One of radio’s dirtiest words: “Familiar’

Believe it or not, some radio consultants get paid way too much to give advice along the lines of, “You have to play songs that are familiar. If listeners hear something they don’t recognize, they’ll change the station (probably to your main competitor!).”
This is why classic rock stations play the same 200 songs every week and Won’t Get Fooled Again pops up enough to make you hate it.
Well, almost.
To paraphrase one of my favourite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, familiar can go “take a flying fuck at a rolling donut.”
That image always makes me laugh, perhaps because I have an overactive imagination. The hell with “Think outside the box.” I’ve never been in the box, and I can picture a guy flying through the air and aiming his pecker at that donut.
No, I have not been taking any illegal drugs tonight, but I have downed a few glasses of shiraz.
But back to this “familiar” business. On the Rock and Roll Riot, I spin many classics from Hound Dog and Lucille to Rock Around the Clock and Great Balls of Fire.
On the flipside, I’ve also played tunes by–and don’t feel bad if you don’t recognize the names, I didn’t know many of them until the past 10 years or so—Wynonie Harris, Ella Mae Morse, Tiny Bradshaw, Asleep at the Wheel, The Swingin’ Neckbreakers and The Detroit Cobras.
Why? Am I not afraid people will hit the seek button to find something they’ve heard before?
I give Riot fans more credit than that. I’ve always taken the approach that if, for example, you like The Beatles, you may want to hear the artists that inspired them, or Fab Four covers of tunes by Larry Williams, Carl Perkins or Eddie Fontaine.
We all have our favourites and I will admit, there are times I want to hear “Layla.” As a matter of fact, the original Derek & The Dominoes song is my all-time favourite and I have a vivid memory of the first time I heard Duane Allman and Eric Clapton’s amazing guitar collaboration. I was maybe 13 years old and playing ping pong with my friend, Mike Volpe. The solid state radio blasted those opening notes and I was overcome with a feeling of, “Wow, what is that?”
It wasn’t familiar. It was brand new to my ears so here’s hoping plenty of contemporary and emerging artists…and many of those obscure performers I play…get their chance to find an audience.

About johnnymaraca

sole proprietor of Maraca Media, former radio host (Johnny Maraca's Rock & Roll Riot), copywriter and producer and a print journalism grad.
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