The Decline of the Radio Station


Auckland got a new radio station yesterday Big FM. I was interested to see how they will position themselves as unique, because in my humble opinion there is not much difference from one radio station to the next. My first impression was a cross between classic hits and classic rock, but I’ll have to let them grow for a while to find out what their identity actually is. The problem for me and for them is that I no longer listen to much radio.

In New Zealand we really struggle for variety. Pretty much everything is mainstream and the reason for that is that we have a small population, only a little over 3 million people over the age of 18 and a total of only 4 million. There is no venue for special interest music such as jazz, blues, country, world and alt on our airways. Cool Blue Radio was around fora while which had a mix of jazz, blues and country and no DJ’s, but this now only exists on the net, where it competes with every other radio station around.

Radio in some ways mirrors the ails of the recording industry. It does very little that is new and doesn’t even use much of today’s modern technology. Everything is mainstream, there are no thought leaders, visionaries or radicals any more. Back in the day we had pirate radio stations like Hauraki, Veronica and Radio North Sea which captured the rebel in us, played great music but also challenged the norms of society. The problem is that today everyone is PC, the challengers of the past are the conservatives of today.

There are lots of things that radio stations could do. Yes, some are showing webcams of the studio, most have streaming radio on the net and some go further with things like background or in depth coverage of news stories, but that is about as far as it goes.

In New Zealand there are less than a handful of radio stations that effectively use the RDS band. RDS is the text area on your radio, especially in your call that provides information such as the station identifier. In Auckland only Radio ZM uses this to tell you the artist and name of the song. Some stations like George FM have info about the DJ’s, a song or text in promotion, but that’s about it. I was dissapointed to see that the new Big FM doesn’t do anything more than the station identifier. There is so much that they could be doing to be more modern and in tune with the world.

A while ago I wrote about new technologies coming to your car including Satellite and HD Radio. Recent news is that there are (as usual) battles over which sort of satellite radio system to use and as to HD Radio, which is being test broadcast at the moment, and the concensus in the industry is that it will be a long time before these technologies become commonplace. I also wrote about the fact that record companies have been ripping us off for years and not giving us value for money which started as a post about Ringo Starr’s innovation with the Live 8 Flash Card.

A few weeks ago I was approached to do a radio diary. You know the survey diaries they use to show marketshare of the radio stations by demographics and total listeners. I couldn’t do it because these days I hardly ever listen to the radio. I listen to podcasts all the time. Some of them do come from radio stations, but not local ones. I listen to Digital Planet from the BBC, The Music Show from ABC National Radio in Australia, Radio Free Amsterdam and the list goes on. As well as feeling like I have a relationship with the DJ, they use new technology, they are almost advertising free. On my Ipod I see images, have links to artist information and other enhanced services to go with these programs as well as in some cases also video.

A key thing with podcasting is that I can listen to pretty much anything I want. Every kind of music is available for free. Many people don’t realise the range of podcasts that are available and think they have to buy music if they want to use iTunes, but the reality is that if you have an eclectic taste, or just feel like listening to a particular genre right now, that you can do it. In the past I would have the radio on all day when I was at home. Today I rarely even listen to my CD’s, even though I keep buying them:).

We have lots of great artists coming to New Zealand for concerts this summer and I am trying to work out which ones I will stretch my budget to see. In the past I would listen to their promotions on the radio. Now I can go to YouTube and listen to dozens of tracks from all of these artists, including lots of live show clips so I can see if they actually put on a show which is worth spending hundreds of dollars on.

Even if I don’t watch the video clips I can effectively listen to anything I like and I have struggled to come up with any songs or artists I can’t find on Youtube, including myself. If I want to explore a theme, like Christmas, or pretty much anything, or listen to artists similar to a band I like, I can go to Ilike and have my very own personalised radio show, where I can rate the songs I listen to and it becomes more and more the station that plays ecactly what I want to listen to. If you want to hear other artists that sound like me you can go to Ilike and key in Luigi Cappel and you will hear at least one of my songs and then other artists of a similar ilk.

So if you are program director for a radio station, what are you going to do to compete with the Internet? How are you going to get me back to listening to the radio, so that you can sell advertising and put bread on the table? I have to tell you, you are doing a pretty poor job right now, The way you do things right now might do ok for breakfast radio, maybe drivetime (with real time traffic) and talkback, but beyond that, you are competing with products that are far better targetted and if you don’tdo something about it, you may have to look for a new job. If we do get Satellite Radio sorted (and the shelves of retailers in the USA are littered with receivers) consumers are going to have an international choice. They can find the stations that they relate to and I suspect that the percentage of people listening to local radio will rapidly diminish unless you wake up now. Don’t be like the record companies, hide your head in the sand and wake up one day wondering what happened!

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

It’s a little bit funny


On wednesday night I was ready to go to A Songwriter Speaks to hear a presentation and some music from Dave Dobbyn and others courtesy of APRA of which I am a writer member. Then at about 4:45 I got a call saying that thre were 4 comp tickets available for Elton John’s first gig in Auckland for 10 years. Well sorry Dave, but I’m sure I’ll be able to see you in Auckland again within the next 10 years and sorry APRA for not using the tickets you kindly sent me.

Well the concert was great and I agree with everything said in the NZ Herald review, in fact it really stole my thunder and it’s great to see a nice review in the paper that doesn’t spend time aggrandising the reviewer and tells it how we all saw it. What a great night.

Elton flew in from Sydney in the late afternoon, came to town, did his sound checks, relaxed did the gig and within an hour was back on his plane to Sydney. Given that this is his 3rd trip down here in 3 years (I said not in Auckland remember?) I guess all I can be is grateful that he took the time to pop down and share with us. As he said, it is such a long way to come.

We love Elton down here (who doesn’t) and he always gives a great show and although he didn’t talk much, he took the time to do autographs for everyone in the front row of the stage which was awesome in these paranoic days and kudos to security for not getting carried away, which you see overseas all the time.

As to the music, it was awesome, it was a wonder I could play at my own gig last night after shouting and singing for almost 3 hours. There was some virtuoso piano playing which was awesome to listen to and watch on thebig screens. How does he play so well with his little hands? One of my favourites was his 10-12 minute rendition of Rocket Man and the others were almost everything he played.

I mustn’t forget Davey Johnstone, the awesome guitar player from Scotland, now of Los Angeles, who’s stage collection of guitars made my 6 look puny. Davey has played with Elton for many years as well as on the Tommy show. He ha also featured on a number of Elton John Albums including Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in 2001. He has worked with a Who’s Who of artists in the past. He even merits his own page in Wikipedia. He first played with Elton as early as 1972 on Honkey Chateau which was Elton’s first number one album in the US.

Amongst the guitars that caught my attention at the show were a Fender Strat and a Fender Tele, Gibson Les Paul, Gibson Flying V, 2 double neck guitars that I suspect might be Rickenbakkers, one tuned for slide and the other including a 12 string. Then there were 4 (I think accoustic guitars including a 12 string and a nylon string and then there was the banjo. I told my wife that I have some buying to do, but first of all I had better sell some songs. Anyone looking for a new country song?

Elton John aka Reginald Dwight is a legend. He’s been around and started performing before I was born and I’ve been around a while. I could tell you what I was doing and where my life was at when a number of his songs were released and I’m sure you could do the same with songs like Rocket Man, Daniel, Song for Guy, Candle in the Wind……… I don’t need to mention them all, you know them. Of course Bernie Taupin was a major factor in his success he has continued to write and reinvent himself and is still current in my book with recent works including work on Lion King, Billy Elliot and loads more including loads of benefits, the tribute to Princess Diana and some awesome DVD’s and specials.

What impressed me more than anything was that at 61 years old and having been through so much in his life, his voice is as strong as ever, capable of bellowing out for 3 hours, his keyboard playing is if anything continuing to develop, especially creatively. Watching him on stage, other than his acrobatics being a little more subdued you wouldn’t have thought him more than 40 years old.

Thanks Elton, for coming down to New Zealand again, you have adoring fans aged from 8 to 80 and you will always find a warm welcome and big audience, even at the crazy prices they charged. One final footnote on the Vector Arena. The accoustics aren’t great, but the sound engineers did a brilliant job. It’s hard enough to make sure people get good sound throughout a major venue, but even more so with such challenging accoustics. Kudos guys.