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Radio Veteran Lee Abrams Says Clock is Ticking on Outdated Formats

Chicago-based media guide Lee Abrams may appear the least seemingly particular person to complain concerning the corporatization and sameness that afflicts at present’s conventional terrestrial AM and FM radio stations. In spite of everything, it was his notorious tightening of playlists at rock radio through the ‘70s that ushered within the AOR (Album-Oriented Rock) format, which changed the progressive free-form FM and, some would argue, led the best way to at present’s bland, consolidated broadcast panorama.

However now it’s Abrams sounding the alarm about taking part in it too protected risking demise knells for terrestrial codecs. “Radio ought to be going into artistic overdrive. As a substitute, it’s going backwards, contributing to its personal demise by getting extra vanilla when they need to be alive and nicely in technicolor,” he says. “No person’s bringing their A-game.”

The 67-year-old pioneer — a member of the Rock Radio Corridor of Fame — began the AOR format as a DJ/PD at WRIF in Detroit earlier than putting in the same streamlined rotation, dubbed SuperStars, at WQDR in Raleigh, NC.

“That was a method of radio that was proper for the instances — it was extraordinarily profitable and introduced financial beneficial properties to FM radio,” he says, defending his programming selections, versus what’s change into of equally formatted stations in 2020. “At present, radio has change into too company, too consolidated, too boring.  However that was a distinct period, with a aggressive alternative which we took benefit of. We valued personalities, although. We gave Howard Stern, Steve Dahl and Sonny Fox a few of their first on-air gigs.”

In March, simply earlier than the pandemic hit, Abrams launched MediaVisions, a consultancy which promotes his new “reimagination” of radio, incorporating information and knowledge, video content material and music innovation.

As a part of the launch, Abrams’ firm is touting a “reimagining” of TV information with “NewsMovie,” “Radio Free Earth,” a 24/7 streaming service aimed on the 40-and-over crowd, and a documentary charting the historical past of music and radio within the 20th century, “Sonic Messengers: When Music and Radio Modified the World.”

“Info is the brand new rock ‘n’ roll… it’s what’s driving trendy tradition,” explains Abrams. “Terrestrial radio represents an ever-smaller piece of a pie which now consists of satellite tv for pc, streaming, on-line. It’s thought-about a utility, just like the cable or energy firm, moderately than a artistic entity that evokes followers.

Abrams insists radio wants a whole overhaul, “blowing up the ‘80s focus-group mentality and beginning to reinvent themselves.” He desires stations to return to supporting new music and rising artists, not simply the acquainted oldies.

“You don’t see that at present,” he says. “Artists don’t convey their acoustic guitars to radio stations to carry out. Even the branding is full bull, and the individuals realize it. We have to return to the day when radio stations talked road, not analysis.

“All the nice radio stations in historical past re-launched with an unbelievable depth of pondering, taking a look at each facet — manufacturing, audio and print logos, the music combine, coaching the jocks. Lately, stations merely check the music library and perhaps put up a couple of billboards.”

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Marketing consultant Lee Abrams
Courtesy Lee Abrams

Abrams was an early satellite tv for pc radio advocate as one of many architects of XM Satellite tv for pc Radio, when he was named chief programing officer, designing the unique programming and coaching the employees.

“Once I went there, the codecs we created had been fairly on the market, relative to terrestrial radio,” says Abrams, who urged XM to rent Howard Stern a full 12 months earlier than he finally went to rival Sirius.

“He was already excited concerning the prospects. However our board of administrators turned him down. It was an enormous mistake. I instructed them hiring Stern can be the atom bomb of satellite tv for pc radio. We might’ve worn out Sirius proper then. A lot of them weren’t from the telecommunications business and didn’t perceive the ability of Howard Stern. They didn’t see the worth. ‘Is he going to maneuver the needle?’ I’d go, ‘Sure!’ The upper-ups didn’t agree with me.”

After XM, Abrams was employed by the Tribune Firm as chief innovation officer earlier than an interoffice electronic mail with what was termed “an inappropriate” video from the satirical website the Onion led to his departure.

Lately, he’s bullish on Spotify, evaluating it to the affect MTV as soon as had in breaking new music. “As a radio programmer, I’d embrace that completely. It’d be foolish to not,” he says. “Those that say nobody will flip to Spotify throughout a hurricane are merely conceited.”

In that vein, Abrams agrees radio turns into extra invaluable when there’s a disaster, like the present COVID-19 virus, as information, speak and sports activities quickly take over the AM and FM dials.

“Greater than 9 out of 10 individuals take heed to the radio, however they’re not likely followers,” says Abrams. “So why not make these stations wonderful?  It’s not that tough. I simply suppose no person’s actually tried.”

When Quentin Tarantino’s “As soon as Upon a Time in Hollywood,” a paean to the AM radio in 1969, is introduced up, Abrams enthuses: “KHJ was an incredible station with a mission and created it fantastically, and in a single day change into the soundtrack of Hollywood. I haven’t heard a station like that shortly. Radio hasn’t modified with the instances. Innovation and content material are important for its survival.”



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