Excerpt from Beware Radio 1984

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Beware Radio 1984 was an article by Dave Marsh in Musician #24, April-May 1980. The following is an excerpt from the article. The omitted parts do not concern Gentle Giant.

Article

Gentle Giant's Civilian is one of the year's most important albums, not because of its music, or the band's past credentials, or any technological breakthrough, but because it was produced by an entity known as Onward US, which is a pseudonym for Lee Abrams.

Abrams is the 27-year-old "programming consultant" who is responsible for the highly successful "Superstars" format FM radio stations, which span the nation from Miami to Seattle... Civilian is Abrams' debut production effort, however... Not since the 1960 Payola Scandal has such an important national radio figure lent his name to such a project.

But there's nothing illegal going on. Abrams has filed the necessary conflict of interest documents with the FCC and FTC, giving him the same legal status as such corporate giants as CBS and RCA/NBC. "The only thing I can't do is promote the album to my own station," Abrams says. Does he need to?

"For most of the stations, Lee is the link to the big time," says Bill Hard, of the influential FM tip sheet, the Hard Report, and himself a former Superstars jock. "If there's one guy you'd like to please it's Lee Abrams." But Hard also points out there has been no rush to air the initial Civilian package, a 12-inch sampler. The only station reporting to Record World and Billboard in their issues of March 8 that Gentle Giant is being played is WKLS-FM, which happens to be the Superstars station in Atlanta, where Abrams' consulting firm is based. (On the other hand, as Hard and others point out, most stations don't play 12-inch samplers anyway.)

The sampler was an integral element in Abrams' Civilian marketing strategy, as outlined in a memo entitled Report on the Proposed Strategy for Gentle Giant, addressed to CBS Records and dated Jan. 19th, 1980.

... But the Gentle Giant marketing memo goes beyond "science" into preposterously bureaucratic and somewhat frightening 1984-style proposals. Some samples: Gentle Giant plays orchestral rock, which has been on the decline since the heyday of Yes and ELP. "There is a huge audience indoctrinated into this type of music," writes Abrams. The radio commercials for the album should contain "short song segments" connected by "beeps" designed to "realert the subconscious every time another riff...kicks in. If the hooks are right, it'll sound like a K-Tel album package presented in a spacy 1980's way." Furthermore, "as far as the industry press is concerned, we would prefer to see ads made up of testimonials from the proper people...this can be coordinated...to take natural advantage of the emotional side of the music programming circle. If the right people say the right things, it can work wonders." Do tell.

Abrams also has plans for the band members themselves. John Weathers, his fans may be happy to know, "requires little change from his basic appearance...a general tough look to his presentation could help, therefore smiles should be toned down."

But the majority of the report is concerned with promotion to the sort of AOR radio stations with whom Abrams works the rest of the week. ... Legality is established, I guess, but what about integrity? Acceptance by Abrams can mean success or failure for an album. Should record companies, and by implication the audience, be dictated to by a "consultant" who both makes the records and decides which records should be played on the air? How can CBS or any other label ignore overtures from a man on whom their financial well-being so largely depends? Plainly it's a deal that can't be refused.

The Abrams case highlights the conflict of interest inherent in such deals in several ways. One might wonder, for instance, if Gentle Giant would be a CBS Records act in the first place if not for his involvement. The group recorded for Columbia at the outset of its career [[then moved to Capitol, where it had an undistinguished commercial record Giant For A Day. Its return to CBS is almost unprecedented--the only other example I can think of is Bob Dylan, who is not exactly of parallel stature. Secondly, Abrams' position with both the band and the radio stations he consults is much more directly personal than anyone in similar positions at any of the larger corporations. I doubt that many CBS programmers could tell you the name of Columbia Records' head of A&R. But Abrams' jocks move from one of his stations to another frequently--their allegiance is clearly to him as much as their nominal employers, the station licensees.

Finally, there is Abrams' approach to music itself. ... Abrams' involvement as a record maker is also disconcerting because it intensifies the natural direction of all corporations to market only to least common denominator palates. "The music is geared towards escapism more than anything else," he writes, which is hardly to my taste.