Last weekend's news that "Boss Radio" creator, Bill Drake, passed away struck me as both sad and ironic. As the radio industry goes through its difficult gyrations to stay alive and vital, the guy who helped redefine the industry, while making it come alive in the '60s, has left us.
If you're over 40, you probably grew up with a Bill Drake station - or certainly one that he influenced. Whether it was CKLW here in the Midwest, or KHJ on the West Coast, Drake's impact on radio was indelible - and still says a great deal about how radio is programmed today.
Drake was the guy who brought discipline and tight music lists to radio. In many ways, radio programming has devolved in recent years to a point where Drake couldn't have liked what he heard. I never met the guy, but I did some work for Paul Drew and Rick Sklar in the '70s - both of whom were Drake disciples and/or heavily influenced by his doctrines. They were both tough programmers, strict disciplinarians, and insistent that a station's sound and packaging be executed to the letter.
Drake's style of radio was big, bold, and exciting - very different from how much of radio is perceived and programmed today. Drake stations didn't apologize - they were leaders, they set the tone, and they made hits. They were also disciplined - during the day, at night, and on the weekends. When so many stations today are mailing it in, and hoping no one notices, those Drake Top 40 stations sounded tight and bright whenever you tuned them in. It was all about the presentation.
And they were seemingly everywhere. You could make the case that Drake was fortunate that he crafted his format at a time when there were no iPods or Internet. But you get the feeling that he would have figured out how to make his stations sound big and brash, digital or not. The good news is that his influence still abounds and his theories were right on the money. It still makes sense to "play the hits," as evidenced by the fact that the most successful satellite radio music channels - despite all the "variety" on those niche "Long Tail" stations - are the ones that are most Drake-esque. And with Internet streaming stations like CBS' "#1 Hits," Drake's influence is still coming out of speakers - and ear buds.
But so much of what Drake espoused - excellence, tight and bright, that big showbiz sound - is slipping away, as programming is downsized, consolidated, repackaged, combined, economized, commoditized, and simply shredded. Drake realized the importance of content, long before that term was redefined in the '90s.