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antiMUSIC is pleased to welcome aboard Trent McMartin who not only has been filing special news reports but now will give you the "lowdown" on various music related topics! 

As always the views expressed by the writer do not neccessarily reflect the views of antiMUSIC or the iconoclast entertainment group

Is Rock Radio Dying?

Throughout his short and turbulent life music critic and author Lester Bangs would repeatedly denounce the state of rock and roll, regularly criticizing it and on many occasions declaring it dead. Bangs’ prophecies about rock’s premature death were always greatly exaggerated since rock still remains and will endure for generations to come but none can question the overall decline of rock radio’s ratings in North America. 

As reported by Steve Knopper in a June 24th, Rolling Stone article; five rock radio stations in major U.S. cities switched formats in recent months after ratings dropped for six consecutive years. This does come at an odd time since, as explained by Knopper in his article, rock albums have dominated the charts the past few months. Artists such as Coldplay, Green Day, Audioslave, System of a Down, Bruce Springsteen, Nine Inch Nails, the Dave Matthews Band, and Rob Thomas have all experienced success on the billboard charts this past spring and summer. 

But this success is fleeting since rock radio station ratings are still in decline. In a March 8th article in Rolling Stone, Bill Werde reported only six percent of teenagers in the U.S.  listen to rock at any given time, compared with nearly twenty percent listening to urban radio and forty percent listening to Top Forty radio stations. Since 1998 album-oriented rock stations have seen listenership fall seventy percent while Spanish-language radio ratings are up thirty percent the latter of which could be partly attributed to the Hispanic population becoming the United States’ largest minority population in 2003.

Along with demographic reasons, the decline of rock radio could also be attributed to the Internet and illegal downloading, Satellite radio and the overall ignorance of the music industry towards rock music. 

“It seems the current music industry doesn’t focus on rock musicians as much as pop stars,” says rock fan T.J Karpinka of Sherwood Park, Canada. “Too me, it’s more of a cash grab than anything.” 

And it’s not just fans that feel that way but performers as well. “An act like ours wouldn’t even be around today if someone hadn’t brought us along and let us make mistakes and grow at our own pace,” said Tom Petty in a Rolling Stone interview with David Wild in 2002.  E-street Band guitarist and Sopranos actor Stevie Van Zandt said similar comments in an interview earlier this year with News Hour Correspondent Terrence Smith where the rocker stated that if the Rolling Stones were starting out today, they wouldn’t get airplay on regular radio.

An employee from 97.7 HTZ-FM in St, Catharines, Canada who wished to remain anonymous blamed the decline mainly on the quality of mainstream rock. “I think the primary factor numbers have slid because of mediocre music. If you don’t have great music than you don’t have competitive format and listeners will start looking elsewhere for their entertainment. Be it building libraries for their iPods or listening to old CDs.”

The emergence of satellite radio, though still in its infancy, has the potential to take a significant chunk of listeners away from standard radio over the next few years. XM Satellite Radio declares themselves America’s most popular satellite radio service with over 150 digital channels featuring 100% commercial-free music, over 30 channels of news, sports, talk and entertainment, over 20 dedicated channels of traffic & weather, and a deep playlist with access to over 2 million titles. Sirius Satellite Radio is also making inroads landing popular shock jock Howard Stern who debuts this upcoming January in all his uncensored glory. Sirius declined to comment on rock radio’s situation saying, “Unfortunately, we are not able to accommodate your request to speak to someone at SIRIUS regarding the decline of rock on terrestrial radio.” 

And it wasn’t just Sirius who declined comment from my requests for interviews but also programmers, on air personalities and managers from standard radio stations. Ryan Zimmerman, Program Director for Edmonton’s modern rock station 100.3 The Bear was one of many who responded by saying “not interested.” So obviously many of these stations are putting on a brave face saying everything is fine but behind the scenes there could be a genuine fear that the future may be bleak for all types of stations and not just rock radio stations 

“I think if anything, time spent listening to radio (all formats) may be down slightly, but not strictly rock radio, “ said an unidentified radio employee from central Ontario’s The Wolf 101.5. 

Radio’s demise has been forecasted before when videos exploded onto the scene in the 1980’s just as the film industry was predicted to pack it in when television emerged in the middle of the twentieth century. But radio remains because of its continual evolution to stay relevant and to connect with a wide variety of listeners.  

“Radio in general has always had its share of challenges: TV, DVDs, home theatre, video games, the Internet, peer to peer downloads, iPods, etc. But listening overall hasn’t declined much,” says the anonymous employee from 97.7 HTZ-FM.  “Rock radio has suffered in recent years because nothing revolutionary is taking place.”

 “We need a revolution....punk rocked the disco age into the grave and grunge saved rock from its pretence and its excesses,” he says.  We need some band to come along and change everything. Unfortunately, I don't see it coming any time soon.”

Trent McMartin



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