- May 25, 2016 at 3:59 pm #10614ArtisanRadioParticipant
Total posts : 566
So, the Part 15 website was down yesterday, & I had some time for a bit of philosophical musiing.
What is Radio quality? It seems that everyone rails about it, saying that most commercial radio today is crap. And yet, what does that mean?
So let’s take a few examples of things I’ve read over the past little whle. One is particularly blunt – this guy doesn’t listen to radio these days because they don’t play what he wants to hear. Uhhh, OK. There are still plenty of people that want to listen to it.
Another favourite is genre. Today’s music is garbage. The only music that people really want to listen to is <…> – you fill in the blank. And there are a number of answers, depending on who is writing, from 50s & 60s to album rock.
Then there’s the length of the playlists – do people want to hear the same 50 songs over and over? Maybe 5000 would be better. Is more actually better quality?
And so it goes. All variations focused on what each individual’s preferences are. But I wonder, is quality in radio really that subjective, or is there an absolute quality that radio broadcasters should strive for.
That question was asked and at least partially answered in Robert Pirsig’s Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (hence my subject title). In the book, he uses the metaphor of going on a motorcycle trip across America with his son to explore the question of whether there is an ‘absolute quality’.
One interesting example right at the beginning of the book illustrates the conundrum. Often, Pirsig wites, he goes on these trips with a friend. Once, this friend, who rides a BMW, had a breakdown, which required a replacement part. Now, anyone who understands motorcycle maintenance (as Pirsig did) could have hacked something together; it wouldn’t have been pretty, but the bike would have worked and the journey could have resumed. His friend, however, refused that solution – he wanted the new, shiny, good looking (and expensive) correct BMW OEM replacement part.
To that friend, it was important that the motorcycle look good. And that he KNEW that it was a BMW through and through. More important than the trip itself. To him, the OEM part had more quality than the hack. To Pirsig, both had equal quality, because the focus for him was the time spent on the road.
Pirsig did eventually come up with answer to his question about whether there was an absolute quality, but I won’t spoil the book for anyone who hasn’t read it (I do highly recommend that you do).
However, I wonder if the same process that he went through can be applied to broadcasting. What are the things that make up ‘quality’. From what I’ve read so far, most seem to be subjective and based on the likes and dislikes of the writer. Are there some absolute quality factors that we can all agree on?May 25, 2016 at 5:24 pm #49169MICRO1700Guest
Total posts : 45366
It was fun to read your post.
It makes me think of the art of
the “Full Service Radio Station.”
I’ll be back.
Receiving and Transmitting
Hartford, CTMay 25, 2016 at 7:16 pm #49172Nate CrimeGuest
Total posts : 45366
Great post, I like these thinking kind. My perspective is from AM and FM listener, music fan, hi-fi enthusiast with a painful electronics background.
When I found my passion for music radio, I liked a few kinds of music, hated others like my parents’ old fashioned music. I was opinionated, but my opinions changed too. I think stations were somewhat at fault for this too, trying to be a club, make tight formats so you’d disdain other kinds of music, us versus them, I’m cooler. Doing radio, being a DJ was one of the things that opened my mind to other kinds of music, experimental sound radio and talk.
Now I think that feelings on music and other programming are nearly 100 percent subjective, it doesn’t matter, to each their own. It’s good, because then we all have our own roadmap to what we like.
In technical quality, I do think stations should strive for the highest, good signals, low noise and hum, more transparent audio. I think radio has fallen behind a good bit in that area, as other really high quality formats have come out, starting with CD at least.
I can hear it, I’ve been stunned by the quality broadcaster who puts effort into their sound quality, but as with music, who’s to say? I might think listeners will subtly respond to higher fidelity and find it more pleasant subconciously, but then it’s come back in surveys at times, people think they like the traditional “radio” sound. There’s a point to being a standard-bearer, and I think radio stations could take the lead in this area more.
In playlist size, it would seem more is better. Loud voices complain about that all the time, but who knows what the silent majority thinks? I know people who love the familiarity of their musical memories.
I’d always think that more exposure to all kinds of information is better. I always know I want more from radio, I’ve never thought, “Man these guys are playing the same 50 songs, that’s too much, I wish they just played 40!” That would be where the art of a good DJ comes in, knowing a genre or format and when that outlying song can be fit in, or when to hit on this or that topic.May 27, 2016 at 5:43 am #49182marosborneGuest
Total posts : 45366
Excellent, excellent thoughts, Artisan. We’re only human, therefore we feel that what *we* want is what *everybody* wants. Don’t like commercial radio? It’s okay if you don’t… but the latest Nielsen research shows that 93% of Americans use radio each week. Nope, that figure does not include Pandora, Spotify, Sirius/XM, Internet-only radio, etc. It’s good old over-the-air radio stations that are being listened to. The study also showed that radio now has even more weekly users than Facebook… or even television. In spite of the complaints, radio is quite alive and quite well!May 28, 2016 at 12:07 am #49190ArtisanRadioGuest
Total posts : 45366
It’s actually quite difficult to analyze what makes a quality radio station without bringing in your own likes/dislikes.
But here’s one example. I’m a 50s & 60s guy – rock & roll and psychedelia. I don’t particularly like DJ’s who sound like used car salesmen (or women). In fact, I don’t like much talk at all.
But back in the late 70s and early 80s, I came across this relatively small radio station operating on FM out of Brampton, Ontario, called CFNY. They knew they couldn’t compete with some of the Toronto area powerhouse stations, so they went their own way, and did something completely different.
They started playing what was to eventually be known as new wave music, much of it from local bands (they were the first station to play BareNakedLadies’s If I Had a Million Dollars, from their CASSETTE release). They hired teams of DJ’s that interacted intelligently amongst each other, and that actually seemed to care about the music and the listeners. They were the first radio station I ever heard that had the sportscaster, as an example, or the newscaster, interact with the music DJ team.
At the time, I didn’t even like the music that they were playing, for the most part, but I was drawn into the whole atmosphere of what they were doing.
And as I continued to listen, the music grew on me (so much so that I now consider new wave to be the last great era of music). It was neat that I would hear something being played on the radio, and then realize that the band was playing at a local venue that weekend (one of my favourite bands that they featured was SkaFace, and I was able to hear them during the after-race entertainment of a 10K race that I had just ran – too cool). Plus, I heard music coming out of England and Europe that absolutely no one else was playing.
That radio station was Quality (with a capital Q). By word of mouth more than anything else, the ratings started to rise, and eventually they started to threaten the established stations. So what happened? You probably guess it, they ended up being bought out.
Now, you’d think, they were so successful that the new owners would keep on doing more of the same. But you’d be wrong.
They started to revamp the playlists, to bring them in line with what ‘most’ people wanted to hear. My favorite DJ team of Pete & Geets refused to play such artists as Michael Jackson. Eventually, a lot of the staff moved on, as did many of the listeners.
And while it’s difficult to articulate exactly what made CFNY Quality, it was obvious that many people saw it. Correspondingly, when they moved away from whatever it was, people saw that too, and moved away as well.
In my opinion. For CFNY, Quality = local music, interesting (and different) artists, intelligent DJ’s, gentle humour (not the crass & vulgar stuff that often passes for humour today). And probably more will come to me.
I hadn’t seen a radio station before that was like them, and I haven’t seen one since.
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