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KPFA’s Quincy McCoy, witness to the Clear Channel counterrevolution

Quincy McCoy

Quincy McCoy

I dropped by Pacifica station KPFA in Berkeley the other day to be interviewed about my new book on digital/Internet radio. After the conversation, my interlocutor Brian Edwards-Tiekert took me upstairs and I had the pleasure of meeting the operation’s General Manager, Quincy McCoy. I’ve heard nothing but good things about McCoy, and meeting him explained why. He’s a hugely smart and positive guy, plus he gave me a copy of his book on radio: No Static: A Guide to Creative Radio Programming.

Published in 1999, No Static is doubly engaging if you read it as a historical document as well as a nice how-to radio career guide. By that year, the deregulatory impact of the Telecommunicatons Act of 1996 was apparent. Clear Channel (now iHeartMedia) had already bought up a slew of radio stations and was well on the way to owning over 1,200 of them soon. McCoy writes in the book’s introduction:

“Commercial radio has always been about making money. Today the bottom line is even more important especially to large radio conglomerates scrambling to pay back their Wall Street investors. The craving for revenue has diminished radio’s appetite for entertainment. A general manager I worked with in the eighties loved to say ‘Radio is not an art form, it’s a business.’ He was wrong then and he’s still wrong. Radio is both.”

Here’s some more from chapter four, titled New Playing Field.

“The passage of the Telecom Bill, as it became known, started a consolidation frenzy . . . Today, radio is an investor-driven business concerned with cash flow and margins. What’s been lost is the emphasis on community and personality; the focus is squarely on improving the bottom line, and companies will exercise the most expedient, cost-efficient ways to get there. The concepts of innovation, creativity, and musical diversity—with the exception of the natural fragmentation into niche formats—have lost out to two short-term paths to profits: downsizing and outsourcing.”

Much of the book consists of interviews with successful radio people, querying them on how to succeed in radio within this context. But McCoy adds his own wisdom from time to time: “Don’t be a slave to passive research,” he advises. “Don’t try to reach your listeners only through advertising on TV or outdoor marketing. Interact with your listeners on a daily basis . . . If you have walls of insulation between you and your customers, tear them down and reconnect.”

I suppose that 17 years later, an updated version of McCoy’s book would also grapple with how to connect with radio audiences in the age of Spotify, YouTube, and Pandora. I wish I’d had this book around when I was writing mine.  I’m glad it’s part of my library now.

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