Hey, do you have a radio station in a box?
Well, you’d better let it out!
Seriously – how many radio stations in a box do you have in your market? The first one in the Boston area was kind of exciting, and it had great and just perfectly snarky precanned announcers and station ID’s. But with the slow crawl of automation across the spectrum it gets pretty tiresome. It was especially galling for the one station that did the deed over a period of months: you could imagine the despair in the remaining DJ’s faces as they went to their two or one shift per day, as more and more of the day was programmed by CPU. I stopped listening to that station, just out of spite for the owners.
I’m sure in many circumstances it can be a profitable business decision to cut the lease on your office space and rent some rack space. I do wonder how ad revenues change when they make the programming switch – I suppose there may be significant differences during drive time, given that the various local DJ chatter is likely a significant factor in listener behavior. But obviously dropping virtually all staff expenses has got to be a huge savings.
My question is: does this serve the public as well? How can the same set of music, but with only pre-recorded announcers voices instead of live, knowledgeable human conversation, possibly be a better value to the public? I don’t see it.
The issue is the old fashioned idea that the airwaves belong to the public. The FCC manages them for us all: with mixed results perhaps. But if the airwaves are licensed for the public good, how can we allow all these stations to replace their blood with electrons? I can’t see how losing the experience; the traffic and local news blurbs; the chance to call in, or have fresh and locally accented commentary, or even just plain human contact during your commute? Music is a given (in most stations that is); the fact that perhaps a box station has a few more minutes of music doesn’t count for much public good. But the loss of the more responsive and human content to the station really feels like a significant loss to me.
Seriously: is the station format any portion of the FCC’s licensing decisions? I somehow doubt it, but I am kind of curious. Even though I will admit that I do listen to the MIKE-FM box, although only because I don’t yet have an MP3 radio installed in my car yet.