FM by Richard Neer

FM

The Rise and Fall of Rock Radio
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A warmhearted memoir-cum-history of rock ’n’ roll radio’s glory days.

Neer, a New York–area broadcast veteran, was fortunate to begin his career just before simultaneous explosions in the national counterculture and in FM radio’s commercial potential. (His techie-oriented tangents explain how “frequency modulation” broadcasting with superior sound quality, available for decades, was shunted aside so that companies like RCA could maintain their AM-based monopolies.) “In 1966,” he writes, “free-form radio was in its infancy on commercial airwaves.” While the payola scandals of the 1950s had hobbled the earliest rock DJs, the low expectations of corporate license owners for their nascent FM subdivisions fueled a brief, ultra-subversive era in which the antics of low-budget stations like the infamous WFMU stoked competition among corporate-owned, Manhattan-based competitors WPLJ and WNEW (Neer’s home). Neer depicts with nostalgic relish the glory days of free-form radio (through approximately 1980), which coincided with the prime years for what’s now considered “classic rock.” Because FM radio support was then essential to “breaking” records, DJs like Scott Muni, Pete Fornatele, Vin Scelsa, and Neer himself enjoyed substantial clout in the industry and palled around with groundbreaking musicians from Bruce Springsteen to Gene Simmons. (The celebrity anecdotes—George Harrison turning his home into a hostel for stranded DJs, Elton John’s salacious on-air improvisations—offer some funny moments.) Later, he maintains a cold restraint in detailing the short-sighted, bean-counting programming strategies handed down by broadcasting conglomerates that grew powerful thanks to 1980s deregulation. Companies like Infinity first revoked the DJs’ prized creative autonomy, then tinkered endlessly with tightly circumscribed formats, alienating listeners. Ultimately, Neer’s generation of pioneering jocks were fired en masse in the 1990s, as WNEW pursued a ridiculous “half-alternative, half-classic” format that sounded its death knell.

A good sense of the rock and radio personalities of the era, though Neer’s surfeit of detail may turn off all but the truly obsessive.

Pub Date: Sept. 25th, 2001
ISBN: 0-679-46295-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Villard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2001