Loquacious dis jockeys don't respect the music

May 13, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

THE LATEST radio ratings are in. But what, exactly, do they mean? At the end of April, Sun features writer Chris Kaltenbach reported that Radio One's WERQ - 92Q to its legion of fans - ran away from the pack in the Arbitron ratings for January through March. Kaltenbach's article didn't specify, but most of 92Q's success probably should go to its drive-time duo of DJ Frank Ski and his co-host, Miss Toni.

Ski's and Toni's morning show is sometimes serious, sometimes funny, but never boring. On Tuesdays they'll give you a brainteaser that you probably won't figure out until sometime around Saturday or Sunday, if you figure it out at all. Imagine that, a radio show that challenges you to think!

92Q's success is well-deserved. Ski is probably the most talented host in the area, although for a while there I thought he was the only Polish-American DJ for an urban contemporary hip-hop station with a predominantly black listening audience. You see, I thought his last name was Frankski and that he had no first name. I have since learned he is of the African-American persuasion.

And Miss Toni? Let's just say that there probably isn't a radio co-host in the country quite like Miss Toni. And I'm probably understating the matter.

What else did we learn from the latest ratings report? WLIF went from sixth place to fourth place and oldies station WQSR dropped to fifth place and from first to third in the 25 to 54 age group. That trend shows The Plot is, thank heavens, failing.

What is The Plot? The attempt by radio honchos and bigwigs to Howard Stern-ize music radio. The formula is simple for radio management types: because shock-jock Howard Stern has gotten phenomenal ratings and popularity by talking loudly, saying nothing, being crude and playing little music, we'll do the same. Now everybody's yakking it up on music radio. In fact, music radio is a misnomer. There is no more music radio. The only types of radio now are talk radio, which is heard mostly on the AM dial. Then there's talk radio with brief musical interludes, found on FM.

The attempt is to be as funny as Stern. There are two problems with that. The first is that Stern isn't funny. He is, rather, living proof of what Eleanor Roosevelt observed nearly 40 years ago:

"We are given in our newspapers and on TV and on radio exactly what we, the public, insist on having, and this very frequently is mediocre information and mediocre entertainment."

The second problem is that most folks know where to find funny, and it's not on the radio. When I want funny, I'll crack open a book by either Mark Twain or Ambrose Bierce, two guys no one on either AM or FM can touch when it comes to humor. The ones who come closest are the previously mentioned Frank Ski and Miss Toni, who manage to do funny without overdoing it.

FM radio yak-mouthing seems designed to annoy and pester listeners. The most grating excess verbiage takes two forms. One is the station promoting itself, probably the most idiotic ploy ever to come down the pike. If you're already listening to a station, why do they need to promote themselves to get you to listen to the station? Duh.

The other tactic is the most infuriating: talking over the introductions to records. The DJ's voice over the introduction to a song by the Temptations or the Beatles or Sam Cooke or the Rolling Stones does nothing for the song. DJs who do this need to get a clue and heed one simple fact: if the artists wanted your voice on the record, over the instrumental introduction or otherwise, they'd have put it there.

Fans know this. I suspect too much talky-talky and too little music may be behind WQSR's ratings drop. WQSR is my station of first choice. Where else am I going to hear Sam Cooke, Dion, Brook Benton, Roy Hamilton, the Beatles and the Everly Brothers all on the same station? But I want to hear those singers and groups from the era when rock 'n' roll had no color line, not a bunch of yakking.

So here's some advice for the folks running WQSR: give a listen to the competitor that just nudged you out of fourth place. Pay special attention to the incomparable Sandy Mallory, who plays good music, never talks over a record and gives listeners the respect they deserve. Then pass the word on to your on-air personalities: dummy it up a little.

Pub Date: 5/13/98

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