Tuesday, September 19, 2006

So long, MOJO, it was good to know you.

It's always a shame when your favorite radio station disappears one day. That station you enjoyed listening to for your years is suddenly gone, replaced with something else, playing music you don't want to listen to and staffed by DJs you have never heard before.

It's happening in Cincinnati again. WMOJ is changing frequencies and formats as of Thursday, September 21. See the Enquirer article for more information.

MOJO wasn't my favorite station, but I enjoyed it. I also felt a close connection to it many listeners wouldn't: I built the place and used to work with most of the remaining staff.

MOJO has been on the air for seven and a half years, and is I believe the last of the MOJO stations in the country. MOJO played "urban gold," or Jammin' Oldies, as it is better known. It was also the only station in town you could hear disco every day. It played a lot of great music and had a solid listenership and a lot of fans.

A few months ago, Cumulus Media bought Susquehanna Radio Corporation (who owned WMOJ, WRRM, and WYGY in Cincinnati). As is usual in the wise, great, and powerful radio companies, Cumulus found it necessary to fire a third of its staff, not just in Cincinnati, but in its former Susquehanna stations nationwide. I should point out that the Cincinnati stations were already operating with almost a skeleton crew. Now, it's even fewer, and remaining employees have had to take on double or even triple duties, most for the same pay. If they don't like it, corporate says, there's the door. It's a harsh business.

Anyway, Cumulus decided to sell off MOJO to Radio One, who is changing the format and frequency, and will replace the 94.9 frequency with WYGY, which, of course, will cost a fortune in changed billboard advertising, tv commercials, and anything else with the logo. Yup, money truly well spent. Better let go more staff so they can save even more money.

96.5 will now have a new station on its frequency, one that has not been announced, but we will learn about Thursday.

Meanwhile, MOJO is running promos advertising its frequency and format change. Now, this is where it gets interesting. Normally, when a station changes formats, what happens is this: new company buys station. Everything normal, but staff is nervous. Friday, everything normal. Monday, whole staff is fired and replaced with new staff. Confused listeners tune in on Monday and hear a new station. Station gets flooded with thousands of phone calls.

That's what normally happens, but this time Radio One advertised the change, I suppose so listeners could find the new station.

But, no more Jammin' Oldies will be heard in Cincinnati.

I know one big problem that MOJO had was that it played the same exact music heard on its airwaves seven years ago. Every single day brought the same exact music. But nobody seemed to mind. At least they added music periodically and were slowly inching through the '80s. I was waiting to see if they would eventually play music of the 1990s. Many non-urban groups were heard too, including Queen (Another One Bites the Dust) and even the Rolling Stones. I suppose these were added because of their "disco sound" but I always found it odd.

It doesn't matter. The Jammin' Oldies format has been retired and the Cincinnati listeners will surely miss it. However, radio is first and foremost a business. Modern commercial radio's main purpose is to sell advertising, period. It's not to entertain or educate. It's to sell commercials. What is sandwiched between the 60 second spots doesn't matter, as long as the time is sold. Corporate radio does not care about the individual listener. They care only about big numbers and the bottom line. If the format doesn't bring in good numbers, the format is changed.

Never mind what the listeners want; that doesn't matter.

As an alternative to this, you can listen to the noncommercial stations, such as WAIF as I mentioned in a previous blog entry, or you can purchase satellite radio and listen to whatever commercial-free format you desire. Online too, we have live365 and a host of other online radio venues.

As for MOJO, I guess most of the air staff will probably be let go, if not all of them. That's what happens in radio. It's a shame. The on-air personality has a family, kids in school, and has planted roots. Then suddenly he's fired and will have seek work elsewhere, most likely in a different station across the country.

But that's what happens, and is one big reason why I didn't pursue an on-air career and chose engineering instead. Why I don't do that anymore is a different story.

We'll miss you, MOJO. My best wishes go out to any employees displaced by the new company, most of whom I trained on technical studio procedures and I've been able to call my friends, inlcuding Keith Mitchell, Tori Turner, Dwayne Luna, Quincy Watkins, and the part time staff who were always there on evenings, weekends, and holidays. I hope you all find new jobs as rewarding as MOJO was for you.

To learn about radio and its early days, please check out my book, Stepping Out in Cincinnati.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Cincinnati Bluegrass Radio

I enjoy listening to a variety of music. Since I entered my mid-30s, though, I've been nostalgiac for music of the 1980s, especially during my high school years. Strangely, though, throughout the '90s I avoided that music and refused to even acknowledge it. Now I actually like listening to the hair bands I used to detest so much.

I also love the music of the 1930s and '40s, and own a sizable collection of 78 RPM records, mostly collected from eBay. Locally I listen to WMKV which plays mostly big band and nostalgia. It's a wonderful station that I was actually a small part of for a short time. Many nice people there. If you're in Cincinnati, they're on 89.3 FM. Otherwise, check them out online.

Also, live365 is an excellent place to hear any kind of music. Any kind imaginable. And it's free. It has thousands of online radio stations to choose from, including big band stations, comedy, phone pranks, and bluegrass.

I love bluegrass. The combination of banjos and guitars and the twangy vocals makes for enjoyable and fun music. And there's nothing like a live bluegrass show either.

If you're in Cincinnati, you must check out WAIF, 88.3 FM on the dial and online here.

My discussions about radio life will be saved for a future post, but in short, WAIF is a community radio station with a volunteer on-air staff. No commercials, just great music and a variety of unique programs.

My favorite is Cuttin' the Grass, hosted by Lee Elliot and his cohost Moonbeam, Saturday mornings, 8 a.m. to 11. I have been listening to Cuttin' the Grass for a couple of years now, and since I work Saturday mornings, I hear the entire show from start to finish.

This is like no show you've ever heard, and if you like bluegrass, you must listen. Lee Elliot is the genial host with downhome sayings and humor and is just a joy to listen to. He is a virtual bluegrass encyclopedia and plays an incredible variety of music during the three hours. Among other things, he is a "registered Kentucky Colonel" and seems to be plugged into every regional bluegrass event in the tristate area.

Moonbeam is his on-air female companion, a yin to his yang, if that makes sense. Between cuts of music they banter about bluegrass personalities and bands, and sometimes touch on Elliot's take on national news events. Moonbeam is a lot more than just a laughing sidekick, though; she contributes a great deal to the show, and together they make a wonderfully entertaining combination. While they tend to ramble at times, they don't detract from the music which is their main focus. And . . . they're volunteers. They don't get paid; they do it for the love of the music. Very commendable way to spend their Saturday mornings.

This is local, live radio at its absolute finest. If you're tired of listening to the same old stuff on commercial radio, then you must listen to Cuttin' the Grass. Check out the show's website here.

Update: Lee Elliot and Moonbeam have left WAIF due to station politics and other issues. Tim Strong now hosts Cuttin' the Grass.

And just a small plug for my book Stepping Out in Cincinnati, if you want to see the kinds of early country bands that paved the way for modern bluegrass, check out page 73 for a five-piece string band from 1930. On page 116 you can see the Happy Days in Dixie ensemble, with Dixie Dale on vocals, which played for WCKY in 1933. Turn to page 119 and you'll see the band who played for the Circle Arrow Show, which played Sunday nights on WLW in 1949.

And, we're at it again!

I have not updated my blog in a long time, obviously. Here I am at last, to tell you what's been going on.

First off, my children's book is still unagented and unpublished. To date, I have over fifty rejections from both agents and publishers. I had to make a decision to either keep researching agents and submitting, or wait the remaining ones out and start my next book. The thing was, the constant querying was keeping me from writing, and I had a couple book ideas kicking around in my head I wanted to explore.

That, and I was still unemployed and still searching for a job.

So at the end of May, I started a novel. And now, in September, I am nearly finished at over 350 pages. It is a horror novel, unlike most you have ever seen or read.

Between now and then I've continued to collect rejection letters. Well, actually, it's dwindled to a dead stop, and I suppose it's possible I might get some more from the agencies that have not yet responded, but I'm not holding my breath on those. I'm still waiting on a rejection from one of the publishers I queried in May, whose turnaround time was five months.

After I finish the first draft of my novel, though, I'll start querying in earnest once again.

Meanwhile, I finally found a full time job and began in early August. It's a very good job and draws on my electrical wiring skills I've learned in past jobs. It's in an assembly plant for big machines, and it pays very well. The hours are 5:30 a.m. to 3, weekends included. This severely limits my time to write, but I'm still generating words every day.

I have a lot of different topics to discuss on my blog, so please visit back if you happen to stumble across my ramblings. I have a lot of pop culture things to talk about, not wishing to intrude on my friend booksteve. Also, stay tuned for a primer on Cincinnati radio. If you're in local media, your name might be mentioned.

Next post is about bluegrass, so please read on.