A Quick Look Back
One of the fondest memories I have as a kid growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., ended up being my career choice as an adult. As of this writing, for more than 20 years now. My parents both knew how much I LOVED going to the record store. My father, I could tell, was not impressed with the experience but he got a kick of the fact that I got such a kick out of it but my mother was/is a music lover too so it was more of an adventure with her. Record Labels, Radio Stations and Retail worked together hand in hand as a great well-oiled music machine to lure the public to love music and the experience of buying it. Blacks were very dependent on “Black” (now called “Urban”) radio stations for music and a whole lot more … and black radio came through.
Audrey’s and Dells was THE record store in Buffalo, NY and Doris Records was another popular store. The first thing I remember was the various weekly colored lists from WBLK or WUFO on the glass desk at the record store. WBLK had a chosen single that they called the BLK Pick (Blick Pick) of the week and that was usually a huge hit. The Record Store was my “candy store” and I was blown away by the huge plethora of new 45s behind the counter on the wall in alphabetical order by artist. We ALWAYS had to use those Top 40 sheets for reference for records we could not remember the names of. Of course this was time when the big Rs worked in unison (Retail, Record Labels and Radio Stations). Record stores were my first experience with incense. They always had it burning when you walked in. The whole record store experience was the closest I could get to the music industry at the time and I loved it. I also knew I would eventually made a connection with it one day. I distinctly remember Motown almost always released several singles at the same time and they were always hits. It was nothing for me to use up my Buy 5, Get 1 Free by getting The Jackson 5, Temptations, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Supremes, The Four Tops and/or Marvin Gaye. I was always fascinated, like everyone else with Motown artists. Detroit was right up the river and it was always the best music.
In those days, even though the local stations had a Top 40 list, the music selections on the station were still ENDLESS, unless a record was a huge hit but it would still take a couple of hours before you heard it again, the DJs were beyond entertaining, very personable, passionate and they were hustlers and huge local stars. Being on the air was just a mere platform for them but an important one as they worked their own outside deals and they made MONEY. It was the very reason I wanted to get into radio.
When a concert came to town it was always a popular DJ hosting the show (back then DJs were able to negotiate their own deals, program directors were not taken as seriously as they are today (if there was even one at appointed at the station) EVERYBODY in the neighborhood would play the radio on their stereos while they chilled around the house, had company over or were on the porch sitting in a lawn chair with a beer in their hands after dinner. There were also conscience community-oriented talk shows on many Black stations like WBLK’s Express Yourself (instead of the Quiet Storm) which gave the community an opportunity to talk about important issues.
It has truly been YEARS since I have seen or heard anyone playing a radio station in their home or apartment (sans Sirius and XM which I do play myself). While the advent of technology plays a large part in that, I have to admit, I am surprised that so many commercial stations continue to do so well in this current radio climate.
For as long as I can remember, I have also been facinated with the mechanics of a record player and for a while I was a collector of record players as an adult. I still can’t resist going to the Goodwill every now and then to buy one that someone gave to them especially one from the 60s. The absolute BEST period for home stereos. At present, I don’t have a record player because I sold the one I had before I moved from Atlanta but I plan to buy one soon. Thank God there still a HUGE record store in Hollywood (Amoeba Music) that I can go to for a TON of vintage albums for 99 cents each.. a lot of them NEVER PLAYED. Sometimes I go with several adult friends and we can spend hours cracking up while looking at various album covers and reminiscing. Who can deny the great experience of flipping through albums in a bin to look at all the creative artwork and to flip it over to see what cuts are on the album and the credits?
As time went on the 8 track died (which I never liked anyway) then the cassette (which I also never liked) then vinyl (what the hell is wrong with the labels, I thought) CDs have never done it for me. There was a time, while working in the industry, I had over 10,000 full length CDs but they took something away from the music experience for me. Now that CDs are phasing out the mp3 is, without question, making and saving the labels a ton of money but now music can only be heard not seen, touched or held.
There is speculation that a whole new generation of young music lovers are developing a fascination with vinyl. This is literally, no pun intended, music to my ears. As the internet continues to make us less and less one-on-one in our daily experiences and more isolated in our homes and apartments, certain outlets have to remain intact in order for us to have a reason to leave the house at all.
Today, record labels complain about urban radio’s 30 song playlists with little or no room for the introduction of new artists and retail is virtually gone. While I am still not totally familiar with the Pandora experience, they appear to be making quite a splash. Radio seems less than concerned about internet technology and many stations don’t even bother to update their websites. Could this all change in an instant if someone comes up with a stellar idea for internet radio? We’ll know by next year when Internet radio will have an opportunity to gain mobile audiences when they are placed in more and more cars. In the meantime, whatever technology has to offer in the near future, I would love for the younger generation or urban radio jocks to experience what it’s like to run their own show and market themselves. I don’t hear the passion and the energy I once heard and I know the reason is the overall homogenization of urban radio. Finally, I would love for the new generation of record buyers to have an opportunity to have the more visual and public record store experience a few times. I don’t expect the industry to ever go back to being what it was in the 60s and 70s but I am concerned that today’s radio is resting too hard on its laurels and it may be taken by an unpleasant and possibly unrecoverable surprise.