More On Media Predictions '09: Two Music Geeks Have Fun With A New Radio Format Idea Until A Radio Pro Rains On Our Parade

Posted by: Jon Fine on December 5, 2008

My new column, as previously threatened, is a bunch of media predictions for 2009. But, please, be sure to take a moment and absorb the many wise predictions that were lobbed up by commenters who weighed in on this blog post. (Scroll down, unfortunately; there’s no way for me to jump straight down to the comments.)

There are lots that I could’ve pinched outright, but I restrained myself (I think) to just one, from commenter Don, who’s long livened up this blog with sharp and smart annotation.

Don’s prediction:

I predict a major shake up in the radio programming world in an attempt to refocus on a new, center-left society. This likely would include a new Pro-Consumer talk gadfly who creates an us-against-corporations worldview. This may also include music formats targeting suburban residents as hipster-lite.

I completely disagree with parts one and two, but I totally seized on a new hipster-lite commercial radio format, and jammed it into the column. Because it instantly made sense to me.

The new format (please, someone suggest a name, so we don't just call it Harold or something) would be more tightly focused that this, but also less rocking than this. Basically, the most normal moments of bands like The Pixies and TV On The Radio: slightly-smart, slightly-weird stuff for thirty- and forty-something coastal city suburbanites. Parenthood and work have left them without the time-consuming maintenance associated with tracking music down. But they don’t want NPR or adult album alternative or an existing rock format.

Don and I are both former college radio geeks, so we had lots of fun tossing this idea back and forth. Following are condensed excerpts of our exchange.

Don:

I think there's a market there for selling a modern hipster attitude to settled young suburban or semi-urban families. You probably have an image in your head better than mine, but this would definitely include things like the Rock and Romp crowd of parents taking their kids to backyard shows. Dan Zanes and that crowd is big, and getting bigger. This is probably nothing stranger than the "Peter Paul and Mommy" record was for the boomers- something they remember from 10 years ago that's theirs but modified to reflect their new lives.

I'm thinking about fathers playing Guitar Hero. 30 year olds raised on Mario Brothers and Yo MTV Raps and Woodstock 99. Maybe they were inspired by Nirvana in Jr High. If you were 30 in 2008 you'd have been 16 when Kurt died. You'd have been in college during the rave explosion. and now, chances are, you'd have a real job and be on your way to marriage.

Think of a Prius vs riding a bike to work. Really just choosing the cool store in the mall vs a store downtown.

Jon:

I'm thinking: the most normal moments of Pixies/TV On The Radio/Arcade Fire/Bjork/etc. Essentially pop, never punk, some tolerance for weirdness (they could play Sonic Youth after midnight), premium on lyrics rather than on, yknow, rocking. Elvis Costello, not the Sex Pistols. De la Soul, not Public Enemy. Meat Puppets, not Black Flag. (Hey, I could do this for hours!)

Don:

The Juno soundtrack and lots of the New Weird America stuff without a doubt. Sufjan Stevens? Arcade Fire? What I used to call, sort of Slack-Rap that Beck created, I think modern artists doing that sort of thing.

Then there are the punk or indie "hits" that could still translate into c-rotation. Nirvana would be a weird choice, but the Pixies and Breeders and Sonic Youth and Bjork/Sugarcubes would be spot on. Whatever happened to the Throwing Muses, you know?

Bob Dylan? Yes. James Brown? Potentially.

But not the Beatles or Rolling stones.

Fly in the ointment: once a college radio geek, always a college radio geek. I actually ran this idea past one radio consultant who, very gently, told us we were kinda all wet. Don and I latched onto “Here Comes My Man” by the Pixies (a band I find as dull as dishwater and about as threatening as a jellybean) as emblematic of this format. But Mr. Radio Consultant Guy specifically spoke about research showing that song was sufficiently weird enough to warrant tuneouts among a large chunk of a potential audience.

Nevertheless! It’s my prediction—well, Don’s-—and I’m sticking to it.

 

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The media world continues to shapeshift as new forms arise and old assumptions erode. On this blog, Bloomberg Businessweek will provide sharp analysis and timely reports on the transformation of this constantly changing terrain.

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