million subscribers. The $4.59 billion deal is awaiting approval by the FCC.

The terrestrial radio industry fought the deal, and some consumer groups expressed concern that the justice department was handing Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin a monopoly. Critics are saying prices will rise and there will be less choice as a result of the deal. The justice department says that won't happen because satellite faces competition from broadcast radio, MP3 players, HD radio and programming delivered via cell phones.

May be a bargain

Prices should actually go down. Sirius and XM were both losing money, but the merger could save the companies up to $7.2 million per year, according to The Motley Fool Web site. The combined brands will be able to offer ala carte programming, similar to cable television. It costs $12.95 per month for Sirius and XM now. XM offers more than 100 channels. Sirius-XM says it is committed to offering a $6.99 per month plan with 50 non-premium channels.

There will be some major job cuts due to the consolidation, a trend that has already swept traditional broadcasters. Duplicate channels would be eliminated. The real reason the National Association of Broadcasters and terrestrial broadcast interests lobbied against the measure is because satellite is simply a superior product. People will pay for radio if it's providing them what they want and offering programming unavailable on commercial stations.

Some are predicting that satellite radio will one day be just as cluttered with commercials as terrestrial radio, but they are overlooking non-traditional revenue sources available to satellite radio. The technology is interactive, and will someday allow listeners to buy songs or order directly from advertisers. XM-Sirius could even sell naming rights to entire channels.

As I write this, the XM '70s channel is playing "Shake It" by Ian Matthews. I am flashing back to my high school days, when that song would play in my head every time a certain cheerleader walked down the hall. That's the sort of connection that the music of our youth can make.

There are hundreds of songs that may not "test well," in focus groups but bring back powerful memories. A mega corporation worried about the bottom line won't take a chance on playing anything that might not be safe or predictable. I think I'll stop typing for now. I just flipped over to the '80s channel to crank up some Loverboy. Now that's radio worth buying.

Dodie Rahlman out at KLOU

Perhaps the hardest working person I've ever met in this business is looking for another opportunity. Dodie Rahlman has been let go by Clear Channel as John Mathews slides into the newly created position of KLOU (103.3 FM) program director. Rahlman held down the 7-Midnight show on KLOU and was a fixture at the station since about 1995. He outlasted several owners, morning shows, format adjustments and countless program directors, but the average listener would never have known how hard he worked.

He engineered Rams broadcasts, post-game shows and live broadcasts, all while handling music programming duties. KLOU was his life. Rahlman practically lived there. Radio did have a way of inspiring that sort of passion in people, in some cases at a huge cost to health and personal lives.

No one loves oldies or cares more about the listeners than Rahlman. He is a throwback to a time when that was all that mattered.

For some good people put out of work recently, a new station owner offers a ray of hope. I hope they are not disappointed. A previous column discussed the acquisition of WIL (1430 AM) by strip club magnate and convicted felon Robert Romanik. Previous owner Bonneville is keeping the legendary WIL call letters, so 1430 AM now goes by the call letters KZQZ.

KZQZ is live with a full air staff. Market vet Terry Fox is handling operations and has lured "Mad Maynard" and Jackie McCoy back to the airwaves. Many of us were introduced to oldies for the first time during their oldies show on KADI (96.3 FM)--now KHIT--in the '70s and '80s.

Currently, KZQZ seems to be playing too many obscure oldies, too much doo-wop and poor quality or non-original recordings of songs. Fox will change that. (He borrowed my Time-Life CDs.) But I worry that Romanik is too much of a maverick to let good people do their jobs.

Romanik has indicated that he will host a daily talk show, and the Web site bills KZQZ as "The First Amendment Station." That seems to indicate that Romanik plans to use the station as a personal soapbox, which could alienate clients.

There's also the thought that music on AM is dead. Young people don't even know AM exists. Will oldies work on AM? For the sake of some good people, I hope so.

Joe Sonderman is a traffic producer and anchor for Total Traffic, and reporter and on-air personality for KLOU (103.3 FM).
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Title Annotation:am/fm
Author:Sonderman, Joe
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Date:Jun 1, 2008
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