23 maggio 2008

Radio, rock, giornali e un guru molto discusso

La società editoriale Tribune, proprietario del Chicago Tribune e del LA Times, fa discutere per aver assunto, con l'incarico di rilanciare i quotidiani del gruppo nell'era di Internet, l'ex direttore artistico di XM Satellite Radio, Lee Abrams, reputato (da alcuni) un guru dei new media. Abrams è una personalità importante nel mondo della radio americana, ma il suo ruolo all'interno di una azienda radicata nella vecchia tradizione dei giornali cartacei non è ben vista da tutti. Anzi. Sui siti Internet cominciano a circolare i memo che Abrams invia ai "suoi" giornalisti con la mail interna. Sono pieni di banalità spaventose e denunciano una scarsa dimestichezza con un medium che starà anche morendo, ma non ha mica l'Alzheimer.
Approfondendo la questione salta fuori che Lee Abrams gode di incerta reputazione anche nel mondo della radio. Secondo un critico molto autorevole, Joe Carducci, l'ex responsabile della programmazione di XM porterebbe la grave responsabilità della "uccisione" di alcuni format radiofonici importanti, a incominciare dal rock puro (mal comune, mezzo gaudio verrebbe da dire confrontando le parole di Carducci - "dopo aver ammazzato la radio adesso Abrams è stato incaricato di ammazzare i giornali; li rimpiangerò come oggi rimpiango la radio" - con la storia italiana di RockFM). Perché dico che Carducci è un esperto? Intanto perché lo scrive Business Week. Poi perché su Wikipedia ho letto con molto interesse del libro scritto da Carducci sull'estetica del rock, uno dei primi studi di questo tipo. Pubblicato nel 1991 Rock and the pop narcotic è un tomo di oltre cinquento pagine e ora non mi resta che attendere con ansia che Christian me ne faccia un ponderato riassunto.
Questa storia di generi che muoiono mi è sembrata suggestiva e ho voluto condividerla con voi. Qui di seguito ecco i testi di InformationWeek e il velenoso post anti-abramsiano firmato dallo stesso Carducci. Non so Abrams riuscirà a rilanciare il Chicago Tribune o lo farà affondare come ha fatto con il format rock (sostituito dallo scialbo "adult contemporary"), so solo che Carducci fa notare alcune incongruità dei "microformat" della radio satellitare che mi hanno fatto riflettere.

Old Media Looks To A Radio Guru

Richard Martin, May 19, 2008 06:44 PM

Right now, among the beleaguered employees of the Tribune Co., the prevalent question (besides "Will I still have a job tomorrow?") is, "Who the hell does Lee Abrams think he is?"
Officially, Abrams is the newly hired "chief innovation officer" at Tribune, which owns the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, and a bunch of other newspapers plus 23 TV stations, including the WGN "Superstation." Abrams came over from XM Radio several months ago to try and revive Tribune's daily newspaper business, which is plummeting faster than an Indian rocket. Unfortunately, what he's done so far is mostly written a bunch of inane e-memos, which have inevitably made their way to the blogosphere.
As it happens, I spent a few days with Abrams a few years ago, trailing him for a feature on XM for Wired magazine. He's a roly-poly fellow with a Groucho Marx moustache, and he's a pioneer in "alternative" radio -- some would say he killed off alternative radio with the programmatic "adult-oriented rock" format, which he helped create. He's a very sharp guy, with a penchant for telling war tales about his hazy days with superbands like Yes, in the glory days of the 1970s. Unfortunately, judging from his Tribune memos, he also has a penchant for new-media clichés, often presented in ALL CAPS with lots of EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!


On Lee Abrams: Radio Down, Newspapers To Go

Posted Wed Mar 26 2:22pm PDT by Joe Carducci in The ARTHUR Blog

Lee Abrams introduced himself last week to the Tribune Company's employees as their new "innovation chief" with an all-caps headline:

His formulation predictably echoes one by Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone in 1974, wherein, juiced by the excitement of McGovern's recent 49-state loss to Richard Nixon, he declared,


Wenner was in essence admitting publicly his loss of interest in music (the mag soured on everything new but singer-songwriters by 1970), but he had already driven off the real politicos on the staff who'd wanted Rolling Stone to get behind the revolution of the Panthers, the Weathermen, et. al. That had been expressed as a defense of music (!?!). But Hunter S. Thompson's ability to revolutionize campaign reportage in 1972 led Rolling Stone from the west coast and rock and roll to New York in 1978, where Wenner rapidly devolved into just another clueless publisher trying to bell the cat--that beast out beyond the Hudson that kept electing Republicans and buying Rush albums.
Such bombast usually disguises its opposite. "It was the star trip all over again," Wenner's staff concluded according to Robert Sam Anson in his book, Gone Crazy And Back Again (Doubleday). Wenner's purpose had been to meet the Beatles, the Stones, and Bob Dylan and now his mind was wandering.
Lee Abrams' memo (posted at poynter.org) follows his abusive invocation of Rock with three bullet points headed: Soul, Art, and The economics.
He poses as coming from vital, innovative ROCK N ROLL!, when actually he was one of the handful of people who made their fortune destroying rock and roll radio and all but extinguishing vitality and innovation.
Beginning in January 1973 Burkhart-Abrams Inc. formatted, programmed, researched, and syndicated the music for nearly a thousand stations--Burkhart did the AM, Abrams did FM. In my first book I quoted Abrams from an interview he unwisely gave to Rolling Stone in 1977:

"We have about thirty-nine college students who worked 365 days of the year doing legwork distributing questionnaires about general music taste... They're distributed all over the country, mainly in shopping center type locations. We found that if we use music locations like concerts, we get a tremendous bias."

Yeah, a bias in favor of music: live rock and roll. This all dovetailed with the anxiety that punk rock was causing the now corporatized '60s ex-underground. Burkhart-Abrams simply deprived punk rock of oxygen and thereby all but killed rock and roll in the defense of established "Superstars"--their FM format's name. Today one hears the Ramones at major league sports events, but the Weirdos and hundreds more deserved airplay in that 17-year radio desert that ended briefly with Nirvana's breakthrough. With rock and roll safely underground once again, Abrams ditched music for Howard Stern, Steve Dahl and the morning zoo legions of guffawing drive-time buffoons.

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