Where are those great music tracks from the salad days of our youth?!? And where can we hear them today? Well-known New York City communications executive Peter Himler, a baby boomer, wanted to know, and went searching. As he explains in this piece adapted from Forbes Magazine, the result wasn’t always a happy one.
Before there was Pandora, Spotify, Last FM or even my latest fave digital music service Songza, I had the good fortune to meet and potentially collaborate with legendary New York City disc jockey Pete Fornatale who has just sadly and suddenly passed away. It was late 2004 or early 2005, and I was fed up with the fact that the music from the seminal artists of my baby boomer’s youth was conspicuously absent from New York’s terrestrial (and satellite) airwaves.
Granted, one could still stumble upon the overplayed anthems of Zeppelin, The Who, or The Allman Bros. But gone completely were the timeless (deeper) cuts from music icons whose very names, when you read them here, will give you warm fuzzies: names like Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, James Taylor, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young, Laura Nyro, The Who, Seals & Crofts, Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchell, Earth Wind &Fire, Simon & Garfunkel, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Elton John, Billy Joel, The Doors, Frank Zappa, David Bowie, The Allman Bros, Chicago, The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Van Morrison, The Beach Boys, The Band, Crosby Stills & Nash, or Genesis.
As a former college DJ, I decided that this sad state of music affairs could not stand. 78 million boomers were being denied. What’s more: those marketing to our increasingly media-splintered demographic were desperate to find ways to efficiently engage us, and in so doing capture our discretionary spending, which was estimated at $2 trillion. Purveyors of wares that included vanity and cholesterol-lowering drugs to luxury automobiles, financial services, and vacation resorts would sustain the envisioned model.
One evening on a whim, I dashed off an email to John Hogan, then the U.S. head of the broadcast behemoth Clear Channel, outlining a programming format that would resurrect these lost tracks and be channel-agnostic. At the time, broadband penetration was low, so it was terrestrial radio, web-streaming, podcasts, and satellite. To my surprise, he wrote me back right away:
“Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. As you might imagine we are always looking for ways to provide better content in our markets, especially New York City.”
He said he would forward my thoughts to the right people. But nothing resulted. Ialso wrote John Sykes, a friend of a friend who at the time headed Infinity Radio. John also graciously wrote me too:
“This is a dream station for me too, but it is very hard to reach a lot of peopleplaying less familiar album track from 30 years ago. You’ll get the cool crowd, but these stations in NYC need to reach millions of people. This would be agreat XM or Sirius channel… and I’d listen too! Now, why does TV suck so much too…”
I decided to take the concept a step further and hooked up with Peter Kauff, one of the pioneers behind the pathbreaking weekly syndicated radio show King Biscuit Flower Hour. Peter got it right away. We also both recognized the need for a name-recognizable disc jockey who knew this music genre like no one else. Idashed off a note describing the concept to Pete Fornatale, one of WNEW-FM’s legendary rock DJs, who now was spinning at Fordham’s WFUV-FM.
Pete instantly responded and agreed to meet. He was looking for a bigger stage to share this rich but lost treasure trove of music that ushered in an era anddefined a generation.
He came to my home and as we sat there reminiscing in my home-office, he was clearly fascinated, if not shocked, by the abundance of freely available music online.
Buoyed by all of this, I decided to take the concept a step further and created a PowerPoint presentation (yes I know) complete with graphics outlining the spending power of the target demographic and including embedded music tracks. Peter Kauff and I visited my friend and neighbor John McConnell who headed programming at ABC Radio. John also invited a colleague who, after hearing us out, opined that no one in California even knew who James Taylor was. Huh? John later added his thoughts:
“The concept of “deep cuts” has been tried a couple of times without much luck. WNEW did it in the mid 90′s…and did not do well. There is also a required level of familiarity necessary, in my opinion, to retain a high enough level of listening to attract advertising. If our business is predicated on a few people making notes in a diary then the goal is to find the largest niche possible in an ever shrinking environment. So…I don’t think it has enough legs in terrestrial radio, but perhaps in satellite radio. Just one guy’s thought.”
The three Petes stayed in touch for a while longer, but it was clear that these lost trackswould stay lost… for the immediate future. As for Pete Fornatale, his passion for the music and personal warmth will stay with me forever. A New York rock legend lost. Like much of the music he played.
Peter Himler formed Flatiron Communications LLC in 2005 after years in senior media leadership positions at several highly respected global PR firms – including Hill & Knowlton, Burson-Marsteller and Edelman Worldwide. Flatiron helps established and emerging companies capitalize on the latest communications strategies.