"There's something happening here; what it is ain't exactly clear."
That is a lyric from "For What It's Worth" by Buffalo Springfield, a hit released in 1967 when radio, particularly AM, was at the top of the heap. But those words could easily refer to the current state of terrestrial broadcasting, if one can believe the drumbeat of bloggers on a Facebook forum called "Real Radio People."
Those posting their thoughts about what has gone awry are in some cases still employed in the industry. Others have left radio for other pursuits.
But the tone of the forum is not one of bitterness; it is one of hope, and there is much discussion about how to bring about better conditions.
"A lot of my friends were working at Clear Channel, and two of them were wonderful radio minds who were let go for no other reason than cost-cutting, and it annoyed me," said Traver McLaughlin, the 27-year-old who started Real Radio People.
"I wanted to see if there was some way we could all connect. I started this group and we had about 30 people originally, and by March 2009 we were approaching 1,000 people on the forum and it's still building. The point was just to help out my fellow radio people." The count was 1,300 in early June.
McLaughlin has worked for Clear Channel as well as Cumulus and Bonneville, but is now employed by Forum Communications in Kalamazoo, Mich.
"I don't have any contempt for Clear Channel or any other group," he said. "It's just that terrestrial radio is in a unique position. It's the only medium that can be local 24 hours a day. A newspaper comes out once a day. TV is oriented to the community, but only during newscasts. Radio can be locally driven all the time and that's where the potential lies."
Deus ex machine
McLaughlin has no problem with studio automation but wants a live, local person in the chair when it counts.
Kari Elswick. 'I'd bring back rock and roll, and not the rating-based rotations, real rock and roll.' "For national news, people will go online or to TV, but for weather emergencies and local stories, they should be able to get that faster from the radio," he said. "A lot of companies have abandoned that."
Opinions about radio certainly are not in short supply here.
Kari Elswick is a Clear Channel employee and a contributor to the online forum.
"I think radio should be back in the hands of people who actually give a crap about content over excessive profits," she said.
"We all want to make money, but when you put radio stations in the hands of profiteers to whom loyalty and dedication mean nothing, you end up with what we have now: corporate America bullying their product onto the airwaves, forcing ridiculous standards and cutting staff so drastically that three people are doing the work of 30. Bad times all around."
When asked what she would do if she could design her dream radio station, there was no hesitation.
"I'd bring guerilla radio back (because) no one has a sense of humor anymore. Give radio back to the community. Stop the big boys from formatting stations to sound all the same and bland."
Real Radio People has members all over the world, including David Jarvis who works for a small station in England called Harborough FM, which live-streams at www.harboroughfm.co.uk.
The station's slogan is "Proud to Be Local and Living Life in Harborough." Jarvis shared his radio philosophy with Radio World via e-mail.
"One of the biggest mistakes radio makes is ego, thinking it can force-feed listeners a playlist," he said.
"If I played the music that I have on my iPod, the listeners would soon turn off. Scrap playlists [because] who wants the same songs over and over again? There are thousands of songs suitable for radio, so use them. I have a policy: Play what your listener wants to hear, not what your over-inflated ego thinks you should play."
Weaving threads of change
David Jarvis. 'If I played the music that I have on my iPod, the listeners would soon turn off.'
The main function of Real Radio People, according to McLaughlin, is to give people with passion for the industry a place to express themselves.
"I've created threads where people can brag about what has been successful for them," he said. "Others can look at those and share their own stories. I also started a thread for job openings, free-lance, full-time or part-time. I want everyone to know there is hope for radio and there are still good people out there.
"But it should be understood that we are on a fast track to disintegrating it."
McLaughlin sees himself not as an arbitrator of opinion, but rather as a traffic cop for his forum.
"It's not my job to decide if people's opinions are good or bad, because I believe that when opinions are stifled, that's what ruins everything. All opinions are welcomed."
As Buffalo Springfield put it a little later in "For What It's Worth":
There's battle lines being drawn, nobody's right if everybody's wrong.
Young people speakin' their minds, getting' so much resistance from behind.
Those interested in discovering the Real Radio People forum can join Facebook (www.facebook.com), then seek out the forum by name. There is no charge to join Facebook, nor to participate in its discussion groups. Real Radio People is an open forum that anyone can join.
The Real Radio People Credo
From its Web page:
For quite some time the sanctity of radio has been on a drastic decline. This group is for everyone that believes in radio's mystique and thinks that radio is for the people, ran by people, and, above all, stations are worth the people they hire. Join in Unity! Let the voices of our kin who believe in people answering the listener lines and juggling carts be heard once again. Take it back from the Wal-Marts of the business.
This group is for the professionals that have lost faith in the business, but believes the strength of a strong network will bring back the glory and those that support that cause. This group is for those who are looking for work to live with the phrase "it's not what you know, it's who you know" to network.
Strap on your cans, pot up the monitor and let our voices echo across the nation again, "We are Real Radio People and We are Going to Take Radio Back!"