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Who needs radio anymore?

Brown: TV talent shows, Internet give musicians new access to fans
/ Source: contributor

All the big names were there. P. Diddy, Beyonce, Justin, Jewel, Avril, Tim McGraw, and yes, even old-timer Tom Petty, to name a few, came out Monday night for the Radio Music Awards. The obligatory awards were given out, with many “thank yous” to radio deejays across the country for their support. There was even a relatively “normal” appearance by Michael Jackson.

All seemed well in the radio industry on its special night. But, at a time when reality TV shows create pop stars, music is downloadable from the Internet with a click of the mouse and Carson Daly is arguably the most important deejay (vee-jay?) around — is radio even relevant anymore?

The Internet revolution
With Apple’s Internet downloading service, iTunes, now available for PC users, and Napster back up and running, there is a library of music available out in cyberspace, that has nothing to do with AM or FM or what you hear while channel surfing in your car. With a virtual jukebox of music at your fingertips why would anyone tune in to their local radio station, where a limited play list, abundance of commercials and cookie-cutter deejays flood the airwaves.

Well, with the exception of being stuck in your car, without a CD or cassette player, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to tune in. There was a time when deejays could play whatever they wanted, and the radio was the place to go to hear a variety of music and discover new artists. But, as the play lists shrink and become more of the same, the Internet is quickly becoming the place to go for music lovers of all kinds. Many big radio stations have even caught on, and have started streaming on the Internet. Who would have ever thought that there would be a time when people would listen to the radio on their computer?

Maybe the same people who believed in a crazy idea call MTV.

Which brings us back to his weirdness, Michael Jackson, one of the first artists to extend music to new mediums (think “Thriller”). Maybe Napster and TV talent shows are part of an inevitable music revolution that began way back when Elvis first shook his hipbones so provocatively. Music and image are completely inseparable, and with the advent of reality TV and the Internet, music consumers aren’t about to relinquish power to a solitary deejay and squirm at the fickle whims of their radio reception.

Manufacturing artists
Do artists trying to make it in the music industry even need radio? With a new stream of talent shows out there, “American Idol,” “Star Search” and even “Nashville Star” for the country music lovers, it turns out television could be all it takes to become a successful recording artist. Take a look at “American Idol,” the wildly popular Fox talent show. Its first winner, Kelly Clarkson, strutted her stuff at Monday’s Radio Music Awards. After turning herself into a Christina Aguilera clone, the radio industry embraced her, playing her first single “Miss Independent” incessantly on Top 40 stations this summer. From TV star to pop-diva, Clarkson has taken her place among the ranks of pop’s biggest stars, at least for now.

But the heir to her throne, runner-up but reigning king, Clay Aiken, didn’t have as much luck with radio. Deejays across the country mocked him, didn’t take him seriously, and often refused to play his music. Well the joke just might be on them.

Despite little radio play, Aiken’s debut album went double platinum in its first week of release, out-selling Clarkson’s album by a landslide. Aiken’s success serves as a shining example of the power television now has over the music industry, and the arguably insignificant power radio has these days.

NBC’s “Today” show has even taken a stab at its own version of “American Idol.” The morning show’s “Today’s Superstar” is in its second installment. The singing contestants get national exposure and the winner gets a recording session with Warner Bros. Records. Only time will tell if the current crop of TV-made artists have staying power.

End game?
So will radio still be around in 15 years? It is still one of the only places where you can discover new music for free. Although it’s minimal, Napster has started to charge for downloading music. Big market, Top 40 stations are still a prime place for exposure for up-and-coming artists. They just might not need that exposure as much as they would have 10 years ago.

And, the fact of the matter is most people stuck in traffic are tuning in to the radio, for the traffic report if nothing else.

Now back to the Radio Music Awards. It begs asking, would anyone have really “listened” or cared about the awards if they were broadcast on radio not television?

People watched the show because they wanted to see what Michael Jackson looked like, how tight Tim McGraw’s jeans were going to be, if there would be a girl-girl kiss and if Justin Timberlake was indeed growing out his hair.

It is telling that perhaps the most recognizable deejay on radio, Casey Kasem, received the first-ever Radio Icon award Monday night.

Sorry Carson Daly, Kasem might be the first and the last to get that award.