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Many old-timers believe that radio's golden age took place during the '30s and '40s, when high-quality dramas, serials and variety shows filled the schedule and television had not yet taken hold of the popular imagination. Baby boomers, meanwhile, are generally divided over whether the medium was at its best during the '50s, when Top 40 hits and speed-rapping DJs dominated the AM dial, or the late '60s, when FM's open frontier led to the development of wildly creative free-form broadcasts that are remembered fondly to this day.
Because he's only 24 years old, Jon-Michael DeShazer can't really weigh in on this debate. But he knows one thing for certain: Today's radio, particularly in the Denver area, is incredibly lousy and unlikely to improve anytime soon.
"Every time I listen, it seems to get worse," DeShazer says. "And most of the people I talk to feel the same way: They think there are too many commercials, [stations] never play any of the music they listen to, and the songs they do play are played over and over again. But most of them are passive listeners, so they don't complain. And I think it's about time somebody did."
As it turns out, DeShazer's griping goes well beyond a nasty voice-mail or e-mail message left for unsuspecting general managers. He makes his living as an accountant for a wholesale flower company in Commerce City, but he's also a self-proclaimed "computer geek" who's majoring in network engineering at Red Rocks Community College. And while he hasn't completed enough credits to graduate quite yet, he's already putting his skills to good use on a protest site he oversees, memorably dubbed DenverRadioSucks.com.
The project is "my way of letting radio stations know there's a problem," DeShazer allows. "But I also want it to be a source of education about the radio industry."
He succeeds on both counts. Some of the material on the site, like a section devoted to essays by frustrated radio lovers, can be described as simple ranting. But that doesn't make the best of the submissions any less entertaining. A case in point is DeShazer's list of Denver's most overplayed songs, topped by Nickelback's "How You Remind Me" ("A repetitive, mind-numbing piece of garbage"), Staind's "It's Been a While" ("This is a prime example of a hardcore band changing its sound to make more money"), Lifehouse's "Hanging by a Moment" ("Creed wearing different clothes") and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under the Bridge" ("The song was popular 10 years ago, 10 YEARS AGO!!! They've been around for twenty years, and this is all you will play?").
In addition, DeShazer includes references to articles about the growth of radio giants such as Texas-based Clear Channel; a link to an even more extensive archive, www.ClearChannelSucks.org; contact information for assorted elected officials and commissioners with the Federal Communications Commission; and text suitable for e-mailing that decries the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which led to the current wave of radio consolidation. As a bonus, DeShazer touts music sources worth supporting, including a slew of streaming-audio Internet sites and five terrestrial broadcasters in the immediate area: public radio signals KGNU, KUVO and Colorado Public Radio's KCFR; Colorado Springs's KCME, a commercial specializer in classical sounds; and the University of Colorado's terrific entry, KVCU/Radio 1190.
DeShazer, who DJs for parties on the side, is also a supporter of KXDC, a dance-and-electro outlet at 102.1 FM ("Dialing for Differences," July 18). Because the station has not yet launched a Web site of its own, DeShazer posted its playlist on DenverRadioSucks.com, leading some of the several hundred visitors he attracts each month to conclude that he's affiliated with KXDC. To squelch this confusion, he's placed a disclaimer on his home page. "I just wanted to let people know they were worth listening to," he says.
A Denver resident since age four, DeShazer grew up with a unique perspective about radio. His father, Mike DeShazer, is "a folk musician along the lines of James Taylor or John Denver" who couldn't get the time of day from most local stations. Young Jon-Michael found himself drawn to the airwaves anyhow, first falling for KBCO in the days before it was part of the Clear Channel combine ("It was great to hear such a wide variety of music") and later being wowed by 92X, a hard-rock outlet that came and went during the '90s. "I was introduced to 92X when I was sixteen or seventeen, and for me, it really opened my eyes to what a radio station could be," he says.
When 92X perished, he turned to alternative-rocking KTCL but became increasingly disgruntled after it was brought under Clear Channel's thumb. "It used to be where it was rare to hear the same song twice in the same day," he recalls. "But a couple years ago, I heard the same Rage Against the Machine song three or four times in a five-hour period."
On that occasion, DeShazer sent a letter to KTCL management. But he discovered a splashier way of making his opinions known after stumbling upon DenverRadioSucks.com. The site was the work of Chris Lindley, whom DeShazer describes as "a graduate from CU who was really into the indie-rock movement and college radio." Lindley put together the site in early 2001, inspired in part by SanDiegoRadioSucks.com, based in the country's most Clear Channel-heavy market. As in Denver, Clear Channel owns eight stations in San Diego -- the maximum allowable under current FCC rules. But it also holds the deeds to five stations just over the Mexican border, all of which boom into San Diego. That makes thirteen Clear Channel outlets in the area, and one report says the company rakes in nearly half the market's advertising revenue.