What happens when DJs
are told to shut up and play the playlist?

Radiopoly Board

In 1998, KLZR, the FM rock station in the small town Lawrence, Kansas was voted by Rolling Stone to be in the “Top 10 Stations that Don’t Suck.”  Within a year the station was sold and the format was changed to sound like every other station on the dial. Listeners protested but it was too late. This scene was happening everywhere across the US. Small towns and large cities were losing their local voices because Congress had just made massive radio consolidation legal through the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Jewel (musician) was among 5 unknowns


Why is Jewel holding the number five? At any given time, there were 5 local bands played in regular rotation on her local rock station 91x in San Diego. These artists were mostly unknown before they were given air-play (Jewel was homeless at the time). Local DJs built a local critical mass behind these acts that launched some of them to grace the rest of the nation and the world. A local DJ can raise awareness for a local charity, a civic concern or a band. That ended when control of local radio was taken over by out-of-town conglomerate bosses.


How can a station make money if it continually abandons its listeners? This question was brought to us by veteran broadcaster Dick Fatherley, who could not understand the mismanagement of the stations that he loved. The math didn’t add up. The price of stations were skyrocketing while the quality of the product was plummeting.  How were they making money? We discovered that there was a new breed of high financiers who were making money off of the downsizing, refinancing and maintenance of conglomerate radio.  We made this film because we love radio and see a way out of this If you’ve seen the film and want to do something now.  Click here.

Article for Radio INK



  1. From early reports and this quick preview this movie will be a ‘must see’ for those who care. Regards, IAN in Oz.

  2. A wise Radio Manager and Mentor of mine, (The Real) Howard Johnson, taught me that a company can give you 2 out of 3 of these: Quality, Fast, Cheap. After 40 years in Radio myself, I can see that Radio in the 21st Century has settled for “Fast & Cheap” because Quality takes time and costs money! Creativity is crushed when Announcers have to “keep it short…under 10 seconds” so we can play more music, more music, more music. Let us pray that the “Pendulum” swings back to Creative Quality where the listener can’t wait to hear what the Announcer is going to do on the next break. Today, the next break is likely to be just like the last break, short and safe. God bless radio! Ed

  3. This looks like a great movie! Please find a way to have it brought to Canada! This movie is what radio needs right now!!

  4. This film looks very interesting. It would be a great double feature with my documentary, which is about what rock radio was like in the 50’s – 70’s – local, personable, and exciting, instead of what it’s become. I hope something can jump-start this industry back to relevancy. Good luck!!

  5. I wish I knew this film was being created because I would have really loved to have given my thoughts on the radio industry since for the past 19 years I’ve been battling in New York City to push for a dance station. We’ve had a few along the way but for the past 3 years, nothing. And with FM turning into the new “AM” with spoken word formats entering, it’s safe to say that we are slowly witnessing the death of music on the FM dial

    Tony Santiago
    Coordinator, New York Dance Music Coalition

    1. We will be bringing this film to New York. What they don’t say every time they simulcast is that they just fired an entire radio staff and they are now serving half as much of the public. Simulcasting should not be allowed in a limited spectrum. Hope to see you in NY. Facebook us so I can keep you in the loop.

  6. I want to see this movie. I’m sure many people can’t post what they really think on this board.

    1. There is no censorship on this board. The only thing I take out is the tons of spam that comes in. I will moderate to keep it civil but I’ve not needed to. Conservative or liberal, everyone hates what has happened to radio. This is why I know things will change.

  7. Is there going to be any more screenings or a DVD in the near future? I’m really interested in seeing your movie.

  8. Would love to see this play in the New Orleans area. If not, how can I get a chance to see it? DVD? Online?

    1. There are 2 ways to find out about screenings. First sign up for our mailing list on the right side bar of this page. Second send me an email and tell me what city you are in. We sometimes have screenings at universities and community centers that are not always announced to the public.

  9. Great project. In Holland it is almost the same. To start a new radiostation, and only online, it is just not possible. You have to pay so much to even play music. And the BUMA tells you that money goes to the artist. That is funny because they didn’t even ask which artist you play..

  10. KROO Student Radio is offering a free screening of Corporate FM on 9/17/2012 at 3:30 pm, with a Q&A session with the filmmaker to follow. This screening will be held at the theater in the lower level of the UMKC Student Union.

  11. What is your problem with our free enterprise system and what is it you love so much about Communism? And why do you elitist snob Communist homosexuals want to cram your weirdo minority tastes down the throats of the majority?

    1. You call yourself the “elitism fighter” but you want to maintain the elitist top down approach of corporate radio. If you really cared about free enterprise you would learn about how private equity is trashing it. I’m a capitalist myself. That’s why it crushes me to see your ignorance and prejudice. People want DJs to be able to pick the music, that is not a minority taste.

  12. It’s not just local music and live, local DJ’s that loses out when radio stations are bought out and consolidated. That’s important, but what if there’s an emergency or disaster and there’s no one on the air to inform the public? Case in point: on January 18, 2002 at about 2:30 am, a train derailed just outside Minot, ND. Among the loads on this train were tank cars hauling anhydrous ammonia which ruptured, killing at least one person, and injured around a hundred more. Soon after the derailment, a large area around the derailed train was evacuated, and residents in the remainder of the city were told to stay indoors. Emergency response to the disaster was disorganized, as due to the time of the incident (very early in the morning) all local radio stations, operated by Clear Channel, were staffed at limited levels, given automation systems were used at many of these stations to provide programming. As a result of the confusion, no formal emergency warnings were issued for several hours while Minot officials located station managers at home. The incident has been cited as an example of the physical dangers of media consolidation and the currently prevalent cost-cutting measure of not keeping overnight staff at stations. Even without activation of the Emergency Alert System, a live announcer would still have been able to warn citizens of the emergency via the traditional means of the broadcast signal and an on-air microphone. As local stations were running in automated mode, there was nobody on-site to interrupt programming and issue warnings concerning the disaster. And I’m sure you know about the horrible Joplin, Missouri EF5 tornado in May, 2011. 160 people were killed, many of them in their cars or in shopping centers when that storm rolled through there. This disaster occurred at five o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. I don’t know what the radio situation in Joplin was like at the time, but since it was the weekend, I’ll bet the were few, if any persons staffing the stations at the time. The point I’m making here is that radio station consolidation can and does put people’s lives in danger.

    1. I was in Joplin the week before the tornado and I took some time to go visit the radio station group in that city which is owned by Zimmer broadcasting. The tornado hit 2 blocks from the station. Had the gust been 2 blocks south we would be telling the story of how all of Joplin’s radio stations were obliterated because they were all in one building. Another hazard of consolidation is that it puts all the eggs in one basket.

      The minot poison gas story is in the film.

      1. The Minot story is a total 100% urban legend.

        EAS requires government authorities to activate an alert, which is automatically inserted in radio programming; stations can not originate alerts. The government authorities did not know how to operate the EAS equpment at the local level and thus, could not have broadcast an EAS alert even were there 100 people standing by at the station.

        In any event, at 2 AM when the accident happened nearly nobody in a small market is even listening to radio… perhaps one-tenth of one percent of the population. An EAS alert at that time would have been useless no matter how it was broadcast.

        1. Someone died in the Minot tragedy. I bet their family does not believe it to be an urban legend. I love how you use the fact that corporate radio has driven away listeners as an excuse for corporate radio to not serve it’s listeners. Wake up. Those stations should not all be on remote-control at 2AM or 2PM. You can try to blame the government for this, but when there is no live DJ in that studio, the station is no better than the internet. On that note, I should also mention that this tragedy knocked out the power to about 1,000 people. The computers and TVs were out of commission. Battery operated radios and car radios can be life saving if the content on them is not so poor as to make them useless. Here is an article about the tragedy.

          1. Radio has not driven away listeners; the economies of automation (in use since the 60’s) has made it possible for thousands of stations to be on the air overnight. In decades past, stations in small markets like Minot signed off at 10 PM to 11 PM quite normally. In such a case, not only was the signal was not on the air but there was also nobody in the building. And, of course, nobody was listening.. So an alert of any kind could not have been broadcast. With the new technologies, stations are on the air and authorities can initiate EAS alerts if they know how.. The train wreck was the railroad’s fault; the lack of a broadcast alert was the local government’s fault as stations are not legally allowed to initiate alerts themselves.

          2. The night DJ was not fired across the medium till after 1996. Yes automation has been here for a long time but the invisible nature of voicetracking and the “vampire economics” of massive debt are relatively new.

  13. In Jan 2000 I was working as a Staff Photographer for Kansas City Sports and Fitness. On Jan 23rd I was sent to Kaufman Stadium to get stock photos of Royals Manager Tony Muser after a winter workout with the team. As I was waiting it started to snow big white fluffy snowflakes, the kind photographers love as they show up better on film, yes film!
    I went down, got my photos, and started my drive home to St. Joseph. I tried to go north on 435 but it was closed because of an accident, as told by a police officer sitting there, ok, west on 70 so I can go north on 29/35, once again closed due to snow! I tried to call several radio stations to find out what the hell was going on, no answer as this was I believe a Saturday. I finally got on 29 north and ran into a hell of a traffic jam up by Platte City, when I finally got into the QT people were complaining about the traffic when a QT employee barked at all of us as to the 11 people that were killed on the Tracy curve (County Road H exit) and how we should be ashamed, I barked back that due to local radio NOBODY knew what was going on except for those directly involved and how radio dropped the ball on this one! Sadly this is the same snow storm that Derrick Thomas was injured in from his car wreck on 435.
    i do not blame a person for this, I blame corporate radio. I had the phone number for Metro Traffic and would report traffic jams or accidents, to help my fellow commuters on the St Joe-KC run, but no one answered those phones either.
    So does local radio have a responsibility to the community, hell yes!

  14. Thank you Kevin. I appreciate the support. Its a good feeling knowing that someone is behind me–as per my petition. I saw your vid and I am inspired. You have inspired me. I hope I have inspired you. Thank you for the energy to carry on this fight for local radio and TV. Keep in touch.

  15. First Kevin, THANK YOU for coming to New York to show this movie.

    Really, all I have to say is WOW…and not in a good way regarding the radio industry. You have certainly opened my eyes and gave me a deep education to what has gone wrong with radio, especially the corporate/capital partners angle of it all and how that has destroyed the local feel of radio to the community along with the lack of local support for artists since corporations have basically DICTATED to the stations not to play them.

    Seriously, everyone who follows music, those in the radio industry or had left, really NEEDS to see this documentary. It left me angry in the sense that corporations did this with no regard to people. And yeah, we the public need to do something about this.

  16. Will this film come to Seattle? Would love to see it. My husband and I are huge fans of local, community based radio.

  17. Isn’t this more corporate welfare? We (the public) finance the infrastructure, and Clear monopolizes it completely, makes it uniformly valueless, and we continue to subsidize a monopolized, useless product.
    Even “public” radio isn’t public any more. Programmers are terrified of offending the unaccountable, phantom cartel that actually controls the waves. Even Big Bird keeps his head down.
    I hope your film shows how this corrupt system works, and brings the big players out of the shadows.
    I miss radio, but there is very little “there”, there, anymore.

  18. In response to Ed & the rest, I had the opportunity to work with (The Real) Howard Johnson at Z-104 and he definitely had the right idea! The station was #1 although we weren’t the most powerful signal or had the best facility or most money to work with. We also had 50 signals pounding us from D.C. and Baltimore. What we did have was a dedication to making the station serve the local community; the community paid us back by being glued to our frequency.
    The corporate radio operators like CC and Cumulus only know how to cut cut cut and do “robot radio”. Same programming in all markets. Makes me puke when I think of how they’ve killed the “golden goose” that used to be Radio. Time spent listening declines reflect the damage. And the comments here about Radio as a source of News & Info during an emergency is spot on. Listeners can no longer rely on Radio.

    1. “What we did have was a dedication to making the station serve the local community; the community paid us back by being glued to our frequency.”

      Well spoken. If radio was owned by radio-people, it might have a chance to do this again, but not with the leveraged buyout barons who now try to squeeze profits out of it by acquiring and cutting instead of investing in an engaging product.

  19. A corporation bought up all our stations; they have duplicate formats on more than one. Guess which one was axed? The one with a liberal format, of course. (It’s sports now; there are several sports stations in our market.) Then a local labor union tried for awhile to broadcast the progressive format, but failed after a while. So now all that’s left is a one woman show 3 hrs a day M-F. “Fair and Balanced”, uh huh.

  20. Mr. McKinney:
    I recently bought a DVD of your movie. I got a note from (I believe) you saying that there was going to be an academic version. I was excited about that as I am a Professor at Cal State Univ. Monterey Bay, where I teach a course in Community Media and I run an Internet Radio Station. I have also worked with Prometheus in developing local radio stations.
    I would love to be in touch with you.
    Thank you,

  21. Thanks for the DVD. I have watched it twice. I have three people borrowing it this week. In the course of filming, I wonder if you had the opportunity to interview Topeka radio DJs Marshall Barber or Lou “Louie Louie” Constantino. Those two guys could have really given you an earful about the broadcasting industry.

    Here in Topeka we now have an internet only radio station, with commercials, that plays 1950-1960s rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm ‘n’ blues. There are three DJs there that previously worked at the oldies stations that we no longer have. The studio is located in a bar in a shopping mall. Shoppers can look through the window and see the studio. They even play “Chickenman” daily. This is quite an ambitious undertaking and probably cost more than the average fanboy could set up at home. Nice as this is, people still have radios in their cars and can’t listen to this station while driving like they would any other station. http://www.wrenradio.net

    1. Looks great. Yes corporate radio does not consider anyone over 54 worthy of terrestrial signal when it comes to music. They took broadcasting and replaced it with narrowcasting.

      1. Don’t blame radio for what is not radio’s fault. Advertisers, particularly the local, regional and agency accounts, do not seek consumers above 50 or above 55. There are many reasons for this, based mostly on poor return on investment, but the fact is that stations that cater to older listeners find that there is scant little revenue to support their endeavors. So stations that depend on ad revenue to continue operations can’t survive if they have predominantly older listeners. Again, this is not something big business or big radio imposed.

        1. Consolidators (and their consultants ie. David?) will blame everyone but themselves for their failing numbers. Prerecorded Boring Content = Less Advertisers. Run a survey on your listeners and it will show poor return on NO investment. We are not saying that radio should cater only to the older crowd. Radio should broadcast to a broad audience which includes the over 50 crowd. A good time to play to them is at 6AM when they are up before the rest of us.

          1. Older “listeners” are not up earlier than the rest of the population and there is no information to sustain such a position. In any event, most markets have so many stations (Thanks to Docket 80-90 and other FCC actions) that none can program effectively to a broad segment of the population. Stations have, since the FCC mandated an end to FM simulcasts in 1967, had to become more and more niche programmed. in order to carve out a viable segment of the audience. Oh, the surveys I have been a part of show people quite happy with their favorite radio stations, particularly as the brands become extended to new media with rich new content.

          2. The DJ’s that I interviewed spoke of older listeners driving the station numbers at 5AM. As for blaming the 80-90 docket for your poor numbers, anyone who blames local competition for not making it should not be in the business in the first place. Corporations and the their consultants will blame anyone but themselves for their poor numbers. What you fail to grasp is docket 80/90 saved your butt by giving listeners a reason to stay on the dial instead of turning it off when your station was not pleasing them. Competition is actually “Coopetition” because it keeps listeners in the same MEDIUM. Those same listeners tune back a few minutes later.

  22. Does anyone on MSNBC know about this? I would think Rachel, Ed, or Chris would take this ball and run with it. We need our media back ASAP!

  23. I’d love to see this film screened in Atlanta. We are home to the *WORST* FM programming, thanks to Clear Channel and Cumulus complete takeover of the FM dial. The majority of the corporate owned stations all play the SAME playlist of less than 200 songs, despite claiming to be different formats (Hot A/C, A/C, Top 40, etc). Most of the voice tracked corporate stations ignore vital news and weather events that have taken place. Gone are formats such as jazz, oldies, MOR- the corporate apologists like DAVID EDUARDO claim that no one wants to hear them.

    What people like DAVID EDUARDO fail to acknowledge is that is a PRIVILEGE to obtain a broadcast license, and at the end of the day, if your station doesn’t operate in the PUBLIC interest and SERVE the community it exists in, than these corporate swine do not DESERVE the licenses. It’s as simple as that- and the massive SCAM that RADIO ASSIST MINISTRY engaged in to move in FM translators (all of which are later to be sold to Clear Channel and Cumulus) is an example of just how ANTI-COMPETITIVE and downright sleazy these conglomerates are.

    Many of us have lost our careers, our futures and are out on the street so a handful of people can benefit- mainly the Dickeys and Bain Capital. Meanwhile, communities are losing out on the very fabric that LOCAL radio programming can provide- the internet can never replace LOCAL programs, supported by LOCAL advertisers, it’s a great circle broken NOT by the internet, but by leveraged buyouts and the desire of a few to destroy an industry while profiting all the way.

    If you want a great example of the epic failure of how corporate radio FAILED, ask anyone in New Jersey what the corporate slime that did not get washed off the air did- they kept on their automation and voice tracking during the worst hurricane to hit that part of the country in 200 years. What a shame, and a disservice. They should have their licenses pulled.

    Oh wait, these people own the FCC too. Nevermind. One day, the people in this country will WAKE UP and see how a handful of people are hard at work to end fair competition in the marketplace, by buying Congress and manipulating a system designed to allow everyone a chance at success.

  24. I think you have a overly romantic view of bygone radio, seriously, I have been in radio for 35 years and it has been heavily formatted and consulted for decades. In the 70’s we called it corporate superstars rock, in the 80’s it was manufacture MTV pop and boy bands in the 90’s. The tight formatting and lack of personality is nothing new, still there are still good DJ’s today who have a loyal fan base working within the corporate structure. Futuremore, active listeners express themselves moreso than today in huge numbers via social media and online streaming. In yesteryear, all there was a one line “suggestion line”. Also, it has been my experience that most, not all, radio stations in the past had off site owners who also owned radio stations in other markets and levaged their properties to buy even more stations in different markets. Local unsigned bands have more avenues to gain exposed than via AirPlay, many are promoted via online contest while listener vote and links to buy their music are provided. Local bands are also offen invited to play at rock festivals who national bands and as opening acts in smaller venues. Corporate radio is not killing radio, technology is giving consumers more options and the things like voice tracking, syndication and consolidation would be as much of reality had the law changed in 1996 or not. The real problem is less competition for ownership and the power and money is only provided for a select few and less competition not only in radio but in areas of bsuiness. It’s the Walmart/Traget effect.

    1. True yet false. While you are right that the problem is less competition. Stations have no motivation to be great when they are all owned by the same company. You totally miss the point of what makes radio more powerful than the internet. None of these other avenues have concentrated local audiences. You also do not see the connection between your point of less competition and why radio now is much much more heavily formatted than it was when you started 35 years ago. This isn’t romance, it’s an autopsy on an industry that has been killed by those who own it. While it is true that bands have many more technologies to use; it is facile to assume that any one of those technologies or all of them together can create the local critical mass that was once created by an alert alive local radio station. You are right that there have been crappy radio stations since radio began. But now we see an entire spectrum of lifeless automation. Today is Saturday in my home town and there is no live commercial radio on the entire spectrum. That’s criminal. They are not entertaining us nor serving the public good need or necessity. They drive us to our ipods. The lip service that corporate radio gives to local bands today on their web pages will never make up for the silence on the broadcast signal.

      1. Here in Poland also radio is fighting with presenters. But people praise it because hur durr too much spoken programming,nothing for young. Terrible. Third programme has to be third programme,not fourth one(that young dedicated)!

  25. We are working to establish an lpfm in rural area north of Kansas City. Our internet version goes online in a couple of weeks. I would love to talk to people in KC area who have similar goals.

  26. To me its simple..If a radio station is on the air..it should be a law that it has to have an on duty operator 24/7 365… that is in the bulding…What a concept huh??

    1. Consolidated radio will tell us that they do have someone in the building 24/7 356 for 8 stations at at time. That person is an engineer to ensure that the Arbitron machines don’t fail. The banks and private equity companies could care less about the programming (till they see the movie) 🙂

  27. Every city has there own 5 top local bands to play in rotation. In San Diego at that time they were Jewel, POD, Jason Mraz, Blink 182 and Switchfoot.

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