|By A.D. Freudenheim||
2 June 2002
I do not typically hear much afternoon "drive time" radio; I am usually at work when these programs start, and I am without much of a commute anyway. Recently, however, I had a chance to hear a half-hour slice of the afternoon broadcast on Q104.3 (WAQX-FM) - and was amazed by what I heard coming from the station that bills itself as the only classic rock station serving the New York metropolitan area. Mixed in with the traffic update and the quick run-down on the top news stories was several minutes of intense reporting on the day's market activity. Going well beyond a simple recitation of the closing numbers for the various stock indices, DJ Ken Dashow launched into specific commentary on some of the day's hot stocks, new IPOs, and pieces of personality-cum-business news about CEOs or other prominent business figures.
I should not be surprised. The target demographic for classic rock in the New York metropolitan area probably overlaps significantly with the groups that care about market fluctuations; and quite possibly, this break from format helps keep listeners from straying during commercial breaks or songs they do not like. But it definitely seemed incongruous, to be spoon-fed market details between afternoon doses of Led Zepplin and the Rolling Stones - to be in the position of wondering if my retirement investments have gone up or down just as I'm listening to the "ka-ching" of cash registers announce the segue into the classic Pink Floyd song "Money."
This also fits a long pattern (long in terms of the economic boom of the 1990s, anyway) of infiltration of the business world into our daily lives, of media cross-over from the personal into the seemingly-professional, and vice versa. The plethora of internet and e-business magazines of the late 1990s were one example, since they often focused on the personalities behind businesses - in lieu of asking tough questions about non-existent business models. For the last year or so, CitiCorp has been running an advertising campaign championing the idea of proactively enjoying all of the money they can help you earn, complete with pithy slogans of the "you can't take it with you" variety. Even the Wall Street Journal recently made a series of design and format changes, the most significant of which seems to be the introduction of a new section, the "Personal Journal," apparently intended to reach out to Generation X and Baby Boomer readers in the same way as Q104.3's music-and-money strategy: by mixing the serious with the seriously palatable.
There is nothing wrong with this trend - assuming it is what media consumers truly demand. If the Journal's increased articles on the business of leisure activities or investing in personal real estate helps to ensure that readers come back for more, then why should they refrain from this kind of reporting? The same holds true for Q104.3; the station certainly has its place in the city's radio market, so why quibble over the insertion of business news in the programming mix if that's what the Lexus-driving Yuppies want to hear?
The bothersome aspect of this trend is that it makes the "business" part of the business of life that much harder to escape, fueling the already-constant sensibility that Americans work too much and do not have enough time to relax. Five or ten years ago, it was not difficult to be in an office for most of the day and miss the news of the world until after-work hours, when it was available by radio on the way home, on the evening news at dinner time, and maybe not even until the next day's morning paper. Now, with a near constant stream of information - and not just business information - available to most office workers for most of the day, the news is nearly inescapable, which should make leaving at the end of the day appealing for the potential escape it offers. Yet there is no escape if everything is shaded by the reflection of the markets' losses or gains; listening to the numbers, the unsubtle question being asked is: How successful was your day, really?
I may be prepared to answer that question, but not on those terms.
Copyright 2002, by A.D. Freudenheim.
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