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BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. The latest under-aged drinking incident involving presidential daughter Jenna Bush has created understandable unease in the White House, some of which has played out in the briefing room. Houston Chronicle reporter Bennett Roth was chastised by the administration for asking a question press secretary Ari Fleischer deemed off limits. The tempest began in a briefing following President Bush's discussion of parental roles in dealing with substance abuse. Ben Roth, what was the indelicate question?
BENNETT ROTH: Considering the president's, you know, urging this parental involvement I said has he talked to his own children about drugs and drinking, and then I said and considering his daughter was recently cited for underage drinking, isn't that a sign that sometimes parents can't have the influence that they, they may hope to have? Ari Fleischer then bristled; sort of dodged the question and said well I hope that, you know, the press doesn't go there and respects the privacy and, and then that was the end of the press conference and, and he left.
BOB GARFIELD: But it's what followed the press briefing that is particularly unsettling.
BENNETT ROTH:Yeah-- about maybe two hours later I got a call from Ari Fleischer and who immediately told me that he thought I was out of bounds in asking the question; that none of the other national press had gone there about the questioning of - you know - that the lives of the daughters and-- he said it had been in quote "noted in the building that I had asked the question."
BOB GARFIELD:Nobody else "went there." Is there anyone in the press corps who objects to asking questions about Jenna Bush's brushes with the law?
BENNETT ROTH: Well, I - there are some of my colleagues who I think are very uncomfortable with it, and I'm not totally comfortable with it myself. I mean, I mean it's always - you always feel a little bit, you know, squeamish about this, and there are some colleagues who do really feel that we shouldn't be, you know, getting involved in these daughters. I mean they didn't run for, for the office, and for the most part I agree with that. However you do have the, the issue that they were arrested. There was a citation, and that, I think that changes the issue.
BOB GARFIELD: You say that he told you it was-- your question "had been noted" in the White House. That's a not-so-veiled threat, isn't it?
BENNETT ROTH:I took it that way, and of everything he said that was the thing that bothered me the most. I mean that was a, that w-- that was a kind of a bullying tactic I thought was a little out of bounds on his part. I mean he has a perfect right not to like the question and call me and talk to me about it but to sort of say that well if you ask these kind of questions, we're, we're you know - keeping lists or things like that.
BOB GARFIELD: And c-- not to sic the IRS on you but maybe to freeze you out of-- reporting opportunities or something like that?
BENNETT ROTH:Well I mean that was the kind of funny thing and king of liberating thing about it. I mean the - this administration has not been-- very open or, or easy to get information from to begin with. They're pretty parsimonious with the information they parcel out, so you know there's not much they can really do to you, because they don't, they don't give you a whole lot.
BOB GARFIELD: How have your colleagues responded and is there anybody who's coming to your defense in the White House press corps?
BENNETT ROTH:A lot of people were coming to my defense. I would say most people. And, and other people have had similar incidents happen to them; it just didn't happen to get leaked to the, to the Washington Post, which I didn't do, but I mean it did get out and I think other people felt that they had, you know, suffered similar kind of-- tongue lashings from Ari and that they felt that, you know, this was a sign that maybe this was more of a pattern than they had thought. But most, it was mostly supportive! I mean there's this feeling that we should be able to ask any question we want, and you know, they don't have to answer it, but this idea that there's certain questions that are out of bounds I think strikes all of us as-- just not, not, not right.
BOB GARFIELD: Does the president have a nickname for you?
BENNETT ROTH: Not [LAUGHS] yet. I don't know if I'll get close enough to him [LAUGHS] these days for him to give me one.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, in that event, Slim, thank you for joining us.
BENNETT ROTH: Thanks!
BOB GARFIELD: Bennett Roth is the White House correspondent for the Houston Chronicle. Fleischer Responds
BOB GARFIELD: Ari Fleischer, welcome to On the Media.
ARI FLEISCHER: Thank you. Good to be here.
BOB GARFIELD: Bennett Roth believes that you were trying to intimidate him. Were you?
ARI FLEISCHER: Well if that's-- very odd. He never said anything like that to me when we talked. In fact he told me he appreciated hearing from me, and he even acknowledged directly to me that next time he thought maybe he should ask the question in private rather than ask it at a briefing owing to the family's sensitivities of such a personal question.
BOB GARFIELD: What did you mean by "noted in the" White House.
ARI FLEISCHER:Every reporter should understand a question like that will get noted inside the White House, because people thought it was an inappropriate question! Obviously so. And I called to let him know that! There, there's an interesting phenomenon in Washington. There's a tendency for reporters sometimes when they talk to press secretaries, they kind of tuck their tails in a little bit, but then they talk to their [LAUGHS] journalist colleagues, they puff out their chests, and I think frankly that's what's happened here.
BOB GARFIELD:Mr. Roth says that it seemed like a perfectly natural question considering the circumstances with Jenna and the discussion that the president just was having on the very subject of parents and their kids discussing substance abuse. I'm stunned frankly that you or anyone else was shocked by the juxtaposition of the question--
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
ARI FLEISCHER: Because-- the context of the question really wasn't--
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BOB GARFIELD: -- and the press event!
ARI FLEISCHER: -- the president's speech on drug abuse. The context was will you share with us what the president has said to his daughter. I think that on a matter like this most people believe that the fact that there was an incident that involved the law is and should be reportable and the White House has never raised any objections to that. Where the White House has objected and will continue to object is when reporters then seek to pin off of that - to find out what a man who's the president of the United States says to his child in a father/daughter relationship.
BOB GARFIELD:Well here's an alternative approach on this: what if a reporter asks a question that he or she deems relevant and the politician or the spokesman for the politician simply declines to answer and accepts that the reporter was doing what he perceived to be his job and the spokesman doing what he perceived to be his and-- no sense of betrayal or someone stepping out of line.
ARI FLEISCHER: There are times when press secretaries should, and I will continue to do so, politely and directly tell reporters if I think they have asked something that they should think twice about. That's always been the practice in the White House between the White House press secretary and the press corps. I think what's important is that at all times be done professional, and reporters appreciate that.
BOB GARFIELD: Ari Fleischer, thanks for joining us.
ARI FLEISCHER: Well thank you. My pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD: Ari Fleischer is the press secretary for President George W. Bush. AIDS in the Media
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This week marks the 20th anniversary of a report by federal scientists that noted the emergence of a disease we'd later know as AIDS. The anniversary has initiated a spasm of retrospection by the media which has been assessing the impact of AIDS on the arts, behavior, activism and research. On the Media's Amy Eddings attended a forum in which the audience put the media itself under the microscope!
AMY EDDINGS: Larry Kramer's message for the activists and journalists at Newsweek Magazine's Forum on Two Decades of AIDS was bleak.
LARRY KRAMER: You, what you have to do is, is you have to find a way to save the world if an apocalypse is about to happen or whatever, and that sounds hyperbolic, and it's true.
AMY EDDINGS: Kramer thinks saving the world from AIDS is the media's job. It's certainly been his. HIV positive since 1981, he founded the Gay Men's Health Crisis and Act Up and he writes prodigiously about the epidemic. He's featured in Newsweek, as is researcher Dr. Seth Berkley who expressed frustration at the slow pace of research.
DR. SETH BERKLEY: No vaccine has been fully tested anywhere in the world to see if it works against HIV! Now to me that's shocking! You just heard - this is the worst plague since the 13th Century, and we're just getting around to testing some vaccines after many, many, many years of pushing them through development.
AMY EDDINGS: He says this is partly due to the breathtaking complexities of HIV and how it turns a person's own immune system against itself. But Dr. Berkley, Larry Kramer and others in the room also believe the political will hasn't been generated to get the job done. Newsweek's editor Mark Whitaker says the media doesn't create that will by itself.
MARK WHITAKER: I mean in our society, priorities are driven largely not by the media or even by the public sector; I mean to some degree but also -- and we're doing our part, and I think you can't fault us for not paying attention to this crisis over the last 20 years -- but by the private sector.
LARRY KRAMER: I can fault you for that! [LAUGHTER] [APPLAUSE] I mean it's got to be paid attention to every day! You know you don't - a plague doesn't go away for 4 issues; it gets worse!
AMY EDDINGS: Many at the forum agreed with activist Ann Northrup who told the panel that even when the media does cover the crisis it ignores the politics.
ANN NORTHRUP: The United States at this very moment is doing everything it can to stop any advance on stopping this plague. It is suing Brazil. It is-- [APPLAUSE] sub-- refusing to let money go to the purchase of generic versions of the drugs. And I can't tell you how angry it makes us-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
MAN: And our government is supporting it!
ANN NORTHRUP: -- that you keep doing these stupid stories about the medicine when it's all about the politics! And I....
AMY EDDINGS: Then came the new drugs which delay the onset of AIDS. Headlines spoke of breakthroughs and remarkable recoveries and new hope. Many feel those stories set back AIDS research and encouraged the current rise in risky behavior among young gay men and others. Newsday's Laurie Garrett believes many of her colleagues, hungry for something new to report, lacked the proper skepticism about the drug cocktails. She also chides journalists for their short memory about AIDS developments. But unlike activist Larry Kramer, Garrett does not believe it is the media's job to "save the world from the epidemic."
LAURIE GARRETT: If you really felt that it was a state of emergency - it's not your role to be an advocate for a particular position - but to give that level of coverage - it's the quantity of the coverage and the depth at which you pursue the story that's really the issue.
AMY EDDINGS: For Dr. Robert Blendon, professor of health policy at Harvard's School of Public Health, the media's coverage has influenced America's awareness of AIDS.
DR. ROBERT BLENDON: The media effect can be most shown when asked about what are the top health problems for the world -- essentially AIDS ties with cancer. So the fact that so many Americans would identify AIDS as one of the top health problems of the world is strictly a media effect. They would have no experience. They'd have no way of knowing that.
AMY EDDINGS: A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found nearly all Americans know that HIV can be transmitted through unprotected sex and sharing intravenous needles. Through the media AIDS has become a part of our culture, written about in Bruce Springsteen songs; dramatized in plays like Angels in America, movies like Philadelphia and campaigned against with the help of red ribbons, charity bike rides and walkathons. Two thirds of Americans in the Kaiser survey said the government should do more, but Harvard's Dr. Blendon says translating this awareness into dollars -- lots of dollars --will require both editorial opinion and political leadership to convince the public that this is a threat beyond all other threats. They would have to see AIDS not only as an epidemic, says Dr. Blendon, but as a war. For On the Media, I'm Amy Eddings.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Coming up, a Serbian journalist gets no honor for accepting an award; the working poor drop under the radar and amateur sportscasters call games on the Net.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media from National Public Radio. B92
June 9, 2001
BOB GARFIELD: The War in Serbia has been over for two years. The Slobodan Milosevic regime for six months. But the echoes in Serbian society still resound, in the media no less than anyplace else. One such reverberation involves B92, the independent radio and TV network that alone among Serbian broadcast media defied Milosevic to report on the systematic destruction from within of the Serbian nation. A hero of that journalistic struggle is Boyana Lekic who risked death as B92's highest-profile reporter and interviewer. Among those she exposed were the notorious Karic brothers -- a family of war profiteers who fabulously wealthy working hand in glove with the Milosevic regime. But recently the Karic family's connection to Boyana Lekic took a new turn in the form of a cash journalism prize and she has left her job as a result. Joining me now to discuss the situation is Nejbusha Sammardjic, a lawyer representing the Association of Electronic Media in Belgrade.
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC: It's nice to talk to you.
BOB GARFIELD: Let's talk about the Karic brothers for a moment. These men are unabashedly war profiteers, are they not?
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC: There is no doubt they are war profiteers. They started as poor musicians from Kosovo 11 years ago and became enormous millionaires. You can't become millionaire in a state which, which is undergoing sanctions and economic problems without being very close to Milosevic himself.
BOB GARFIELD: And in the post-Milosevic era they're trying to re-invent themselves as entrepreneurs and freedom fighters?
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC:They tried to wash their hands of everything that has to do with Milosevic, in cooperation with Milosevic. They want to show off as people who have gained their wealth according to the law. That's why they founded few years ago Karic Foundation-- which is giving all sorts of money awards. Sometimes these go to academics; sometimes to scientists, sometimes to journalists.
BOB GARFIELD: Now tell me about Boyana Lekic.
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC:Boyana Lekic for sure was a symbol of B92's struggle against Milosevic's regime and she is a good journalist, very popular. She--interviewed almost all opposition politicians, but also politicians within the Milosevic's regime. She was not afraid to question them. She for sure is a symbol of independent journalists.
BOB GARFIELD: And lo and behold, one of the latest recipients of a large cash award care of the Karic Brothers Foundation was-- Boyana Lekic.
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC:Yeah. Boyana was one of three people awarded, and she decided to go there and to receive the award. The fact that Boyana received the Karic award for independent and professional journalism had an enormous reaction from all sides of society. A, a lot of journalists within B92 thought that in a way that was a treason. And finally after ten days of various public statements, TV shows, interviews, Boyana have come to a decision that she would, for the time being, leave the post of editor in chief and B92 television.
BOB GARFIELD:Now it has often been observed that in Serbia, particularly through the Milosevic era, hardly anybody was pure. There were always connections to people who were in one way or another doing business with the regime. Isn't that the case?
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC: Yeah, I would agree with that. I mean the basis of Milosevic's regime is to form a criminal society in, in which every citizen would in a way be criminal because in order to survive he or she would have to broke some laws, so the reaction over this Karic award this year was so huge because if there are people who are clean, Boyana Lekic is one of them.
BOB GARFIELD:The fact that Boyana Lekic, this hero of independent journalism, has decided ultimately to accept the award in the first instance and then not to return it after the controversy, what does that tell us?
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC: Well I can tell you what Boyana explained as her reason to accept the award. She told the public, she told me personally that the reason to go there and receive the award in public is that she wanted to show the hypocrisy of the society, because-- so many public figures are involved in Karic Foundation, and so many public figures were present when he awards were given, and nobody has criticized them. That was her idea. I really don't understand why she did it. I would prefer if she never received that award.
BOB GARFIELD: What effect will it ultimately have for journalism in Serbia?
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC:Well-- the fist immediate effect it could have was the possible destruction of B92 credibility and-- B92 itself, but I think even Boyana has helped a lot that all other B92 journalists stay together in this and-- I think-- after all it would only have impact on Boyana's personal and career in life.
BOB GARFIELD: And what about that impact? Will she work as a journalist in Serbia after this?
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC:She is a journalist [...?...] and she will always have the audience, whatever she decides to do. Personally I, I really - I admire Boyana. She is a brave woman. She faced Milosevic's regime and she was in a lot of trouble and she has never been scared and she continued fighting. I say I'm very sorry that she has decided to receive that award. I am not judging her. And I hope that she will return as-- a journalist very soon to--Serbian [...?...].
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Well thank you very much.
NEJBUSHA SAMMARDJIC: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Nejbusha Sammardjic is a lawyer representing the Association of Electronic Media in Serbia. Ehrenreich
June 9, 2001
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Journalist and critic Barbara Ehrenreich has just written a book about how the "other half" lives. I mean that half -- and I use the term colloquially -- of those of us who are poor. A fact that goes under-reported, she says, is that having a job doesn't rescue a person from poverty. Twenty percent of the homeless have full or part-time jobs, and according to the Conference of Mayors, 67 percent of adults requesting food aid are people with jobs. Her book, Nickel and Dimed: about (not) getting by in America focuses on the working poor. Barbara Ehrenreich, welcome to the show!
BARBARA EHRENREICH: Glad to be with you!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In Nickel and Dimed you went under cover, so to speak.
BARBARA EHRENREICH: Yes. I wasn't really under cover. I was using my own name and so forth, but the idea was or-- initially just simply to see if I could make enough money in entry level jobs to live on for a month at a time and I tried this in three different cities. Ended up working as a waitress, a hotel housekeeper; a nursing home aide; a Wal-Mart floor clerk and a maid with a housecleaning service.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What was the reaction to your book?
BARBARA EHRENREICH: I'm, I'm amazed at the response! That there is a lot of interest in it and that a lot of people are quite surprised.
BARBARA EHRENREICH: People were surprised that there were poor people out there?!
BARBARA EHRENREICH:I, I think there is an element of that, yes, in the reception to the, the book. Focus in the media tends to be on those more sensational things that the so-called underclass does. You know very poor people will get into the news if they commit a crime, or neglect or abandon their children or take drugs or something. But the, the much larger number of people who are the working poor --they don't get a lot of attention in the media!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Have you tried to write on this subject before?
BARBARA EHRENREICH:Oh! Oh, again and again and again. I mean it's really pushing up hill. A few years ago I was pitching a story on Women in Poverty to a - an editor of a major national magazine that will go unnamed, and we were out on one of those, you know, luxurious lunches and-- he was really visibly bored with the, with my idea and sort of rolling his eyes, and finally we get to the, you know, the end of the lunch and he said okay, Barbara! Do your thing on poverty, but make it upscale. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Upscale poverty. What is that?
BARBARA EHRENREICH:I, I don't know! [LAUGHTER] But you see -- he so clearly was revealing what is a very common media bias that you know we want to present an upscale image because that's what attracts advertisers!
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So as someone who is very sensitive to this issue, could you summarize the way you see the poor and the issues related to the poor presented in the mainstream media?
BARBARA EHRENREICH: I just don't think there's very much about them! We used to have Roseanne on TV. We don't have her. I mean there's this-- almost elimination of anybody who - on - in the sitcoms and dramas anyway - who isn't a young doctor a young lawyer or something like that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:You mentioned Roseanne. I remember when that show showed up on the networks, and there were a lot of stories talking about the big breakthrough -- someone recognized as an ordinary working stiff making it to prime time.
BARBARA EHRENREICH: Well there have been different breakthroughs in the past. I mean in the early 60s there was the quote "discovery of poverty" [LAUGHS] which -- it's sort of funny, and like Columbus discovering America, you know, it was always there but the media discovered it in the way of Michael Harrington's book The Other America. Then in the late 1960s, early '70s there was a quote "discovery" in the mainstream media of the blue collar working class. We had movies like The Deerhunter; movies that were about that group. But you know after -- in the '80s that tapered off, and then in the '90s there's just a-- they're gone! They're not - you know, it, it's-- it's the Invisible People.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: After you've overcome the resistance and you've gotten some of these stories into the press, what has been the reaction?
BARBARA EHRENREICH:Not much. Not much. I hate, I hate to say. I mean I've tried different ways of writing about this. I've written, you know, your statistical-filled heavy duty essays. I've written humorous things about this--invisibility of the poor, and I felt like hmmm! [LAUGHS] What does it take?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So Barbara Ehrenreich, what do people want you to write about?
BARBARA EHRENREICH: Ah, let me think. [LAUGHS] I find myself facing a lot a kind of ghetto-ization into so-called "women's issues."
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But not working class women.
BARBARA EHRENREICH:No. I think class is-- a taboo in our society. It, it, it really is. I mean it is amazing the things I can get away with saying on a subject of, say, sex or sexuality or gender, but really, the, the door shuts when, when the issue is economic inequality.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thanks very much.
BARBARA EHRENREICH: Oh, thank you for having me on.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of Nickel and Dimed: on not getting by in America. Pay For Play
June 9, 2001
BOB GARFIELD: Welcome back to On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Behind the constant countdown of top 40 hits, the generic play lists aired from coast to coast is a tawdry tale of money, music and middlemen. There are three main players. First there are the record labels who pay independent promoters known as "indies" to make sure their artists get on the air. Second, the indies -- the middlemen who pay for exclusive access to radio station programmers. And third, the radio stations who play the songs the indies promote. Recently however one record label decided to take a slice out of the middleman's take. Eric Boehlert is a senior writer for Salon.com and an expert on pay for play. So Eric, one more time -- every time a new song is played, the indie gets paid by the record company.
ERIC BOEHLERT: Right. Every time a new song is played on a r-- pop, rock, urban, country station in this country, someone's getting paid, and the person getting paid is the indie, and the person paying them--
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What kind of money--
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
ERIC BOEHLERT: --is the label. So in a small market it might be 500 dollars. In a medium size market it might be a thousand dollars.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Per play; per song.
ERIC BOEHLERT: Per song. Major markets up to 5 or 6,000 dollars.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How much money does a successful independent promoter make?
ERIC BOEHLERT: You know you could just have a small shop in -- you know you have a fax in an office and a secretary and you have ten stations that you deal with -- pop stations -- you could easily make a million dollars a year.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: For doing virtually nothing.
ERIC BOEHLERT:Yeah. There's almost no salesmanship on the indie part. It's all about toll collecting. If an indie claims a station exclusively, they don't care what the station plays! Because they're going to get paid regardless.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Basically what they do is they write a check to each of the stations--
ERIC BOEHLERT: Right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:-- that they have exclusive access to and then they send out invoices to the record companies. Why do either of these parties need this middleman? He seems to do nothing but cost money!
ERIC BOEHLERT: For a record company to pay a radio station, the radio station would have to announce it every time it played the Mariah Carey song, they would have to say that was brought to you by Columbia Records, and no one wants to do that. So they hire the indie; the indie takes the money and turns around and give it to a station in a lump sum of a promotional budget. But every song comes with a price tag. Every week the labels issue their priorities --their new singles -- and they will say right on the list how much each song is worth. 800 dollars, a thousand dollars, 15 hundred dollars -- and everyone sort of understands--
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So they're gonna l--
ERIC BOEHLERT: -- what the relationship means. It means you have to add enough songs for the indie to make money; you have to add enough songs that are expensive enough for an indie to make money and then everyone's happy.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So the indie basically intimidates the general manager or the owner by suggesting that if they don't play the songs that reap the best benefit for the indie, he may not come around next year with a nice lump sum up front. How does he intimidate the record companies?
ERIC BOEHLERT: If for some reason he doesn't get paid -- it's very rare -- the fear is that the next band two weeks from now, that will be kept off the air because the indie never got paid.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So it's a kind of strangle hold.
ERIC BOEHLERT:It is, but you know the labels pay this money willingly. I mean they could have ended it 10, 20, 30 years ago. They have tried haphazardly a few times, but there's always someone who's willing to pay. You know they can't all get together and say we're not going to pay indies cause that's sort of anti-trust. You can't-- meet with your competitors and say we're going to stop doing business with these people.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: There was an attempt at a boycott at some point.
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
ERIC BOEHLERT:There was in, in the early '80s - in '81 they tried, and all of a sudden their superstar acts weren't getting on the radio, and that fizzled, because the artists put an end to it!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What is the impact here on somebody who likes to listen to the radio?
ERIC BOEHLERT:Well the impact is: if you're not on the major label, you can't possibly get on the radio, because if a programmer falls in love with a song and plays it just cause he loves it, he's going to hear from his indie and the indie's going to tell him why are you playing songs that no one need-- is even pitching you on? Because I'm getting paid by labels to get songs on the radio. Here is this little local band you're playing, and there's no indie, and that makes me look bad! It doesn't last long. They're off the air in a couple of weeks.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So the industry has been awash with money.
ERIC BOEHLERT: Yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It's been boom times. But not so much now, and so then along comes--
ERIC BOEHLERT: Mm-hm.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: --Boodilicious [sp?] -- and that's why we're doing this interview.
ERIC BOEHLERT:It's the latest example of the record companies trying to get a hold of this whole chaotic system. Columbia Records is promoting-- New Destiny's Child's single Boodilicious. They've had 6 number ones in a row. They're probably the hottest pop R&B act in the country right now, and Columbia told indies that we're only going to pay for ads at stations in the top 50 markets, and it seems like a minor attempt, but it's been a long time since the label's tried to send the indies any sort of message at all.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And how have the indies reacted?
ERIC BOEHLERT:The ones I talked to who actually were outside the top 50 markets, they actually thought it was a good idea. I mean they're not going to get paid cause their stations don't qualify, but they agree that the system needs what they call "the correction."
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Does the fact that one enormous record label has given some indies a slap on the wrist for what is seen as kind of uniform and systematic extortion -- is this going to have any effect on what the person who likes to listen to music on the radio is likely to hear?
ERIC BOEHLERT: Well it'll depend. I mean if other labels follow, they have to all do it at once. Because if they don't, everything is just sort of washed away.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And if the other labels do--
ERIC BOEHLERT: Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- let's imagine a pie in the sky scenario--
ERIC BOEHLERT: Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:-- and they've gradually cut off the spigot to these independent promoters who go into some--line of work where they're actually-- doing something--
ERIC BOEHLERT: Uh-huh?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- have the record labels then shot themselves in the foot? They've lost their exclusive paid-for access to-- station time and this leaves more room perhaps for the little independent labels to squeeze in?
ERIC BOEHLERT: Well there's always that theory that you know the labels bemoan the fact that it's so expensive, but in private their suggestion is they don't mind that it's that expensive, because it limits the playing field! And instead of 5 major record companies duking it out for the play list, now you have 200 labels duking it out.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So how do the little guys get heard? The Internet?
ERIC BOEHLERT: Oh, I guess. It's not commercial radio. There's no way.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Eric Boehlert, thank you very much!
ERIC BOEHLERT: Thanks.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Eric Beohlert is a senior writer for Salon.com. The Death of the Single
June 9, 2001
BOB GARFIELD: There was a time when independent producers of modest means could spend a few hundred bucks on a single and talk a programmer into some local radio air play. In fact, nearly half the chart-topping hits of rock & roll's golden age came from those independents, and all their hopes were pinned to those little records with the big holes -- the 45 rpm single. On the Media's Rex Doane reports on where have all those singles gone?
REX DOANE: The 45 had been introduced as early as 1948, but it was the convergence of this emerging technology with the burgeoning youth culture that set off the explosion. Gene Sculatti has written about pop music for over 35 years and currently serves as the director of special issues for Billboard Magazine.
GENE SCULATTI: The 45 is just inextricably bound up with that whole-- late '50s through pretty much middle '60s period of popular music. I mean it's -it's the standard, and it's-- it's the platter on which the meal arrives. I mean there's no -- there's almost no distinction between the content of what's on there and the format in which it's delivered.
[JOHNNY ACE'S PLEDGING MY LOVE PLAYS]
REX DOANE: Jim Dawson is the co-author of the book What Was the First Rock & Roll Record?, and for Dawson Johnny Ace's Pledging My Love from 1955 signaled the true coming of age for the 45.
[JOHNNY ACE'S PLEDGING MY LOVE UP AND UNDER]
JOHNNY ACE: FOREVER MY DARLING MY LOVE WILL BE TRUE ALWAYS AND FOREVER....
JIM DAWSON: That record which was a huge hit actually sold more 45 records than it sold 78's and showed that the young people had embraced the-- 45.
REX DOANE: Billboard's Gene Sculatti notes that long before the onslaught of music videos and the seeming endless parade of pop star pictorials and slick magazines, the 45 represented the only tangible link between artist and fan.
GENE SCULATTI: The names of these acts and the names of the songs and the labels -- there's all this iconography that's all that's available. It, it sort of adds to the mystery of the experience. You know what I mean?
REX DOANE: Consider too the ritual involved in playing a 45. Pop in a CD and you can go fold laundry. But to play a 45 you must make a special commitment. Place the record on the turntable; lower the needle; and stay and listen until the music runs out. It's an archaic process that places special emphasis on that song for that moment. A solitary throne for a favorite artist and a favorite tune.
[45 RECORD BEGINS PLAYING -- WITH STATIC]
LITTLE RICHARD: OH MY SOUL-- BABE, BABE, BABE, BABY-- DON'T YOU KNOW MY LOVE IS TRUE WOOOOOO! OH HONEY, HONEY, HONEY, HONEY, HONEY-- GET UP OFF OF THAT MONEY LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE--
REX DOANE: To be sure, 45 collectors seem alarmingly fetishistic about such matters. They speak of label variations, B side oddities and the hopelessly obscure. It is an affliction at times only understood by the afflicted.
DICK BLACKBURN: If you've got a child who exhibits signs of complete vinyl mania, then you might send him to a 12-Step right away or, failing that, some sort of-- conditioning therapy.
REX DOANE: Dick Blackburn is a long-time 45 collector, currently working on a novel about his passion.
DICK BLACKBURN: I got into 45's because every time you put a needle on a new one, no matter which one you're trying to listen to, it's always the potential that you're going to get a mule's kick between the eyes of originality, eccentricity and genius.
LITTLE RICHARD: OH! MY SOUL....!!
REX DOANE: While 45 collectors like Blackburn spend years picking through the bones -- those discarded disks from decades ago -- the record industry has responded with what one might term mild indifference. In the late 1980s when 45's were abruptly ushered out of the stores along with the vinyl LP to make way for compact disks, major labels feebly offered cassingles [sp?] and CD singles for customers who wanted a song instead of an album. The cassingle quickly flopped, and the CD single has been steadily fading. In recent years tiny low budget labels have filled the void by pressing select oldies on 45 for juke box owners and operators to spin, and die hard collectors can turn to labels like the Brooklyn-based Norton Records whose passion for the format far exceeds minor concerns like making money.
BILLY MILLER: To me that's the number one format.
REX DOANE: Label co-founder Billy Miller.
[CLASSIC EARLY R&R INSTRUMENTAL UP AND UNDER]
BILLY MILLER: You know, when you bottom line the profits, there is no profit in making 45's, so you have to just keep the momentum going and keep putting it out and hope you don't wake up and come to your senses.
REX DOANE: Even the fad interest in old records spurred on by club and hip hop deejays have largely passed the 45 by. Their interest in vinyl is strictly limited to LP's and 12 inch singles. And so the 45 rpm record now spends its twilight years in collectors' magazines, flea markets and garage sales. Inevitably, CD's too will be forced into an extinction of their own by some new technology, but as long as the Baby Boom endures, the unassuming 45 will retain a resonance that transcends the music caught in the grooves.
[INSTRUMENTAL SWEETLY WAILS TO A CLOSE] For On the Media in New York, I'm Rex Doane.
June 9, 2001
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Singles are dying. Vinyl records are almost dead. Recorded music as a whole is taking a hit because of mp-3 and napster, but we at On the Media have noted a countertrend. It seems that the public appetite for this sound effect--
does not in any way track with the public's appetite for records themselves. The scratch is everywhere, including in this report by On the Media's producer at large, Mike Pesca.
MIKE PESCA: In a Bud Lite commercial that's currently airing a young couple walk into a jewelry store and the woman falls in love with a diamond ring. Just as the guy starts to think about how much this'll set him back, he is distracted. What's this?! [GUITAR MUSIC]
MIKE PESCA: Beckoning to him through the window is a beautiful woman holding a bottle of Bud Lite. Do you mean me?! -- his gestures say? The beautiful woman crooks a finger. The guy is drawn to her cold-filtered siren song. He can't believe it! This sort of stuff NEVER happens to--
MAN: [SHOUTING] Stop!!!
MAN: [SHOUTING] Fooled again!! [ALARM BELL RINGS] [SHOUTING] [...?...]!!
ANNOUNCER: For the great taste that won't fill you up and never lets you down....
MIKE PESCA: Oh -- No. The woman wasn't beckoning to him at all. She was shooting a Bud Lite commercial within this, the Bud Lite commercial we're talking about! The guy is now forced to buy his fiancee a bigger diamond. And the cue that his world was about to lose all color, cut and clarity--?
[RECORD SCRATCH] The sound effect which says whoa! Wait a minute! NBC's promo department seems particularly in thrall of the record scratch. [GUITAR MUSIC]
ANNOUNCER: Tuesday on an all-new Frasier, Daphne's back! And Niles has big news!
NILES: We're going to consummate our relationship! [RECORD SCRATCH] What?!? [LAUGHTER] Oh!!
MIKE PESCA: And for Saturday Night Live--: [MUSIC]
ANNOUNCER: And now something every mother wants to hear: [RECORD SCRATCH]
WOMAN: I was just getting acupuncture on my [...?...]. [LAUGHTER]
ANNOUNCER: It's the new Saturday Night Live Prime Time Special!
MIKE PESCA: The screech in the Bud Lite commercial may have been in context. Perhaps they were playing a record on the set of the commercial within the commercial and suddenly yanked it off, but Frasier and Saturday Night Live? They just use the scratch as scratch. Then there's this spot for AT&T where two teenage boys need a ride home after a Destiny's Child concert.
YOUNG WOMAN: Hop in, guys!
MIKE PESCA: And who pulls up in an abandoned parking lot but the band itself. [DESTINY'S CHILD SONG PLAYS] [RECORD SCRATCH] File this under never. Come on kids -- get real!! Destiny's Child giving you a ride home in their limo and on top of that their hit single's being played off of vinyl?! According to Record Industry Association of America statistics, vinyl records account for less than 1 percent of all recorded music sold. But according to Bayger Smith [sp?], the director of the Destiny's Child ad, commercials use record screechs and scratches like they're going out of style --which, of course, they are.
BAYGER SMITH: We always know, you know, at the end of the meeting - we haven't cracked it - someone goes well-- we can always put a record scratch on it. Ah! Good job, Bob! Way to go, Fred. Sort of congratulate ourselves and-- it's going to be funny now -- and move on. So. [LAUGHS] I think that the record scratch is so much a part of our culture comedically that it's -it's probably going to be in the Smithsonian some day.
MIKE PESCA: Even after he decides to use the record scratch, Smith still has choices.
BAYGER SMITH: There's different ones. There's that Rrrrrrt. There's that Rrrrrrit! You know, there's Kkkrrrrrrk! I feel very passionate about the record scratch. [RECORD SCRATCH]
JOHN ABOUD: I mean it's very rare that I'm writing anything that couldn't benefit from a vinyl record scratch.
MIKE PESCA: John Aboud [sp?] is co-founder of modernhumorous.com. He too is no stranger to the lure of the scratch.
JOHN ABOUD: Call me a hack, but I tend to insert that wherever possible.
MIKE PESCA: One place Aboud used the scratch -- actually he admitted it was the only place -- was on a project for Microsoft. The software maker hired him to design a web site about the little paper clip character that pops up in Microsoft Word whenever you try to write a letter. Microsoft's selling point was that their new word processing program wouldn't annoy users with this paper clip feature. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] They used Gilbert Gottfried [sp?] to play the paper clip and the record screech to hammer the point home. [FINGER-SNAPPING]
MAN: Why hello, there! As soon as I finish this proposal, I--
GILBERT GOTTFRIED AS PAPER CLIP CHARACTER: It looks like you're writing a letter.
MAN: Ahhhh!!! [RECORD SCRATCH]
GILBERT GOTTFRIED AS PAPER CLIP CHARACTER: Would you like help?
MIKE PESCA: To Aboud the record scratch harkens to days gone by.
MAN: It wasn't uncommon at the turn of the century for-- a pair of lovers to be dancing to a phonograph in their parlor when the jilted suitor would burst into the room and you know, rip the needle off the phonograph and the, the lovers' reverie would be interrupted by this, you know, brutish thug and that was a classic symbol that carried on into many of our cartoons--, many of our commercials -- it's part of our collective unconscious.
MIKE PESCA: Aboud's jilted suitor scenario supposes the record is a 78 being played on a victrola; hardly a reference for the average Destiny's Child fan. I asked real live teenagers Niasia Hoskins [sp?] and Charmayne Satler [sp?] what they thought the sound effect was.
YOUNG WOMAN: A recording that just stopped, like-- Rrrrrp!
MIKE PESCA: What is that sound?
YOUNG WOMAN: I have no idea. [LAUGHS]
MIKE PESCA: You don't know what that sound is?
YOUNG WOMAN: What? A recording stopping?
MIKE PESCA: Yeah.
YOUNG WOMAN: A recording stopping. [LAUGHS] [LAUGHTER]
MIKE PESCA: So what would produce that rrrrrip?
YOUNG WOMAN: Oh - pausing the-- the, the tape or the recording? I don't -- I don't know.
MIKE PESCA: What about-- like a vinyl record?
YOUNG WOMAN: I know I saw it on TV - makes that noise.
MIKE PESCA: Have you ever seen that in real life?
YOUNG WOMAN: I don't think so.
MIKE PESCA: As media moves towards extinction it leaves artifacts behind. We listen to a "dial tone" before we "dial" the phone even though almost all phones are made with buttons. The record scratch was once an annoying consequence of misusing the medium, but now -- it's genuine music. [RECORD SCRATCH MUSIC] [GROUP OF FANS CHEERING] When it comes to vinyl, it may be that the only thing that avoids the slag heap of history is the slag itself. [ENERGETIC RECORD SCRATCHING] For On the Media, I'm Mike Pesca. [FANS CHEERING] [RECORD SCRATCH MUSIC] [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Janeen Price and Katya Rogers; engineered by George Edwards and edited-- by Brooke. We had help from Kathleen Horan and Sean Landis and Andy Lanset, and also David Serchuk to whom we bid a fond farewell.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Mike Pesca is our producer at large, Arun Rath our senior producer and Dean Cappello our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. This is On the Media from National Public Radio. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: I'm Bob Garfield.