Sunday, May 28, 2006

Breaking Radio's First Rule

90 Breaking Radio’s First Rule

The First Rule of radio: No Dead Air. Keep the sound going at all costs. There’s even a federal law about that. It says the transmitter has to “dump,” or turned off when dead air lasts too long, which is about one minute.

Not that anyone allowed a full minute.

Oh, sure…. There are the pregnant or dramatic pauses. The kind used by such luminaries as Paul Harvey and Allen Walden and a few others (the undersigned included.)

And there are the two-beat pauses between songs or commercials – the kind you hear on classical and beautiful music stations. Lasts just long enough to get your attention.

But other than that, No Dead Air. It’s the First Rule.

That’s a rule born in the late 1950s at the start of the “top 40” era. Music stations wanted a constant stream of sound. Music, jingles, commercials, announcements, comments, whatever. (KILT, Houston is the best example.)

Figure that was the work of Gordon McClendon, who pioneered format radio, pretty much the only kind we know today. News services soon followed the music. The most outlandish example of this may be the rapid-fire Drake-Chenault format in which everything overlapped and announcers were fired for breaking pace or stumbling over something in a live read. (WOR-FM and it’s later version “99x” are maybe the best examples.

Things have calmed a bit since those days.

But the First Rule still lives.

Except sometimes it doesn’t.

Like here in Moote Pointe PA where they have a grand total of three AM radio stations you can get easily most hours of most days.

These guys never heard of the First Rule.

Can you imagine this happening where YOU are? It’s Sunday morning. The network newscast ends at five minutes past the hour. Then nothing. After that, more nothing. After that STILL more nothing. A minute passes. Then two. Then three, then four. The un-modulated carrier continues carrying… nothing.

By this time, anyone tuned in has tuned out.

This, you say, must be a technical problem. Maybe something in the audio chain. Maybe something happened to the automation that’s supposed to bring in the “Encore Presentation of Rush” or whatever they had scheduled. Maybe someone forgot to put the commercials into the computer.

You would think that if this were the first time you heard such stuff. But around here, everybody’s doin’ it.

And you know what? It’s a pleasure to not listen to.

When you think about it, the choice is to listen to five minutes of idiotic ads or public service announcements or to listen to nothing until the next program comes on – even if it IS an “Encore Presentation of Rush” or “The Best of Billy Graham” or the “Sunday Morning Polka Festival.”

It’s not just Sundays this happens. Every day. On all three of the stations, which, by the way, are not part of a clump or a cluster or whatever they call a bunch of radio stations in approximately the same area owned by one operator.

Silence. What a concept!

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2006 WJR

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