How are those New Year's resolutions doing, three weeks in to 2022?
I thought so. My will power was decimated in Las Vegas at CES. And for those of you struggling with your best laid plans, a trip to the junk drawer may be just the thing.
In today's post, we sift around through the nuggets and artifacts to find radio stories that will hopefully fascinate, while making you more interesting at football watching parties, the ski lodge, and other January events.
In spite of the tsunami of digital media news, radio still makes headlines, albeit odd ones. And that's precisely what we've dug out of the JacoBLOG junk drawer.
Item #1: Keep on truckin' – Here's one you may have missed. There is part of the Infrastructure Bill passed last November that could affect radio. No, there were no updates about deregulation in this legislation. But there was one item that caught our attention.
The minimum age for truck driving has been 21 years-old for years and years. But thanks to effective lobbying from groups like the American Trucking Association, 18 year-olds can now enroll in an apprentice program that will lead them down the highway to become a professional trucker.
According to a story in Quartz, the Secretary of Transportation – Mayor Pete Buttigeig – was required to launch a program last week, certifying as many as 25,000 18-20 year-old would-be truckers. Part of the motivation revolves the difficulty of recruiting anyone to drive a truck these days. There are estimates that as many 80,000 trucker job openings are going unfilled, part of the supply chain issues the country is enduring.
What does this have to do with radio? Well, thousands of young long-distance truck drivers might be looking for some nighttime entertainment – something to keep them company and the highways and interstates of America. Your Spotify playlist will only distract you for so long. Truckers throughout the last century relied on radio entertainment to pass the time…and the miles.
But why not a contemporary host for all those truckers. Broadcast radio still has some wonderful personalities in the night hours – jocks like Screamin' Scott (WRIF), Jacky Bam Bam (WMMR), and the syndicated marvel, Greg Beharrell. Whether you drive a big rig or not, there's opportunity for entertainers and companions on the radio waves, even though broadcasters now focus on what is referred to as “prime time” for radio – 6am-7pm.
In the same way the industry leaves money on the table by not targeting those under 25 or their parent over 54 with appropriate formats, you have to wonder whether giving up on radio after dark isn't another lost opportunity.
We ought to give that influx of new truckers under 21 someone or something interesting to listen to.
Item #2 – “Clean-up on aisle three” – You've heard that line before, but seldom uttered by a real professional voice. It turns out the world's largest company (based on revenue) has a thing for radio. I wrote a blog post that mashup between the big retailer and radio: “Tune It In And Rip The Knob Off – It's Walmart Radio.”
Even Art Vuolo and Sean Ross may have missed Walmart Radio, an in-store station aimed at both “associates” and customers, hosted by real live DJs (in an odd variety of dayparts).
And now, there's good news on the hiring front. Walmart Radio is looking for their next superstar – someone with the challenging job of entertaining both the Walmart rank-and-file, as well as the retailers' massive customer base. Yes, we're talking a cume audience bigger than Z100's, KIIS-FM's, and WTOP's respective listeners.
And you have to love the Walmart ad‘s wording that ran the day after Christmas:
“On December 26, just as folks were gathering wrapping paper remnants and sipping the last of their holiday eggnog, Walmart launched a nationwide search for – wait for it – a DJ. Yes, A DJ. As in radio disc jockey and on-air personality.”
It turns out Walmart radio had been off the air for a while, and associates have demanded their radio station back. Unfortunately, for most of you reading this post, you're not eligible because you don't already work at Walmart.
Interested associates were asked to submit a 4-minute video (?) explaining why they should be Walmart's newest DJ. As the ad from the station's marketing manager, Russell Bloodworth, stipulates, the winner will go to work full-time for Walmart Radio, receive benefits, as well as a “relocation package” to company headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.
As the ad concludes, “Most people don't associate Walmart with a career in radio., but this individual will have an audience of one million listening on Day 1.”
Take that Bobby Bones, Elvis Duran, and Ellen K.
Item #3 – Jailhouse Rock – Many radio DJs have fans that are incarcerated, but now the tables may be turning. In 2020, death row prisoners in a Polk County, Texas penitentiary petitioned their warden to get an FM station. They're not allowed to write letters to one another, but they can communicate via 106.5 FM – The Tank, a low power station that comes in loud and clear within the foreboding walls of the prison. Inmates can write essays and poems the chaplain delivers right to the air studio.
One of the jocks is Ramy Hozaifeh – aka “Megamind” – whose mission is to entertain and provide inspiration to the 200 men on Texas' death row. Yes, they are truly a captive audience, isolated in their cells – no common meals or time in the yard – so the radio station has become an important conduit.
The Tank has only been on the air since 2020, an effort by members of the “community” to have something in their lives that mattered. Warden Daniel Dickerson gave the green light to the station, which he sees as a communication tool for the inmates. Plus, it's something accessible to all his residents – essentially a cume rating of 100% within the Allan B. Polunsky Unit:
“They may not all have TV, but everyone has a radio. And anybody who's been on a cell block knows some folks will turn the radio up loud enough where even if you didn't have one, you're probably going to hear it anyway.”
Imagine that – a PPM-friendly radio station, albeit behind bars.
For the residents of this prison with little hope and no future, The Hawk has been a godsend. As Dickerson proudly notes in a great story that first appeared in The Guardian:
“It's your own little prison city radio station. And you can walk around and see the change in people.”
The Hawk is block programmed – it plays rap on Mondays, Latin music on Tuesday, R&B (“Smooth Groove”) on Sundays, and even a night for alternative music. (No, they don't call it ALT.) The Hawk also broadcasts religious services, suicide prevention shows, a Biblical rap show, a program about stock tips, and even movie soundtracks.
Journalist Keri Blakinger wrote the story, one that I recommend you read, especially if you've had a tough week at your station. She interviewed John Henry Ramirez, scheduled to be executed the next week. He lives for this radio station, spending his time baring his soul on a station that generates a unique buzz:
“It's become such a huge part of Polunsky. You should hear all the people talking about it.”
And he had this message for his partners in crime, part of the GP – “General Population.” They have the freedom to hang out with each other, unlike his comrades on death row:
“We alone, we all by ourselves…From all that I took out of the world, all the negative I did, all the people I hurt…all that selfish carelessness that I did an an idiot little kid, now I got to pay for it as a man. For years now, the only thing I could do was make it about everyone else. Because (the station) is important to me, man. It's important to me and that's all I can do. I'm alone. I'm alone in that cell. That's all I can do is give you my words.”
On the night he was to be executed, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear Ramirez' appeal. His execution is on hold, and he's back at Polunsky.
And he's listening to The Hawk.
You can hear Keri Blakinger tell her story to NPR's Ailsa Chang here.
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