RUSH: Chip in Rutherford, North Carolina, nice to have you, sir, on the EIB Network. Hello.
CALLER: Hello. Good afternoon, Rush. Mega dittos, and Merry Christmas.
RUSH: Same to you, sir.
CALLER: Yeah, I was talking to Bo about maybe changing topics a little bit and get off the political train for a bit. I wanted to revisit Top 40 radio and talk a little bit about those days in the late sixties, early seventies. Do you think Top 40 radio could work today?
RUSH: Well, it would, of course, depend on the music.
CALLER: Yeah, exactly.
RUSH: You’re gonna have to help me out. I hate to admit this, but since I lost my hearing I don’t know what new music there is ’cause it all sounds the same. I haven’t listened to music since the early parts of this decade because I can’t hear it. The only music I can listen to is music that I knew before I went deaf because my memory supplies the melody. I don’t really hear it, ’cause I don’t have the hearing sensitivity anymore to do it, so my memory does.
RUSH: So is there any music out there that is comparable to Top 40 in the sixties and seventies?
CALLER: Well, you know, I don’t think there is. The Billboard charts are still published, of course, and then you’ve got your oldies stations and —
RUSH: See, the oldies stations are the closest thing to Top 40 that there is, and that format works depending on the music rotation, how big the play list is and the jocks. Nostalgia is a big thing. I think it could be made to work. If John Rook could come back around and put WLS back together the way it was in the ’60s and ’70s, it would be fun to try it; it could be interesting to see. KXOK St. Louis. Oh-ho-ho. KFI Los Angeles. It was KHJ back then. Those would be fun to see. But I think as retro as our society is I don’t think there’s any question it could be made to work if you had the right people behind it, led of course by me.
RUSH: As a radio guy I got my start in Top 40. We had a guy with a great question, ‘Would Top 40 work today?’ And, you know, I’ve always believed that all media, but particularly including radio, it’s content, content, content. That will determine whether something will have an audience or not, not so much the format, not so much the frequency, just content, content, content. I’m convinced that a number of you, if you had to, would use string and tin cans to listen to this program ’cause if that was the only place you could get it that’s what you would do. Now, with Top 40, we do have a retro society. I look at the TV show Mad Men. People love that show because it is an exact depiction of life in the sixties. It’s especially relevant to me because it’s about the advertising business, and it’s just right on the money culturally, too.
So Top 40, ’60s, ’70s version of Top 40, what would be the primary competitor to that today? The primary competitor would be iPods or MP3 devices, which is the thing facing all music formatted radio today. If you can put whatever music you want and listen to it however, in what order and whenever you want to on your iPod or MP3, why tune to an FM radio station and listen to some program director’s choice of what you get to hear and the order in which you get to hear it, and then a bunch of dumb disk jockeys in the middle of it? So what would you have to do, if the music is available to people, they go back and they can listen to Top 40 music in the ’60s, ’70s that audience can get it any time they want on their iPod, what can’t they get? They can’t get great talent; they can’t get great disk jockeys. It would have to be more personality oriented radio than it ever was allowed to be throughout the broadcast day. Mornings and nights you could pretty much cut loose, but it was tightly regimented during the day. It could be done, but it would emphasize my point that content, content, content, talent, talent, talent would be the determining factors here because the music is now available to anybody, anywhere, any time and it’s specifically what they want. If they want to listen to ten songs one day, they can do it.
If you have an obsession over one song there’s no way you’re gonna listen to a radio station for that one song. You might hear it once every three hours, if that, and then you’d have to make sure you’re listening all three hours to hear it the second time they play — (interruption) what, Snerdley, what’s the question? Snerdley says personalities have always been the determining factors, so why have program directors deemphasized personalities? Well — (laughing) do you want me to tell you the truth? All right, here’s the reason — and I know this ’cause I did it. The one thing in a format a program director can’t claim credit for is the talent of a particular disc jockey. He can claim credit for spotting it and hiring the guy, or the girl, he can claim credit for the music rotation, he can claim credit for the format clock, claim credit for all that stuff, but not for the jock, other than hiring the jock. Plus it was budgetary. I mean the bigger star you make outta somebody the more they’re gonna be able to demand from you.
What really killed Top 40 — this is gonna be sacrilege to a lot of people — what really killed Top 40 was the Bill Drake, Chenault and these kind of guys that came along and basically deemphasized, I mean the jocks were cookie cutters and they all had the same names from market to market to market, Johnny B. Johnson and George B. Georgeson, other than the morning guy, which they allowed to cut loose. But those guys, their purpose was to establish the music and the format as the reason people listen, not the talent. And if you were in tight with those guys as a talent you did well, you could do okay, but if you weren’t you had a tougher road to go. But I think it could still be done. It would be fun to try, and you could try it on the net, you could try it first, test-market it on the net. Believe me, radio stations are going to be looking for all kinds of programming solutions as more and more programming is in the cloud, music’s in the cloud now, meaning on your iPod, you download it from somewhere, it’s in the cloud. But it would be interesting to see if it could be done again. Certain things from the past you can’t replicate, can’t bring ’em back, they’re best maintained as the past and as nostalgia.