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Radio Days

by Karen Martin

November 4,2005

What’s the frequency, Kenneth?

If you get this reference, you likely will feel some kinship upon reading these few hundred words. If not, I’m hopeful that you will tune in so that you’ll understand.

You see, the college football season has me thinking about Charlotte radio – or, more specifically, the sad state of Charlotte FM radio.

I realize this isn’t a weighty subject along the lines of public safety, air quality, smart growth or the Panthers’ receiving team, but I believe it is important, especially as Charlotte endeavors to attract and retain what academic Richard Florida calls the “creative class”: scientists, engineers, architects, educators, writers, artists and entertainers who create new ideas and new technology, adding freshness and flavor to their surroundings.

As a writer, I consider myself part of the creative class. And I can tell you that Charlotte radio doesn’t speak to me. I’m not in high school, am not filled with mid-20s angst and, above all, don’t associate myself with any one particular musical genre.

What I am is an NPR junkie, but lately I tend to reach my saturation point at approximately a half hour; by that time, I am grinding my teeth listening to politicians on both sides of the aisle deepen the discord in our country.

I then glance at my radio dial, selecting one of two stations that originate from Greensboro. Yes, Greensboro. The Piedmont Triad is the 45th largest radio market, (whereas Charlotte is the 36th largest) and it offers at least two stations whose playlists teem with energy, diversity and, yes, creativity.

Charlotte stations individually do a fair job of covering a particular segment of the radio spectrum. If you like country music or urban contemporary, talk radio or hot hits, you can find a station that offers such a format - - but don’t expect it to step beyond its niche.

I doubt you’ll ever hear a “hot country” music station, for instance, play George Strait and follow him with George Jones. And never would these artists be followed by George Michael. It’s the same songs and same artists, over and over. Other formats are similarly uninspired. How much Nickelback or one-hit wonder Pussycat Dolls does one need? I like Green Day as much as the next person… but not every 20 minutes.

I found my musical solution after a college football game. My husband listens to his beloved Tarheels on a certain Greensboro station, which is where the tuner was set the following Monday when I turned on the radio. I was astounded to hear songs by Robert Plant and Soft Cell; this particular station plays music by decade rather than genre.

A July issue of Rolling Stone highlighted the nationwide trend of stations offering a wider music selection, even referencing one of the Greensboro stations. It specified that the nation’s largest radio ownership chain – which owns something like 99.4 percent of the stations in the Charlotte market –- has yet to get in on the mix.

Okay, I exaggerate. The point is: there exists an intelligent audience in Charlotte that wants more. We don’t want the repetitive, we don’t want the familiar, we don’t want a safe Red Lobster menu of radio. The broadcasting behemoths may not pay attention now, but they will as we continue to turn away from unimaginative programming.

We creative class-ers are much more expressive than any one format. In this age of technology, we are the music program directors. Thanks to IPods, satellite radio and CD burners, we can create our own playlists, choosing to listen to a song by Metallica right after one by Pam Tillis (or is that just me?). We need a hometown station that excites us with spontaneity and possibility. In the time that I’ve spent writing this, one of my favorite Greensboro stations has played the Foo Fighters, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Fiona Apple and Lenny Kravitz. Surely we could have something similar in Charlotte? If you find it, let me know.

Be creative. Rock on.

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