There is Enough Content: South Florida's Radio Markets Need Elected Program Directors

Categories: Local Music
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Photo by Stephanie Rae Berzon
Evan Rowe is a local songwriter and performer best known as Catalonia, a professor of political science and history at Broward College, and a small-d democratic strategist with no party affiliation. Each week, we surrender our space for his thoughts on the music industry and how they relate to our region. This week, questioning corporate control of radio, round two.

In my last piece I laid out a general framework and case for democratizing the airwaves.  In short, there is an oversupply of content, and too narrow an outlet to distribute it, and new online communications technologies that will allow democratic processes to grow and flourish in a participatory way.

Since it is impossible for the music listening audience to hear all good music that is produced in one year -- let alone the built up congestion of good content created over decades since the invention of recorded music, it makes sense to use the polity to limit the audience's exposure in a way that is sensible for the most important living stake holders in the music economy:  The artists and the audience. All programmatic incentives and benefits should revolve around these two groups. The middlemen, be they coordinators, DJs, programmers, and elected system, etc. should be third place. They will be there, they will be needed, but they are not to be the center of the new system.

I should say in advance warning, that there will be opposition to this plan and it will come from the traditional sources in our society: The right wing, anti-democratic business institutions which privately own and control the vast majority of economic space in our country, along with their pro business factional and cultural allies and grass roots activists. From the food supply, to media, from clothing to investment houses, from the drug trade to banks, from hedge funds to hedge clippers, the vast majority of the economic space in which we lead our lives is not even close to being controlled by big government, it is controlled by institutions that are completely unbeholden to the general population and managed by the types of people that Franklin Roosevelt referred to as "economic royalists".

This tiny elite (in percentage terms -- in real terms the number is three million people) and their foot soldiers will fight the democratization of the airwaves simply because of their opposition to democratic institutions in general.  If you trust your peers, and we have the online capacity to accomplish the transition -- then what other possible reasons can there be to oppose the plan?

But the question of incentives is important and should be addressed.  So is the question of how to develop a system that pushes the quality content up to the top of each sphere (local, regional, national, and international). And by quality we are talking about popular consumer preferences -- not "scene" preferences, though I do believe there needs to be a smaller working space for the musical craft that may not be currently in style -- but may become so in the future.

The basic framework I am proposing (and since this is an early sketch -- principles are more important than details here) is to have two sections of the elected spectrum. The first section is the direct election of program directors for single year terms. The program director will assemble a small staff, bring on DJs, and take their own approach to what type of content should be played. The second section of the spectrum will be more direct involvement in content by the music consumer and this can be the direct election of DJs for 3 hour slots elected monthly in online voting. The organization of which DJ goes to which part of the spectrum for which time slot are details we don't need to cover. 

The core idea is that part of the spectrum will be the faster, more impulsive part of the system where the audience is directly closer to the content they are pushing to the top, and that the other part of the spectrum, the program director slot can afford to be more patient, having a full year to win over the audience with content that may initially be too cutting edge for audience tastes.

Within this initial two-prong framework, we have the local, regional, national, and international mandate. Assuming my initial percentages, 25 percent of what is being played by any part of the spectrum must be local. This means that there is a chance that there will be uncertainty and audience confusion in the early part of the experiment, but once things get rolling and the money to reinvest in recording production rolls into the local acts, then the quality will become better -- and better organized, and provide a real (bottom up) economic stimulus to boot.  In part three of the series, I will discuss why digital economy does not mesh with markets, what it means to the music scene, and what can be done to remedy the situation.

-- Evan Rowe

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