Radio’s innocence is fading

Listening to music on the radio was and remains inextricably linked to the daily lives of countless people. A cherished medium capable of shaping the moods of listeners, radio has changed continually over the years. Two contrasting sides to its presentation seem to have developed in Greece. On the one hand, there’s the favorable side, but a minority, of worthy shows featuring eclectic musical selections, interesting commentary and overall professionalism. On the other – far more dominant – hand, the scene has turned superficial and highly commercial. The entertainment on offer here is banal and heavily regulated by the music industry. Often, snippets of songs, for example, usually about 15 seconds long, are played for listeners who vote for their favorite numbers over the phone. Ultimately, the winning tunes receive all-day rotation as part of consumer-friendly policies implemented to maximize commercial benefits. Needless to say, the music itself comes last on shows such as these. It could be anything, local or imported, from Haris Alexiou and Yiannis Kotsiras to Celine Dion, as long as the listener is transfixed into keeping his or her dial on the station’s frequency. Other pitches include offering listeners free trips or prize money. Unfortunately, radio programs with more genuine intentions are on the decline. According to Margarita Mytilinaiou, an experienced radio host who has worked with various local stations and is currently with state-radio ERT, the overall decline in quality can be attributed to commercial interests. «When you have no choice but to work in line with market forces and rigid budgets, you allot your funds into policies that minimalize personnel and maximize revenues,» Mytilinaiou asserts. «And it’s all leading to radio stations that are sounding the same, playing the same songs, and offering colorless commentary. When there’s a perpetual mechanism that determines the quantity and quality of songs being transmitted, the quality of feeling that makes the difference and generates the magic goes astray,» she adds. Mytilinaiou points out the restrictions being imposed on radio hosts in this profit-oriented era. «To a large degree, radio producers don’t have the luxury of choice and freedom of expression. And that’s detrimental for the songs, too, as many of them, including good songs, burn out quickly,» says Mytilinaiou. «Stations play a song that is liked over and over again. If this mentality did not exist, songs would have a more natural life cycle. It’s a shame that material is not drawn from music’s entire gamut of wealth; instead, we resort to easy solutions,» she adds. Costas Thomaidis, a vocalist and radio host at Melodia 99.2 FM, commenting on extreme cost-cutting methods being applied in recent times, notes that certain radio stations are ridding themselves of deejays and turning into what he describes as «radio juke-boxes.» «This coin has two sides. On the one hand, station owners are reducing operating costs by not having deejays on the payroll; and on the other, they’re attempting to capitalize on the mood of certain listeners who are simply interested in hearing the songs as if they were on cassette – without the words of a deejay, which is what gives a show character,» says Thomaidis. «The songs, alone, are unable to create a mood for the listener. They need direction. The same 10 songs handled by 10 different deejays will offer 10 different shows. This change from radio show to radio juke box has, to a great degree, lowered radio standards,» he adds. A radio deejay’s ability to communicate with his audience, Thomaidis says, ensures that the medium maintains its role of keeping listeners company, while also providing them with information on the music scene. Thomaidis also contends that the repercussions of heavily commercialized radio on songwriting has been drastic. «An album becomes known through airplay. When the listen-by-order way of thinking takes over, songwriting standards change significantly because songwriters seek to create a song in line with radio station standards,» argues Thomaidis. «And there’s no soul in that. A songwriter ought to plunge liberally into his or her work, which will be evaluated by people, not by computers.» Another veteran radio host, Paschalis Mouchtaridis, the managing director at Stathmos 101.3 FM, tends to attribute the decline of quality in radio to poor songwriting standards, as well as changing listener preferences. «The problem begins with the actual production of music. I’ve been in this line of work for many years and see that, nowadays, songwriters possessing vision are lacking,» notes Mouchtaridis. «We can’t overlook the fact that listener preferences have also changed tremendously. People are excited by easy-listening material. They don’t want you to give them a hard time. And I think that’s the biggest difference compared to the past. You can’t force somebody to listen to the new album by Peter Gabriel, an artist who, 20 years ago, would sell 50,000 copies in Greece and now sells two copies. His music cannot have deteriorated so drastically. It’s the public that’s changed.» Composer Stamatis Kraounakis, who hosts his own radio show on En Lefko 87.7 FM, offers a poor picture of radio’s current state. Stations guided by playlists offer no gain, the language skills of most radio producers are deplorable, and many stations owe their existence to schemes linked with financial crime, he contends. «Ninety percent of radio producers speak disgraceful Greek. Besides, many stations exist because a well-connected entrepreneur launches a station and finds thousands of ways to launder some money. And the playlist is an easy solution that, primarily, serves financial interests,» he says. «I believe that sooner or later playlist stations will close down, precisely because they offer nothing.»