Clear Channel: BAH!

Most of December was spent working in my home office, where I was never far from my huge CD collection, or (more likely) the marvel that is Live365, which has several Internet stations laser-focused to my wants, tastes and needs. Eventually, though, I have to pack up and head to the big city for a meeting or two, to find out how the world has changed this week and therefore, how behind I’ve suddenly become.

So it was really the first time I’d been alone in the car for an extended period of time, and the first time I had to deal with Houston radio in a long while. (Except for Your Holiday Music Station, which went back to its old format the day after Christmas, doubtless with a heavy sigh of relief from its employees and the sound of several CDs being tossed in microwave ovens). Houston radio was largely mediocre at its best in the old days, before Clear Channel Communications invaded – and then they managed to grind the mediocrity down to an even blander level.

Time was, I would listen to the local news radio station, 740AM, while in the car. Never hurts to have a grip on what’s happening in the world, and the traffic reports every ten minutes were a boon while you were trapped in H-town’s road system. Enter Clear Channel, and News 740 – yes, it still calls itself that – became a talk station. News is limited to drive times and on the hour. Why? Talk is cheaper than a 24/7 news format.

I had taken refuge in that in 740’s “sister station”, 790 KBME. 790 was skewed to a much older demographic, playing a wide variety of music from the 30s on up through the 90s, featuring a lot of stuff by Ella Fitzgerald, Artie Shaw, Billie Holliday, Dean Martin, Harry Conick… this was a thrilling, eclectic mixture of music. Moreover, it seemed the DJs were choosing their own music, not playing from a list (positively novel, in these troubled times). These guys had been in the music business a long time, and often had illuminating anecdotes about the music and the artists.

Well, today, I turned on the radio and switched to 790 because I don’t care for 740’s Consumer Affairs program in the morning… and found myself listening to ESPN Sports Radio.

As little as I care about some consumer affairs expert whining that people have to stop paying in advance and get everything in writing (not that they shouldn’t, but if they did, this guy would be out of a job), I do not give a rat’s ass about sports. A very large rat’s ass. Hell, two very large rat’s asses.

The variety music format was simply not profitable enough, and apparently the senior demographic is not worth enough for Clear Channel to be concerned about alienating it. KBME was a very bright spot for those of us who wanted something new and unknown in our radio listening; the music it played cut a very broad swath through decades and styles, and it will be missed so very, very much.

As I said, at home I have my own music and internet radio to keep me entertained (I followed a suggestion from a mourning thread on a Houston forum to this station with a Winamp feed, that goes a way toward soothing the hurt – you go, guys!), but neither will do for my car. If I’m going to pay to have a CD player put in, it almost makes more sense to make the plunge into satellite radio, which I’m told does have a 24 hour Houston news station – or at least traffic updates.

It would be nice to think that a lot of folk feel as I do, and a massive surge of satellite subscription would give Clear Channel – and its competitors, who have unfortunately taken to aping CC’s tactics – a clue, a cease-fire in its apparent war to grind radio down to a flat, vanilla surface. But I also despairingly note that most people favor comfortable predictability in their day-to-day, and radio stations playing the same goddamn song over and over again adds to that predictability.


Hey, look! XM has an all-Elvis station!