The days when commercial radio DJs were given the freedom to program their own shows has long passed. Playlists are set by corporate bigwigs who are more interested in what’s popular than what’s good. The DJs, if you can still call them that, sit in the studio and fill the space in between songs with light banter, trying to seem personable without having too much of a personality.
If you listen to them, it seems their attitude has shifted from being music critics to being publicists. The hosts (a better term for them than DJ) deliver advertising messages, plug upcoming shows or contests, and they do so seeming as happy and excited as they could possibly be.
This happiness extends to major changes. When Mix 96 became Virgin Radio 96, that resulted in more syndicated programming and less local voice. But the employees put on an excited face about their new station, wearing T-shirts bearing its logo and plugging it in any way they could on Facebook.
This everything-is-happy-no-matter-what philosophy doesn’t mesh well with inevitable firings. Nobody likes to see people lose their jobs, and listeners rarely like to see hosts get booted to the street, especially when there’s nobody to replace them. So what tends to happen is that the on-air personalities will do their best to minimize these staff changes, emphasizing the new arrivals and hoping listeners forget about the departures. Beyond a short goodbye, in many cases their names are never spoken again. Their blogs and bios are quietly deleted from the station’s website, and it waits until the recently departed become the not-so-recently departed so they can be fully forgotten.
Aaron Rand is not this type of on-air personality.
When Rand learned (along with the rest of us) in August that his morning co-hosts on CFQR, Paul (Tasso) Zakaib and Suzanne Desautels, were being dismissed, he was devastated. Aaron and Tasso had been a fixture on Montreal radio for decades, and now they were being split up. And for some reason, Aaron had been left as the sole survivor.
Most people in this situation would have laid low for a while, refused requests to talk to the media, and done everything in their power to not join his friends on the unemployment line. You don’t want to rock the boat, to bite the hand that feeds you, to let the world know that your boss was an asshole for what he did. You want to keep your job, and that means staying quiet about your feelings.
Rand didn’t do that. Instead, he talked to his listeners, talked to The Gazette, and even answered critics online. While Tasso and Suzanne kept quiet (to this day they haven’t said anything publicly), Rand had to speak for them.
And yet, he had to speak for the station as well, which made everything awkward. He couldn’t trash-talk the station or its decision, but he couldn’t hide his feelings either. He talked about how sad he was, how hard it was to get through his first solo show, and yet how these kinds of on-air changes are how commercial radio works now. He didn’t like the decision, but it wasn’t his call. So he had to live with it and accept it.
A month later, the public outrage has died down. The Q has reopened its Facebook page to discussion after shutting it down to prevent the flood of negative comments. The station apparently believes enough time has passed for people to forget.
Not Rand. He’s organizing a party, inviting fans of the show to join him (and presumably Tasso and Suzanne) at the Mount Stephen Club downtown on Oct. 20. It’s not a gathering to protest CFQR’s decision to fire them, but a thank-you gathering to celebrate their careers and give listeners a chance to say a proper goodbye.
The Mount Stephen Club is a classy joint, which only seems appropriate for this classy move. (Admission is free, but space is limited, so reservations are requested at firstname.lastname@example.org, first come first served.)
In a post on the Radio in Montreal group online, Rand explained his attitude thusly:
I felt the textbook approach should give way, to a real, human, caring approach. People, especially long time listeners, have been calling and e-mailing, voicing their opinions on what happened, and now, asking if both Tasso and Suzanne are okay. That’s not a question for management to answer.
I felt it would be cold, callous, and disrespectful of me to ignore their queries, especially given the fact that we were a team. This was not just a situation where someone had left after a year or two for greener pastures, this was about the breakup of the heritage morning show in their market. Listeners, in my estimation, are owed an explanation, an update, call it what you will, and that explanation can only come from me. I think management understands and accepts that.
I hope they do. And I hope they understand that if local radio had more people like Aaron Rand, they might care a bit more about local radio and fewer of them would be leaving in droves for iTunes and podcasts.