HITS Daily Double
Why does the format remind me of zee French, many of the same players who hoisted the trophy two Cups ago trying in vain to do something that was once so easy?


The Radio Legend Compares the Moribund Modern Rock Format With the Goal-Starved French Soccer Team
This week’s column was written by industry legend and all-around genius Mike Tierney. The Ivana & Lenny Show will return in the next issue. You can reach Mike at [email protected].

I’m watching France play in the World Cup (yes, I’m the one), which (if you gave a rat’s ass) could be a case study in frustration and impotence of BIBLICAL proportions. After failing to score on the legendary pacifists, the Swiss, zee French have now been without a World Cup goal since actually winning the largest prize in sports in 1998. NINETEEN NINETY-EIGHT! Think for a moment where you were then. Dubya governed Texas (and only Texas). Bubba was in hot water over Monica. I was at VH1 with John Sykes and Rob Barnett, trying to convince Billy Corgan that it was not artistic death to have his mug on our channel, and that we didn’t actually play Kenny G anymore. “Nookie” and “Bawitidaba” were currents (dayparted after 7 p.m.), as were “1979,” “Semi-Charmed Life,” and “Closing Time.” Modern Rock radio was on top. There were hit records and high ratings. The best programmers in the country all seemed to be programming Infinity Modern Rock stations… So why does the format remind me—an outsider looking in—of zee French, many of the same players who hoisted the trophy two Cups ago trying in vain to do something that was once so easy, as effortless as it had been when they were kids? It is a complex question, and there are no simple answers. I will leave the analysis of the fear-of-failure and related complexes to Dr. Melfi. And I will also leave the business-speak to The Wall Street Journal. If I were qualified to analyze share prices and quarterly performances, I would have gotten an honest job instead of going into radio. The fact is, since 1998, THIRTY-TWO fiscal quarters have come and gone, a sample size bigger than some stations’ callout research. I think it is fair to ask: Has giving a shit about the quarterly bottom line done anybody any good? Or has the attempt to turn great programmers into captains-of-industry bred mediocrity in both pursuits? Because I know sweet fuck-all about psychology and finance, I will limit my comments here to two subjects I know a little bit about: programming and soccer. And I know that this is the paradoxical lesson of zee French: When it comes to getting ratings and scoring goals, greater effort and analysis actually conspire to make the desired result LESS likely… Seriously, look at it clearly: Did research and quarterly fiscal planning have anything to do with Modern Rock reaching its pinnacle in 1998? That great thinker C.C. DeVille, has said he knew intuitively the first time he saw Kurt Cobain on MTV that his ticket for the Poison Behind the Music had already been punched. AOR was finished. Top 40 would enter a deep freeze that only teenpop would eventually thaw. Why wasn’t there any research to warn what a thresher guitarist gleaned from what Malcolm Gladwell would call his “blink factor?” Answer: Who gives a shit? C.C. DeVille was right. Kurt Cobain started a cultural revolution, and Modern Rock radio rode the wave spontaneously. By the summer of ’98, they were on top of the world. Like zee French. Both should have listened to the words of Filter’s hit from that summer: “Could you take my picture? ’Cause I won’t remember.”… Which is odd. You’d think every day would be like a Sunday in ’98. But it’s tricky. We try to recreate the picture itself. We want to bring back Kurt. We try to make today’s charts look like they did back then—the Red Hot Chili Peppers will bring it back! And Tool! And the Foo Fighters! And Velvet Revolver! And Audioslave! And Zidane! And Makelele! (Five of these are ’98 throwbacks with hits in the last 12 months. Two are French footballers who came out of retirement this year, in an effort to bring back the “Glory of ’98”) Perhaps it would be more productive to recreate what led to the photo-op—the freshness, the creativity and the edge that spawned ’98 in the first place. The first lesson is that you can’t have a Kurt Cobain without a C.C. DeVille. And zee French will never find the next great playmaker while the 34-year-old Zidane is in the middle… Coincidentally, the Brazilians are on TV now. They are trying to win their third World Cup in the last four, playing “the beautiful game” with athletes who were still in school when the run started. One generation’s stars fade away, and another’s step forward. They still play like kids: Fearlessly, joyfully, constantly reinventing. And a 24-year-old named Kaka—KILLER name for a night jock, btw—just cut though the Croatian defense and scored as if he weren’t even trying.