Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The death of shock jock radio

Well, not yet. Just wishful thinking, but maybe someday soon.

Channel surfing on my way to work this morning, I stopped for a moment to hear Walton & Johnson's rant against federal funding to preserve records of languages which will soon become extinct, belittling the endeavor of scholars, denigrating the value of non-English-speaking cultures, and whining about their taxes being used to document and analyze, for example, Piratapuyo, a language of the Amazon.

The NEH and NSF are not even talking about trying to save the cultures. They've already written them off! All that remains is to gather up and inventory the detritus of generations of descendants and file it in a box in a warehouse.

I know...why expend even an ounce of energy tapping away at the keyboard for a pair of ignorant redneck asswipes whose own literate contribution to civilization is worth less than the stain they leave in their boxers after they blow ass.

Language is a living vessel of culture. When a language dies, so dies a culture.

Here's the NEH funding announcement:

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) today announced that they have awarded 13 fellowships and 26 institutional grants in their Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL) partnership, a new, multi-year effort to preserve records of key languages before they become extinct. More than 3,000 of the 6,000-7,000 currently used human languages are headed for oblivion, experts estimate. The new DEL awards, totaling $4.4 million, will support digital documentation work on more than 70 such languages.

"This is a rescue mission to save endangered languages," said NEH Chairman Bruce Cole. "Language is the DNA of a culture, and it is the vehicle for the traditions, customs, stories, history, and beliefs of a people. A lost language is a lost culture. Fortunately, with the aid of modern technology and these federal funds, linguistic scholars can document and record these languages before they become extinct."

Inconceivable it would be for those asswipes to maybe talk about why these languages are being lost under the combined assaults of genocide, land encroachment, commercialization, state-sponsored cultural decimation, and corporate-sponsored intimidation and assassination.

Haven't western nations done enough to destroy indigenous cultures? Must we annihilate any record of their existence too?

A paltry $4 million spent over a number of years and disbursed to 39 projects is nothing compared to the $295 BILLION pork-laden highway bill passed by the Senate. Oh sure, monkey boy said it was too much. He's suggesting that a $284 billion bill would be more reasonable. Or, better yet, how about trimming that $400 billion plus defense budget, soon to exceed the combined expenditures of the rest of the world (something that has the ROW salivating at the prospect of getting some of those contracts).

But back to crappy radio. So after the worthless Walton & Johnson screed, the station played a promotion patting themselves on the back for having an extensive music library and playing what they want, then segwayed into another stale AC/DC song. Wow! Now that's original!

Has anyone noticed how commercial stations are starting to market themselves in a desperate attempt to keep listeners moving to other mediums. I've been hearing station promotions like "Here's another one we downloaded" before going into a repeat of the latest Gwen Stefani or Green Day.

Maybe the difference is that corporate radio owners are scared shitless about the changing media market, but they've had their heads up their asses so long collecting advertising revenue while blowing off their listeners that they don't know what alternative means anymore. When a classic rock station in New Orleans sounds exactly the same as a classic rock station in Detroit, and I can choose from a variety of programming on the internet, satellite, iPod, and soon, on cell phones, what's the point?

What's really needed is more localism. More variety. More creativity. More community involvement. Let the Clear Channel behemoths go the way of the dinosaur.

Robert McChesney, John Nichols, and Ben Scott have one of the most comprehensive articles I've read of late on the changing media market. Appearing in the May 23 issue of The Nation, the authors point to both popular and market pressures that have the potential to dramatically change radio for the better.

Polls taken just after the 2004 election demonstrate how important the issue is to progressives. Media reform was listed as the most important issue to work on, after fixing the electoral system, and more important than the Iraq War, health care, and environmental protection.

Among the changes to look for:

1) Satellite radio (which I don't like, because it's not local, it's too corporate, and it's subscription based).

2) Podcasting.

3) LPFM.

4) More internet diversity - perhaps better remote wireless equipment so you can pick things up in your car.

5) Digital radio - and sideband programming.

Endeavors underway to make broadcasters more responsive to the community:

1) The Local Community Radio Act of 2005 sponsored by Sen. John McCain, which would increase the number of LPFM licensees by removing the minimum separation between frequencies.

2) The Localism in Broadcasting Reform Act of 2005, also sponsored by McCain, which would stop the FCC from just rubberstamping license renewals by mandating a formal review of 5 percent of applications. More importantly, if any station's license is challenged, the FCC would be forced to review the licenses of ALL STATIONS OWNED BY THAT COMPANY.

3) The Fairness and Accountability in Broadcasting Act of 2005, sponsored by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), which would reduce license renewal periods, reinstate the practice of holding public hearings to evaluate whether broadcasters are meeting their public interest obligations, and restore the Fairness Doctrine.

4) Congress is about the undertake a formal review of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and the pressure will be on to roll back the number of stations one company can own.

I think McChesney/Nichols/Scott have misplaced their loyalty to NPR, suggesting that the network ought to get more money. My own opinion is that NPR has hit the upper limit of what it is willing to do. With more money in their hands, expect more mediocre baby boomer arts and human interest stories (like the recent Robert Plant story). If anything, consideration should be given to foster more competition with NPR by helping to foster more community and college radio news programming.

Among the threats to localism in broadcasting:

1) Kevin Martin, Michael Powell's likely replacement.

2) Continued resistance by the Republican FCC to the idea of holding public hearings on FCC rule changes.

3) Republican domination of the Senate Commerce Committee, and its deference to corporate broadcasters.

But hope springs eternal. Change is possible. The millions of letters to the FCC and members of Congress after Michael Powell's FCC changed ownership rules in 2003 surprised everyone.


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