Thursday, February 12, 2015

Local Radio Past

Quite by accident, I found this last night. As some background, Rob Robin came to the local area as a DJ on KLOU 1580 AM in the 1960s. He later transitioned into being the weather man at KPLC TV for 15 years and grew into a nigh-legendary figure. He moved back into radio, only strictly doing weather until his retirement a couple of years ago. This air check is from a stunt on April 1, 1976 where KLOU invited former DJs back for a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

The nostalgia for me in this video is off the charts, even though I was only 3 years old when it was recorded. Additionally, that channel has a number of air checks from such stations as KLOU, KGRA, KSNS, and even a few call letters still in use around here. Even those stations have been shuffled around and changed over the years.

My takeaway from all of this is local radio was a lot more fun back in the day. My memories of the 1980s seemed to indicate as much, but here's the proof. I still cannot believe we had a free-form AOR station (Nova 104) for five years, because so much of what has been on the air waves since the 1990s has been so corporate-driven. I don't blame the on-air talent; rather, I blame a system that (at one point) left our market with TWO Adult Contemporary stations and ZERO stations aimed at the Top 40 crowd. Way to kill off your audience entirely, guys.

In listening to commercials for such long ago landmarks as The Black Angus and Bookworm's Apple in clips from radio stations consigned to the dustbin of history by incessant format changes, I can't help but feel something has been lost along the way. KLOU gave up its call letters despite being almost iconic, and couldn't even reclaim them now if they wanted because a St. Louis station assumed them a few years later. The channel occupying 1580 on my dial only has that number in common with a historic part of the area.

Times have changed. Music has changed. It could never have stayed the same, because that's not how these things work. But it didn't have to go the way it did. Along the way, a connection to the audience and to our own history was sacrificed in chasing ratings and a few extra bucks. My nostalgia is tinged with sorrow, because the community we felt via popular radio has dissipated. And there's no reason to believe it's going to be rebuilt.

I love radio. I think it's a powerful medium. I actually don't think it will die out in my lifetime. But the days when it could bring us together are gone. And that is a shame.