Saturday, May 06, 2006

When Good Radio Stations Go Bad

When I was 13 and a new convert to pop music, I had a favourite station that played the basic synth-heavy pop music that was the in-thing during the early and mid 80s. On the morning of 1 April, my clock radio went off with the horrible jangle of guitar-heavy Beatles music. Ewww. Old people music, said my 13-year old brain.

The radio station put out an entire day of Beatles music. I really thought it was an April Fool's joke. The next day, they broadened their repertoire to cover all sorts of jangle-y guitar music that my reformed-hippie father liked. Ugh. By the third or fourth day, I was ready to accept that this wasn’t just an April Fool's joke gone wrong.

Why did it take me so long? Was I really that dim of a child? Probably, but this was a simpler time, before marketing had become the religion that it is today. A radio station seemed like such a solid fixture. When I walk, I expect the earth to meet my feet. When I turned on the radio, I expected my station to play Duran Duran and Howard Jones. It was if I'd woken up and discovered that air had been replaced with water and the polarity of the earth had been reversed.

Eventually, I learned that sometimes, good radio stations go bad. I learned to live through DJ changes, format shake-ups, and bad programming decisions. (Although I never did forgive WBEZ for pulling Talk of the Nation and replacing it with the insipid Tavis Smiley.That was just a crime against radio-humanity.) With all my radio experience, I should be able to take the changes at Newstalk 106 in stride, but it's proving to be an uphill battle.

In the last few weeks, Newstalk has taken a couple of turns for the worst. I don't know if it's related to their application for a national license or if it's some sort of scramble to improve profitability or if the brains of the operation was abducted by aliens. Maybe it's all three reasons and a handful of other reasons. All I know is that Newstalk is showing all the signs of a good radio station gone bad.

The Lunchtime Show. The unexplained MIA-status of Damien Kiberd is bad enough, but his replacement with the stodgy and ponderous Brendan O'Brien is enough to make stones weep. O'Brien is able to suck all the life and oxygen out of the room in a single dour and plodding breath.

Orla Barry. In her enlightening Radio Selection Guide post, Paige at Blank Paige had some unkind words regarding Orla Barry. To wit:
Under no circumstances should you continue listening to Eamon Dunphy wrapping up his radio show. The aural equivalent of watching a car crash, it isn't a pretty sight and runs the severe risk of injury as Orla Barry comes bounding into your consciousness like a nymphomanical deer in heat. She'll just force herself on you and you'll feel violated.

At the time, I found those words hilarious but unfair. Since I'd started listening to Orla to get away from the tedious and rambling Marian Finucain, I'd always felt that Orla was a bit of fresh air. But then, for no good reason, her show went and got itself rebranded.

Not content anymore to be the unpretentious Orla Barry Show, it is now *cue obnoxiously upbeat trumpet music* Life! With Orla Barry. No, no, no, no, NO! I do not want to have Life! With Orla Barry. If I did, I would become a man, sweep her off her Corconian feet and marry her skinny ass. I just want to listen to a damn radio program.

Plus, now, on a weekly basis, Orla commits what I believe is the most grave of all the sins in Broadcasting Land. She eats – on the radio. She has a food segment on Wednesdays and she has the termerity to crunch and crackle and smack her lips and make sloppy mmm-mmmm noises. It makes me want to stab her with her own lipstick-stained fork.

The "New" Text Number. This past week, Newstalk hammered in what is for me the final nail in its coffin: the 30-cent charge text number. They'd always had a premium charge number for texts, but it was used only for competitions. For texting in your opinions or questions or (especially during the Moncrieff show) bizarre non-sequiters, you could use a regular 086 number.

I texted in a fair bit and enjoyed doing it. It made me feel a part of the discussions. Newstalk wasn't just a radio station I listened to. It was a companion at work that provided me with an ongoing conversation in which I could participate at any time. Sure, I can still participate, but 30-cent texts are going to add up pretty quickly. Besides, it is clearly some sort of revenue generating scheme. It's clear that an enterprising accounting type looked at the text volume and thought they could rack up some major scratch if they charged more for texts. I don't buy this blah-blah-we-still-take-email-and-phone-calls baloney. I wager if they could charge for emails, they would.

It saddens me to see Newstalk taking this turn. Listening to the radio, particularly to news-oriented programming, is important to me. It's a way for me to keep informed and feel like part of the larger community. If things stay the way they are, I can't see myself listening to Newstalk with such regularity for much longer. I've already, during Orla Barry and Brendan O'Brien, started tuning into Radió na Gaeltacht. The only word I can pick up with any consistency is agus1, but at least there's no lip-smacking, annoying trumpet theme tunes or cynical revenue generating schemes.

1 agus = and. For some reason, Irish speakers seem to say agus a lot, like they have to pay extra for periods and instead choose to speak in great, big long sentences. I think that the radio station must supply oxygen canisters because everyone speaks quickly and says one big long giant sentence.

6 Comments:

At 7 May 2006 at 04:16, Blogger Career Guy said...

The alternative is to listen to all that breathing. Sometimes all I can hear is the intake of breath for another blast from a newsreader. I can't even onomatopoeia the sound, but you know what I mean. Don't listen for it, though, because soon it will be all you notice! (Like don't think about the marshmallow man.)

btw "reformed hippie"? I beg your pardon.

Oh--my word verification is audeut--like things audio. Um, OK, just go back to whatever you were doing then.

 
At 8 May 2006 at 01:04, Blogger Declan said...

I agree, something is amiss at Newstalk, and I'm guessing it's originated in the accountancy dept. They built up a core listenership by making them feel like they could take part in the shows through their txts and now someone decided to screw them for some money. I have heard Dunphy being quite vocal against the charges and Karen Coleman today recommended people use the phone, so maybe the management will change the policy.

I rarely listen to Orla or the other shows during the day since I'm in work but from the little I have heard of them only Sean Moncrieff is worth listening to. In my opinion the morning and lunchtime shows are their weakest.

They should have kept David McWilliams and moved him into Orla and Declans slots or even the lunchtime slot. He was a much better broadcaster and would have made a great, and national winning, package with Dunphy, Hook, Coleman, Moncrieff and Gilroy.

 
At 11 May 2006 at 06:12, Blogger -Ann said...

Dad - Yeah, I can hear the breathing sometimes. And if you try to dispute the hippie thing, I will post your wedding picture. Or was it the reformed part that you were objecting to?

Dec - It's been interesting which presenters have been vocal about the charges. I've heard Dunphy and Moncrieff speak out against them but there's been mysterious silence from the middle of the line-up. (I don't usually get to listen to Hook or Gilroy so I don't know what they've said or haven't said.) Then the guy who does media matters was saying "texts cost only 30 cent." Like it was some great bargain.

 
At 23 May 2006 at 18:21, Blogger Paige A Harrison said...

Ann,
I'm scarlet! I know that I give Orla a hard time but I'd be the first to admit she is a vast improvement on Marian F. Newstalk WAS a station that I really enjoyed and agree that your post is right on the money. I suppose for me Orla was the weakest presenter.

Okay, okay so I am really envious of her and I hate her skinny ass on a completely different level! Does that make me such a bad person? Probably could devote a whole Life! programme to my trials and tribulations!!!

Excellent, well stated post.

 
At 24 May 2006 at 20:40, Blogger -Ann said...

Paige - There's no blushing in blogging. :) Your radio selection guide was a joy to read and I found myself thinking about nymphomaniacal dear whenever Orla's show started.

I forsee even more bad changes for Newstalk as they become a national station. Maybe I just don't like change.

 
At 25 July 2006 at 18:19, Anonymous Dervla said...

Oh I do love a good radio post. I am a big fan of Newstalk and agree completely that it has taken a turn for the worse recently. However, "Off the Ball" continues to be as brilliant as ever. I wonder why it was decided to change the Orla Barry show. I liked the format the way it was. She does have a good radio manner and most pieces are well put together. Having a food segment on the radio just beggars belief though!

 

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