I know this is usually Freaky Friday, but I didn’t feel like messing with my theme. Maybe I’ll freak out tomorrow for a special Saturday edition. Maybe not. We’ll see how it goes.
The real programmers of all radio stations everywhere are the advertisers and/or corporations that run them. They get to decide who gets into heavy rotation, and who gets tossed in the circular file. Record companies have colluded in this for years, although it’s officially illegal to influence radio programming, at least in this country. (Google “payola scandal” if you’re interested.) It’s mercenary, arbitrary, and craven.
That’s why Elvis Costello wrote this song.
Simply put, Elvis Costello usually didn’t get put on the radio. A lot of artists like Costello were getting shut out, musical acts who sang about politics and social issues, who wanted their listeners to think. They didn’t want to play the usual games that got you played on the radio, and they didn’t want to sing mindless Pop just to have a hit. It was making him angry, so he sang about it. “You either shut up or get cut out, they don’t wanna hear about it. It’s only inches on the reel-to-reel. And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools, tryin’ to anaesthetise the way that you feel.” Real thought is not acceptable on the radio. Real creativity, unless it takes over the rest of the world, is forbidden. Just play the same thing everyone else is playing, and it will all be fine.
It’s kind of funny that this song is more famous for television than it is for radio. In 1977, Costello was asked to play on Saturday Night Live, because the Sex Pistols had backed out. His record company, wanting to capitalize on the one album that was available in the U.S., asked him to play something from My Aim is True. Initially, he agreed. But just a few bars into “Less Than Zero,” Costello yelled at the Attractions to stop, apologized to the audience, and played “Radio Radio” instead. It kind of pissed a few people off. (Which is really funny, because “Less Than Zero” is no less inflammatory.) The stunt got Costello banned from SNL for a number of years, although they eventually lifted it.
Enjoy the song. Call your local radio station, and ask them to play “Radio Radio.” Ask them to play any song by Elvis Costello. See what happens.