14 January 2010

Radio: The Community Asset

For nearly 26 years, a big part of my own little world has been called radio, or broadcasting, or radio broadcasting. It's what I do for a living, in a sense, because it's what has been the source of my income the majority of the time. I am a broadcaster, dependent upon the great "community asset" that is among all of us who have grown up with AM or FM radio. It's a community asset because the public airwaves are just that --- for the public to consume. And, if I have been taught correctly by the many teachers I have had, these airwaves are more-or-less "our" airwaves. We in the United States have the Federal Communications Commission allegedly looking out for our best interests, and, while the frequencies are owned by individuals and companies and corporate entities, the airwaves belong to we the people. Those statements can be debated, but it is how the airwaves are kept "in check" for the citizens --- the FCC keeps watch over our airwaves as best it can.

As I tossed and turned in bed early this morning, my mind kept coming back to this phrase "Radio: The Community Asset" and made me realize that today I had to start off my day writing this column.

The Community Asset. What does it do for us? A radio station can keep us informed about local news, weather and topics of interest. Radio can play our favorite songs by our favorite artists, from classical music to rock 'n' roll, jazz, R & B, blues, bluegrass, opera, country, folk, alternative/post-modern, hip-hop, rap, smooth jazz/new age...it's an endless plethora of things, right? But what does it do for me lately?

Ahhh. What does the community asset mean to us? For many, it's a link between our banal existence and the excitement of others' who have lives. Ouch...that hurt to write...partially because it's a phrase which I have heard people use because they think they're boring individuals. Whereas we can assure the person who said that they are far from boring, it is true that radio makes life exciting and interesting to many. That's why radio listeners are sometimes called fanatics or fans --- because they are genuinely participating in the shows they enjoy --- the stations to which they are listening for hours without end --- to the point of wearing the t-shirts and polo shirts they have either won through a contest or purchased from our "radio store" in person or online, placing bumper stickers on their vehicles and notebooks, even showing up by the thousands to win a talent contest. Yes --- the community asset means much more than a bunch of commercials on one station and off to another station where the brand new college DJ is rambling so fast and without enunciation that you're thinking he or she has a five-month college-only career. Yes, radio is the community asset which requires not much from the average person/listener other than --- to own a radio and to listen. But, again --- what does it mean to us?

A radio station --- let me bring up a prime example of one in St. Louis in Classic 99 --- can be the fabric which knits a large segment of the population together. This will to point to specifics and generalities both here, so bear with me. In the case of Classic 99 (or KFUO-FM for now*), the station has been on the air for 61 years, much of that time playing classical and liturgical music as part of the KFUO radio stations in Clayton. Since it has been playing this music for such a long period of time, it's nearly impossible for the community in whole to think of St. Louis without such a station. But it could happen soon. The owners of the radio station, the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, have placed the station on the sales block. The prospective new owners will immediately change the format from Classical music to Contemporary Christian Music, thus ending an era of 61 or 62 (depending upon the date the change may take place) years of a piece of the community. That's a hefty statement --- but it is a TRUE statement. Classic 99 has been a mainstay for musicians from all backgrounds, who perform dozens of styles of music, NOT JUST CLASSICAL music. Dare I say it, but without this important piece of the St. Louis community, we are just another large city without a cultural icon to which we can ALL relate and enjoy.
Sure --- I don't listen to it all of the time. I am not a fan of every style of music played on Classic 99. But I know it's always been there in my lifetime, and I have appreciated what it has given my community --- enjoyment, relaxation, excitement, personality. It's been a background station for some --- it seems that one cannot go into a dress shop or tailored men's clothier around St. Louis and not hear Classic 99 on the speaker --- and it's a constant companion to others who listen at home on their clock radios and stereos, or while driving in traffic and wanting to unwind with something more melodic and soothing than Phil Collins, Nelly, U2 or Taylor Swift.
(Hey, I'm not picking on these artists --- I listen to them, too...as the occasion warrants.)

But here we sit at the precipice of losing our community asset known as Classic 99. Sure, there are plenty of Contemporary Christian Music fans. And I am a Christian who enjoys that music format, as well. But the community asset known as Classic 99 is something which also plays (I dare to say) Christian music. Bach has been linked to many non-believers who found interest in the tunes, the background of the symphonies he wrote, and found numerous the reasons for their soul being drawn to the music Bach and others say was inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. Many of these people eventually became Christian believers --- and although that's talking about the Christian community more specifically than the region, it is part of why Classic 99 is a community asset. It plays for all, from all backgrounds, races, religions, creeds --- the station has been there for us in lean economic times and good. It's an asset which benefits our community through the outreach to the non-profit groups who have spent money on advertising their events, and it's been a companion at all hours of the day and night. To twistedly paraphrase some Mark Twain writings...boy, will we miss Classic 99 if and when it's gone.

Our community asset --- radio --- will continue. But our specific community asset --- Classic 99 --- may go away. However, there are developments (thus far off the well-worn public path) which could mean a new community asset playing Classical Music within the next few months.

Are you a fan? Are you simply a listener? If you hope that a community asset such as Classic 99 (which it has been to this point) is coming to a radio near you, then you're going to want to check in now and then to find out what is developing. I promise nothing yet except to find out more. But I must say there are some very intelligent, kind, and well-blessed people who are planning that our community has an asset on the airwaves beyond whatever may happen to Classic 99.

I hope, soon, to bring you the exciting news which makes a bold statement: our community asset, the airwaves, has something long-term coming to your radio (and internet streaming, and smartphones, and, and, and, and...). It really could become another classic asset to the St. Louis region.

I suppose it's time for me to get up and turn on my radio. After all, those radio airwaves belong to me, so I probably should listen to my community asset.


Footnote: *the pending deal selling 99.1/KFUO-FM Clayton MO has been challenged by comments filed by individual citizens and by petitions to deny the license transfer. The FCC usually green-lights a license transfer, but there is a chance that they would place this station sale on hold pending any investigation brought about by the filed petitions before the agency. Also, if a lawsuit is filed to block the sale, the FCC usually allows the judicial system to rule before granting final approval of a sale. As of January 13, 2010, the sale was still in a transitional time period and no lawsuits had been made public.