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The echoes of radio, radio

Long Story Short



In the annals of Saturday Night Live history, it wasn't nearly as obvious as, say, Sinead O'Connor ripping up a photo of the pope. But Elvis Costello's 1977 performance of "Radio Radio" still managed to cause a behind-the-scenes shitstorm.

Sure, the song took a couple good jabs at the broadcasting industry, but Costello's accent would have made them indecipherable to Americans anyway. In any case, NBC demanded that Costello and his band play something else They reluctantly agreed, went onstage, played seven seconds of "Less Than Zero," stopped the music, and launched into "Radio Radio."

Afterward, producer Lorne Michaels banned Costello for life, which in SNL years meant until 1989.

In retrospect, it's hard to imagine an industry being so thin-skinned, especially given how callous its own behavior can be. With few exceptions, corporate radio monoliths have brought about the "vast wasteland" that former Federal Communications Commission chairman Newton Minow once feared in television. One could also argue that public radio stations, while not as vast or wasted, are becoming increasingly homogenized.

All of which brings us to this week's cover story, beginning here, about low-power FM stations. Later this month, the FCC will be giving community groups the opportunity to start their own non-commercial radio outfits.

The idea is to promote diversity, something the agency has played a historical role in taking away. And if that happens to bring some unlicensed pirate stations overground, so that the agency can devote less time to tracking them down, so much the better.

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