I don’t live through the rearview mirror. But I’m sure that life used to be more fun.
I was reminded of that on a recent Zoom call with some radio friends. We recounted the crazy things we did at KISW in Seattle, during rock’s heyday. We pushed the limits and weren’t satisfied until listeners became addicted to the station.
We zigged when others zagged, and built a loyal following.
KISW created the iconic ‘Rock’ logo. While other stations had generic announcers, Van Halen was our signature voice. We flew Pink Floyd’s 40’ pig above our studios. When our competitors did dumb contests, we gave away $20 million ($1 a year, for 20 million years). And our morning jock, Bob Rivers, staged an annual ‘Nudestock’ gathering for 2,000 naked listeners…who came to hang out.
People once had a passionate connection with their favorite stations. Top 40 jocks were pumping the wattage into our cottage. Rock stations turned us on to cool bands. Listeners cared about radio.
But that’s all been squandered. Radio has conceded innovation to SiriusXM, Spotify and Apple Music. Now, music is an afterthought, squeezed between commercial sets. Popular personalities were fired to make way for bland, copycat stations. I hope you like vanilla.
Today, it’s hard to find radio fans. Radio has become another appliance, like a blender.
Here’s my take. When it comes to playing music, radio can’t compete against the personalization of streaming services. It’s over. So, featuring talented personalities is radio’s only hope. To survive, stations must be more than a soulless algorithm and rediscover fun. Be everything that Spotify is not.
And for 50 years, KISW still does just that.