Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Free Stuff

Radio people are notorious for getting free stuff. It’s ingrained in our DNA. It’s how the business used to work, until Alan Freed got busted for payola, the bankers grabbed the Radio stations, Enron imploded, and Sarbanes-Oxley wormed its way into the control room. 

You would not believe what’s behind even the simplest of on-air giveaways. I predict the RTV course curriculum of the future will include a mandatory two-semesters of forensic accounting, just to be able to understand and execute Radio promotions.

Brent Clanton on the air at
KPEZ-FM, Austin, Texas c.1987
When I was a young pup in music Radio, we loved it when the Record guys would come to visit. It was rumored that some of the “gifts” they bestowed could not be found in any store (wink, wink), but were sure to please (nudge, nudge) in return for favoring an up-and-coming musical talent…or act, as the case may have been. “Musical talent” and “musical act” were mutually-exclusive terms back then, too.

One of the regular perks was to be allowed to “shop” in the prize closet, back in the day, acquiring a pretty decent music library of my own in the process. 
I still have more CD’s than most Radio stations’ current playlists (a source of personal frustration, and the subject of another post at a later time.)

Radio people are still offered free stuff. 
We get to see movies, shows, grand openings, and previews before anyone else. 
Or we at least will get a row or two of seats roped-off so we don’t have to elbow with the masses for a place to sit. 

I am still sent books by publishers, still receive coupons for meals at new restaurants, and have had brand new cars delivered to the parking garage for my use for days at a time. 

The freebies always came with conditions, though; strings were attached: 
You had to talk about (or with) the newest artist to hit the scene, whether their stuff was any good or not; prattle-on about the new restaurant that just slung 20-pounds of food into the Radio station’s kitchen;  or make credible claims about why you’d buy that Merkur Turbo-sled tomorrow (if you weren’t still making payments on the ’76 Honda parked behind the transmitter shack.)

Tickets to performances were similarly conditioned: screenings on a school night (rough for morning show hosts) or matinee performances the only ones open to the Press. You could take a date, but the date had to be on a weeknight. Free albums and CD’s were shrink-wrapped from the factory, with virgin vinyl or polycarbonate discs…with holes drilled in the jewel cases, or slots carved into the record covers. There was always a catch; it was free, but it was marked.

A few years back I decided Free is not all it’s cracked up to be. 
I got tired of the conditional ownership of the freebies, weary of wearing a wardrobe that was comprised of free shirts bearing the logos of bands, advertisers, or the station for which I was working that month. I also began to develop a sense of appreciation for the work that went into the creative, productive process, and began to view my taking of freebies as somewhat insulting to artists I genuinely respected and appreciated…for their talent, and not for what their PR pimp could give me for free. 

I began to buy their products. 
Actually spend money for a book, an album, a meal, a service. 
And you know what—it felt good.

Cannot get this CD
out of my car player!
With that change of perspective, I discovered the freedom of really showing  my appreciation to those I truly enjoyed by contributing to the livelihood of the musician, author, or craftsman. This renaissance of attitude also freed me to go places, do things, and participate in what I wanted, when I wanted…no strings attached.

I recently bought a copy of Esperanza Spalding’s latest CD after seeing her win a Grammy for “Best New Artist.” She beat out that Justin Beiber punk, and some other strong competition. 
I was impressed.           
I showed my respect for her talent by buying her CD. 
And you know what—it felt good.