This past weekend, I purchased a bunch of Vinyl records and was reminded of “The record store experience” that I once cherished.
A Quick Look Back at Music Stores
One of the fondest memories I have as a kid growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., ended up being my career choice as an adult. As of this writing, for more than 20 years now. My parents both knew how much I LOVED going to the record store. My father, I could tell, was not impressed with the experience, but he got a kick out of the fact that I got such a kick out of it. My mother was/is a music lover, too, so it was more of an adventure with her.
Record Labels, Radio Stations, and Retail worked together as a tremendously well-oiled music machine to lure the public to love music and the experience of buying it. Blacks were very dependent on “Black” (now called “Urban”) radio stations for music and a whole lot more … and black radio came through.
RECORD STORES and RADIO STATIONS IN BUFFALO, NY
Audrey’s and Dell’s was THE record store in Buffalo, NY, and Doris Records was another popular store. The first thing I remember was the weekly colored lists from WBLK or WUFO on the glass desk at the record store. WBLK had a chosen single called the BLK Pick (Blick Pick) of the week, which was usually a huge hit.
The Record Store was my “candy store,” and I was blown away by the huge plethora of new 45s behind the counter on the wall in alphabetical order by the artist. We ALWAYS had to use those Top 40 sheets for reference for records we could not remember the names of. Of course, this was when the big Rs worked in unison (Retail, Record Labels and Radio Stations). Record stores were my first experience with incense.
They always had it burning when you walked in. The whole record store experience was the closest I could get to the music industry at the time, and I loved it. I also knew I would eventually make a connection with it one day. I distinctly remember Motown almost always releasing several singles simultaneously, and they were always hits.
It was nothing for me to use up my Buy 5, Get 1 Free by getting The Jackson 5, Temptations, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Supremes, The Four Tops, and/or Marvin Gaye. I was always fascinated, like everyone else, with Motown artists. Detroit was right up the lake and always had the best music.
HOW RADIO STATIONS WORKED
In those days, even though the local stations had a Top 40 list, the music selections on the station were still ENDLESS unless a record was a huge hit. However, it would still take a couple of hours before you heard it again, the DJs were beyond entertaining, very personable, and passionate, and they were hustlers and huge local stars. Being on the air was just a mere platform for them, but an important one as they worked their outside deals and made MONEY. It was the very reason I wanted to get into radio.
When a concert came to town, it was always a popular DJ hosting the show (back then, DJs were able to negotiate their own deals; program directors were not taken as seriously as they are today (if there was even one appointed at the station) EVERYBODY in the neighborhood would play the radio on their stereos. At the same time, they chilled around the house, had company over or were on the porch sitting in a lawn chair with a beer in their hands after dinner.
There were also conscience community-oriented talk shows on many Black stations like WBLK’s Express Yourself (instead of the Quiet Storm), which allowed the community to talk about important issues.
It has been YEARS since I have seen or heard anyone playing a radio station in their home or apartment (sans Sirius and XM, which I play myself). While the advent of technology plays a large part in that, I have to admit, I am surprised that so many commercial stations continue to do so well in this current radio climate.
VINTAGE VINYL RECORD PLAYERS:
For as long as I can remember, I have also been fascinated with the mechanics of a record player, and for a while, I was a collector of record players as an adult. I still can’t resist going to Goodwill every now and then to buy one that someone gave to them, especially one from the 60s—the absolute BEST period for home stereos. I don’t have a record player because I sold the one I had before moving from Atlanta, but I plan to buy one soon.
Thank God there still a HUGE record store in Hollywood (Amoeba Music) that I can go to for a TON of vintage albums for 99 cents each.. a lot of them NEVER PLAYED. Sometimes I go with several adult friends, and we can spend hours cracking up while looking at various album covers and reminiscing. Who can deny the great experience of flipping through albums in a bin to look at all the creative artwork and to flip it over to see what cuts are on the album and the credits?
As time went on, the 8-track died (which I never liked anyway), then the cassette (which I also never liked) then the vinyl (what the hell is wrong with the labels, I thought). CDs have never done it for me. There was a time while working in the industry I had over 10,000 full-length CDs, but they took something away from the music experience for me. Now that CDs are phasing out, the mp3 is, without question, making and saving the labels a ton of money, but now music can only be heard, not seen, touched, or held.
There is speculation that a new generation of young music lovers is developing a fascination with vinyl. This is literally, no pun intended, music to my ears.
As the internet continues to make us less and less one-on-one in our daily experiences and more isolated in our homes and apartments, certain outlets have to remain intact for us to have a reason to leave the house at all.
RECORD LABELS TODAY
Today, record labels complain about urban radio’s 30-song playlists with little or no room for introducing new artists and retail is virtually gone. While I am still unfamiliar with the Pandora experience, they appear to be making quite a splash.
Radio seems less than concerned about internet technology, and many stations don’t even update their websites. Could this change instantly if someone comes up with a stellar idea for internet radio? We’ll know by next year when Internet radio will have an opportunity to gain mobile audiences when they are placed in more and more cars.
In the meantime, whatever technology has to offer in the near future, I would love for the younger generation or urban radio Radio DJs to experience what it’s like to run their show and market themselves.
I don’t hear the passion and the energy I once heard, and I know the reason is the homogenization of urban radio. Finally, I would love for the new generation of record buyers to have an opportunity to have more visual and public record store experience a few times.
I don’t expect the industry to ever return to being what it was in the 60s and 70s. Still, I am concerned that today’s radio is resting too hard on its laurels, and it may be taken by an unpleasant and possibly unrecoverable surprise.