Commercial music radio battles new technology, struggles for young listeners
One station, Columbus, Ohio's WWCD-FM, saw changes and tragedy
Industry is concerned about where new talent will come from
The key, say some in radio, is to serve your community
“Do you remember lying in bed
With your covers pulled up over your head
Radio playing so no one can see … “
– The Ramones, “Do You Remember Rock ’n’ Roll Radio?”
In this capital city and college town, there is a shrine to a disc jockey.
His name was Andy Davis, better known as “Andyman,” and he manned the evening drive-time shift at WWCD-FM. He was a bear of a man, a hugger, a backslapper, a preacher’s son who called everybody “brother.” He could carry you along with his enthusiasm.
DJ Brian Phillips recalls Davis’ annual 48-hour fundraising extravaganzas, known as “Andyman-a-Thons,” exhorting callers to outbid one another. “Come on, brother, 10 dollars more!” Andyman would say.
“Our children’s charities meant everything to him,” Phillips says. “By the end of each Andyman-a-Thon, he was drained and everyone was in tears. He had given his all, and yet you’d have to drag him out of that studio.”
He gave everybody a shot. Lesley James was a guest DJ – an enthusiastic listener who once got to do an hour of her favorite songs on-air. When she was done, she nervously handed Davis her resume.
“(I) mentioned that I grew up listening to the radio station and wanted to be a part of it,” she recalls. “He laughed, smiling at me and said, ‘Honey, I don’t need a resume. I like what I heard over the past hour.’ “
He was an evangelist for local music. “I felt like Andy was someone who was looking out for a local musician just getting started and looking out for my best interests,” says musician Brian Epp, who remembers Davis’ support before a show.
“I will never forget his smile and that initial hug. When he announced us and said that he was from CD101, I felt like we were getting some rite of passage.”
That was Andy. He was your friend.
On July 18, 2010, Andy Davis died. He was just 42.
His death hit everybody hard – and shook the station to its core. WWCD was hanging on by its fingernails. The recession had ripped into revenues. The ratings were troubling. The station was going through a complex financial transaction: It had just sold its frequency, 101.1, to Ohio State University and was making arrangements to move up the dial to 102.5 in hopes of expanding its audience. The entire staff had taken a substantial pay cut. Even the lease on its office space was up.
In the midst of all this, here was Andy’s wife, Molly, calling to deliver the awful news.
For a rare bird in an increasingly generic business – a completely independent commercial music station – it was going to be a struggle. WWCD had no safety net: It wasn’t part of a regional “cluster” of stations, it had no TV or newspaper ties, there was no giant conglomerate to move money over from another division’s pockets. Everybody’s lives were wrapped up in the station.
Competition, the economy and now its beating heart: WWCD was at a crossroads, and the path ahead was full of static.
“During all that time, we had to make a decision on whether to keep the radio station,” recalls Wendy Vaughan, wife of owner Roger Vaughan. “And my head said, ‘You need to let it go.’ But my heart said, ‘This is a guy’s life, his legacy, his identity, you can’t let it go.’ “
A medium in flux
“The world is collapsing around our ears
I turned up the radio
But I can’t hear it …”
-- R.E.M., “Radio Song”
It wasn’t just WWCD. Quietly in some markets, loudly in others, music radio has been under siege. Like many media, it’s battling demographics and technology to stay alive, at the same time losing the institutional memory and talent that made it distinctive.
“Radio creates such a powerful connection,” says Randy Malloy, who as general manager was trying to save the station with Roger Vaughan.
“You don’t remember the newspaper article that you read when you had your first kiss or the TV show. It was a song. You remember that song. There’s such a hard-wired connection in our brains to music.”
Which is why people in the industry are worried that old-fashioned AM/FM radio may be drifting off into the ether,