'Corporate FM' filmmaker, who documented the fall of The Lazer, seeks distribution funding

It seems like everyone and their brother has a Kickstarter campaign, seeking funding for projects that are personally and professionally important. That's not meant to diminish the hard work and passion artists, musicians and others have for their projects, but the novelty of Kickstarter has worn off a bit, a least for media.

But if you've tried to tune into local radio recently (in the last 12 years or so), you may have noticed that there are lot of similar formats and playlists out there. Perhaps you've wondered where your favorite DJs have gone. Where is that local flavor?

None

Filmmaker Kevin McKinney, a KU graduate and a Kansas City resident, asked those very questions in his documentary "Corporate FM," which details how federal legislation - the Telecommunications Act of 1996 - allowed corporations to sweep in and gobble up local radio stations. In Kansas City, two companies, Entercom and Cumulus, own 14 stations. In Topeka, Cumulus owns six stations.

This means, according to McKinney, that there's no need for competition. Why would a conglomerate want to compete against itself? So, he postulates, they take the easy route, bundling advertising, recycling playlists, syndicating programs, laying off local personalities.

McKinney, whose film played at last month's Free State Film Festival at the Lawrence Arts Center, spent eight years making the documentary. Much of it focuses on the demise of The Lazer, the cutting-edge rock station in Lawrence that was sold by the Booth Family to the Zimmer Radio Group in 1998. It changed formats several times, and now can be heard as KISS-FM, playing top 40 hits on the 105.9 frequency.

So what about Kickstarter? McKinney is seeking $30,000 in funding to distribute the film and spread the word about why local radio sucks. And he's got one day left to do it.

So far, he's secured less than $5,000, 33 hours to go. With Kickstarter, it's an all or nothing deal: If he doesn't reach the $30k goal, he gets no money and the folks who have pledged their support get their money back.

Comments

Bill Lee 2 years, 4 months ago

I worked 13 years for the Booth family, and I have very strong opinions about what has happened to radio in this country. The demise of radio as we knew it began with the Reagan Adminiistration's love of deregulation. The repeal of the Communications Act of 1934 had many unintedned consequences. After more that 25 years on the air I rarely listen to radio anymore. When I do, it is not of the commercial variety. My car radio buttons are set on KKFI and KCUR.

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Carol Bowen 2 years, 4 months ago

I miss both WKLZR and WKLWN. We've turned off the radio. The stations are not good for local or national news. By the way, I have heard real local stations in other states.

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Silly_me 2 years, 4 months ago

KLZR was such a great station when I was going to KU from 82-88...lots of cutting edge bands, local flavor and the $$$ Treasure Hunt. Nothing better than hearing new clues and seeing where those might lead. Now it's just the same old recycled pablum. Oh well...

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optimist 2 years, 4 months ago

Deregulation was a good thing. While it allowed consolidation in the industry it opened up opportunities for others to enter the market. What has driven consolidation more in the radio industry isn't deregulation but rather competition from other technologies. With the advent of the CD, audio quality surpassed analog radio which wasn't the case with the cassette. Later satellite radio, iTunes, Pandora and a host of other commercial free options came along. Don't forget those in car entertainment systems that keep the children pre-occupied while their parents are driving. The fact is there is a ton of competition, some at a cost and some free.

From Lawrence I can pick up more than a couple of dozen AM and FM channels. I don't listen as often because commercials annoy me and deregulation had nothing to do with that. I truly don't see a problem. Why do we want to preserve something in spite of the fact that the market is changing. Should we bring back the record player or worse yet the phonograph? Deregulation may just have been the reason we have over the air radio today in the face of all of the other options out there. Consolidation has allowed networks to be profitable where individual radio stations probably wouldn't have been.

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OonlyBonly 2 years, 3 months ago

It would be nice to preserve the selection one used to have. With almost all the outlets owned by two conglomerations there's very, very little independent or non-mainstream music available anymore. There was a time, "in the good old days", if you didn't like what was available you changed the station - now it's different station same music...... It's a great loss with a lot of new and some established performers getting very little to no airplay the losers are the listeners.

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OonlyBonly 2 years, 3 months ago

It would be nice to preserve the selection one used to have. With almost all the outlets owned by two conglomerations there's very, very little independent or non-mainstream music available anymore. There was a time, "in the good old days", if you didn't like what was available you changed the station - now it's different station same music...... It's a great loss with a lot of new and some established performers getting very little to no airplay the losers are the listeners.

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suggestionbox 2 years, 4 months ago

You need to see the movie to understand why there is a problem, why it matters, and who got rich off the whole deal. It is a story about commmunity, music, bands, and policy...and it is compelling. I saw it in KC in April and have thought about it every day since.

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optimist 2 years, 3 months ago

That's the problem. Someone got rich and it wasn't you. Unless a criminal act was perpetrated in order to get rich it doesn't really matter to me. I liked the Lazer and listened often. The new KISS is terrible and I never listen. it was the ownerships perogituve to change the format and mine to no longer listen. I have other options and I exercised my freedom to choose them. It's a wonderful country.

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paperbacks1980 2 years, 4 months ago

I literally cried when I heard The Lazer as we knew it was no more (I was a freshman in college in Wisconsin at that point). I'm still bitter about it. It was far and away the best radio station I've ever listened to and it was pretty much the soundtrack to my high school years. Now I listen to The Buzz out of KC, and it's good, but it's not on the level of The Lazer.

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iwillrefuse 2 years, 4 months ago

I remember driving back home from an extended vacation in the Fall of 98' and hearing The Backstreet Boys (Alright!) on the LAZER. And I seriously thought it was a joke.

20 minutes (and an Ace of Base "Cruel Summer" cover) later, (and reflecting now, some 13+ years later) I'm still waiting for a punch line.

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