Media consolidation has had some strange side-effects. One
little change I've observed may suggest there are some potholes-(call
them censorship or just an abundance of caution)-in the new
Listeners to 'smooth jazz' radio stations probably know the
name and music of Michael Franks. He's recorded with Warner
or Reprise since 1976, and his "Best Of" disk, "A
Backward Glance," appeared late last year. Franks' calm,
sometimes breathy and seductive voice comes through softly,
via the back door. His music is influenced by bossa nova and
other jazzy styles, and his lyrics are often complex and filled
with subtle innuendo.
One of the songs that was heard frequently here in LA on
KTWV has innuendo that's not so subtle. Sample "Popsicle
Toes," from 1976's "The Art of Tea":
How come you always load
When I'm in the nude?
We ought to have a
And you can wear your
Then we can hit the floor and
go explore those
"Popsicle Toes," which was always a slightly naughty
treat, could be heard a couple of times a week on KTWV for
years-before it vanished completely from the playlist about
two years ago. I didn't immediately notice 'Popsicle Toes'
was gone, but because it's so unique, it's absence made me
aware that all of Frank's music (which was in moderate rotation),
had vanished with it. In the spring, I asked my sister, who
lives in New York and listens to smooth jazz on WKTU, if she'd
heard any of Michael Franks' songs lately. "No...come
to think of it..." she said, as I'd expected her to.
My observation seems a tiny support to the findings of the
Future of Music Coalition, as reported in the LA Times on
January 3rd. This group of musicians, indie record company
executives and consumer advocates, finds that ownership consolidation
has had an effect on playlists. With only two companies controlling
42% of US radio, "...consolidation has resulted in less
variety of music being played on the radio, shorter playlists,
homogenization of playlists, and less local music being broadcast."
The group, whose report was issued in late 2001, also polled
500 people, and found that 6 out of 7 respondents said they
preferred "a long...playlist that provides them with
a greater variety of songs and less repetition..."
One last observation. Natalie Cole's new release, the Grammy
nominated "Ask A Woman Who Knows," includes her
cover of the Michael Franks song "When I Give My Love
to You," which is receiving the airplay a Grammy contender
might be expected to receive. When I heard it on KTWV a couple
of weeks back, I heard Franks' name mentioned three times
in the DJ's outro of the song. Like something whispered over
the transom, perhaps this was a reminder to listeners that
Michael Franks-and who knows how many others-may not be getting
much airplay, but they are neither forgotten, nor gone.