Friday, October 10, 2008

Sam(e) FM

So I tried once again to listen to our local mix format station, 105.5 SAM FM Louisa, Virginia (I'd link to their website, but they, like WJMA, are part of the Piedmont Communications radio empire and don't have one). Like similar-styled "eclectic" stations (like Jack/Dave/Tom/etc.), the idea is to keep things fresh by playing a wide variety of music both from yesterday and today.

OK, I did. I gave it a good long listen, too. Here's what I thought of the experience.

The slogan overpromises.
"You'll never know what we'll play next." Perhaps -- but I know what you won't play. SAM plays the hits from several different charts. But they only play the hits. I heard "Brandy" by the Looking Glass, but I know I'll never hear "Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne" by that same group (which also charted), or any other song they recorded.

Radio support of artists is a sham.
All the new media -- satellite radio, Internet radio, and so on -- have to pay artist royalties in addition to publisher royalties for every song they use. Broadcast radio, on the other hand, currently doesn't have to pay artist royalties. Why? Because they made the case back when the rates were developed, that radio play promotes the artist, and that valuable exposure more than made up for any royalty payment.

True enough in the 60's, but not on SAM FM. Not one song or artist was ever identified. If I did hear a song I was interested in, I'd have to remember the lyrics, and hope that the chorus bore some relation to the title of the song, which would help me when I went online to find out the artist and what album it might be on. That's already three steps too many. I wouldn't bother.

Now RDS (Radio Data System) has been in place for years, which allow regular AM and FM stations to send text info. Most stations never go beyond using it to show their call letters. So SAM FM forgoes an opportunity to use technology already installed to identify the songs they play. No wonder artists are questioning that royalty waiver.

I get better programming on my iPod
And I'm not talking about just the choice of music, either (although being able to skip past a song I'm not in the mood for is a definite plus). The music flow on SAM was interrupted by commercials and canned station ID/bumpers.

Anything perceived as an interruption to the programming is annoying. There weren't many commercials, but between every single song there was a snarky little station ID that said absolutely nothing (not even dial position, save the top of the hour).

In the end, it wasn't the song selections that made me bail -- it was those vacuous station IDs, delivered once every four or five minutes that finally did me in. At least my iPod just shuts up and plays the music.

So I'll give up a chance to hear Billy Idol's "White Wedding," Elton John's "Crocodile Rock," and Natashia Bedingfield's "Unwritten" for the umpteenth time and get that new Los Campesinos EP that I just bought transferred over to my iPod. I may not know what SAM FM will play next, but I know it won't be "You! Me! Dancing!"

- Ralph

Day 117 of the WJMA Web Watch.

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