"TO ALL AIR PERSONNEL. FROM DICK KERNAN. SUBJECT: AIR APPROACH. EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY A NUMBER OF NEW APPROACHES WILL BE USED ON WRIF. THE FOLLOWING ARE ELEMENTS OF THIS APPROACH AND SPECIFICS OF HOW THEY ARE TO BE DONE."
So begins a memo dated December 20 which was smuggled out of WRIF to the SUN from a source inside the station. The memo lists a set of rules that RIF DJ's must follow in order to keep their jobs– the restrictions they detail are a further step in the direction that RIF has been going since the firing of Barbara Holliday and Paul Greiner, which we reported two issues ago. The memo is responsible for the prepackaged radio that you can now find at 101 on your FM dial.
WRIF is owned by the American Broadcasting Company, which last year decided that there was plenty of money to be made from the rainbow colony. ABC began changing the programming on their FM stations so as to rake in the cash from the new, rapidly expanding audience. At their seven stations across the country they began hiring "hip" dj's and basically let them do what they wanted to. The result was that stations like RIF operated on a "free-form" basis, and where the dj's really WERE hip, and freeks themselves, the result was some of the furthest out radio to ever hit a commercial station. Last summer, RIF was really getting to be DYNAMITE–you could leave your radio turned on most of the day and dig it.
RIF was becoming increasingly responsive to the needs of our community, not simply a showcase for the latest products of this or that record company or other advertisers. And, most importantly, RIF began to break away from the usual function of radio in Amerika– to keep people under CONTROL, to keep people from thinking for themselves in ways contrary to the mindless consumer consciousness that the people who own media in this country need to spread in order to sell all their junk and maximize their profits.
Free-form FM was producing free people, tuning in tens and hundreds of thousands of rock end roll addicts to liberated, unprogrammed consciousness. Instead of blasting away ads for pimple creams and the same 40 "hits" over and over again, you could listen to the rock and roll station and hear the whole spectrum of our people's music and its history, pick up on longer jams, pointed sequences of tunes with a message, and raps with visitors. Free-form, when it's properly done, is a real energy and information service, a tool that we can use to spread our culture and turn everyone listening on to the rainbow world we're trying to create, away from the death culture and the ugly, regimented consciousness it depends on.
ABC moved in real quick and instituted free-form, and, just as quickly, realized their mistake. EVEN THOUGH THEIR RATINGS WERE GOING UP WITH FREE-FORM they decided to douse their best djs' and began bringing the FM stations back under control. As Allen Shaw, the head of the ABC-FM operation in New York put it, the dj's were "wild men" and things were getting out of hand.
In our last report on the situation, DJ's at RIF reported that they could determine about 35 per cent of the programming, with the rest dictated by playlists and other restrictions. Well, things have gotten worse, as evidenced by the memo we received in the mail.
The memo tells the DJ's what to play, how often to play it, what to say when talking about tunes and when to say it, how to read the name of the station, how to read the weather–it divides a dock hour into segments of tunes, commercials, news, and public service announcements and strictly dictates what can and cannot be done on the air. It reduces the DJ's to announcers and automated turntable operators, and effectively destroys most of the far-out stuff that can be done on the radio.
The most incredible part of the memo is a page of items entitled "Things to Avoid," which include . . .
1. Don't play two female vocals with less than two records in between.
2. Don't play more than two "high energy" tunes in a row.
3. Do not repeat the same artist in a given clock hour.
4. Don't play unfamiliar tunes back to back.
5. Don't play two super familiar tunes back to back.
Now obviously these restrictions make it almost impossible to put together a radio show that projects any kind of new consciousness– you can't even play two Rolling Stones tunes in the same hour. The potential for sequences of tunes with a message is destroyed. And ABC's specific singling out of high-energy tunes shows that they understand the power of rock and roll a lot more than most of us think.
The memo also further extends the playlist, which at RIF divides our music up into alphabetically designated categories and determines how often tunes from each category can be played. For example. Category A consists of hit singles– the sequencing ordered by the new memo dictates that the big "hits" be played once every four hours. Category B are cuts from currently popular albums, C is a list of 300 hit "underground" tunes going back several years, D are non "hit" tunes from popular albums going back several years, and N are new albums.
Each category has either a card-file of tunes or a list which demands that once a tune from a category s played it can't be played again until everything else n that category is played first. Nothing can be put on the air that isn't specified by one of the categories, which makes it impossible to play jazz, blues, any spoken-word material (they can't even play the Fireside Theatre), or anything outside of what ABC considers safe.
So that's why WRIF has been sounding like it does these days. And things will probably continue to get worse as ABC tries to turn RIF into an FM version of Top-40 AM. Rumours are flying of the imminent firing or resignation of the remaining DJ's, who aren't at all happy with the situation and what they're being forced to do. We tried to talk to some of the DJs still on the air, but they were afraid to be quoted in the SUN because they didn't want to get fired. But Hank Malone, who did the morning show on RIF and quit in disgust last week just after the new memo carne down, told us that "I quit because I couldn't take that format any more. All they'd let me do was say the the time, weather, station logo, and announce what records I was playing. I started at RIF with the hope of transforming the medium and doing something useful, and after all this happened I just couldn't see any reason for staying there just to spin records."
The stomping out of free-form radio at RIF leaves Detroit and Ann Arbor without a consistently high-energy relevant radio station. WABX in Detroit is freeform to some extent, and is becoming more and more involved in community programs and services, which is right on, but the jams they're kicking out are generally lower-energy than what they're playing on RIF. It's at the point now where often it seems like CKLW, WKNR, and WCAR are more worth listening to, especially when they get into sets of oldies and Motown.
The need for real rainbow radio is now more acute than ever before. Radio can really serve our needs as we grow as a people, but the potential for the medium hasn't come close to being realized. And it won't, until we take steps toward self-determination and set up a station which is controlled by our own people, and not by vampires from huge corporations whose main interest lies in keeping us all under control while ripping us off. Various people from the community are trying to put something together that would turn a local FM station into the kind of radio that Ann Arbor needs to develop into a true revolutionary community. Stay tuned to the SUN for further developments, and if tuning in to your radio dial is downing you out these days, you might check out some of the jams on the Rainbow Listening List on page 8 of the We Are A People Supplement to this issue of the SUN.
FREE THE AIRWAVES!
BUILD RAINBOW RADIO!
–David Fenton, RPP
"NO MORE THAN TWO HIGH ENERGY TUNES IN A ROW"