Would CSNY’s “Ohio” make it to the radio today?


Last week social media was overtaken by Star Wars geeks and those thinking they were clever by sending wishes of “May the fourth be with you.”

There’s an old saying about not knowing history and being doomed.

May 4th is also the anniversary of one of the most tragic events in American history, the “inexcusable” killing of four students at Ohio’s Kent State University in 1970 at the hands of the Ohio National Guard. Nine others were wounded. The tragedy took place in just thirteen seconds.

Shortly after seeing the pictures taken on the Kent State campus that day, musician Neil Young wrote the lyrics to the song “Ohio.”


Tin soldiers and Nixon coming. We’re finally on our own. This summer I hear the drumming. Four dead in O-HI-O.


Those searing words, coupled with the song’s haunting guitars make “Ohio” from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young quite possibly the most meaningful song of the Vietnam War era.

Ohio 45

The song was recorded in Los Angeles in just a few takes. Neil Young, interviewed in Rolling Stone magazine, said David Crosby cried when they finished the recording. Atlantic records quickly released the song and it was being played on the radio in just a few weeks.

That was the summer of 1970.

Would “Ohio” get any radio airplay today, in 2018, if history sadly repeated itself?

In 1970, there was no consolidation of radio, television or any traditional media for that matter. Media owners could only be the licensees of seven AM, seven FM and seven TV stations nationwide. They could own no more than one AM, one FM and one TV station in any one city. And forget about those stations being co-owned with a newspaper.

Because of this ownership fragmentation, most media companies were somewhat immune from government punishment – real, threatened or perceived – which controlled whether they kept their broadcast licenses at renewal time. A broadcast license was a license to print money. The big ownership targets would have been companies like NBC and CBS back then. Their networks made a few bucks, but it was their licensed broadcast stations that were the real cash cows, especially their AM radio and TV stations.

“Ohio” was indeed banned by many big city AM stations in 1970 due to the line about “Nixon coming.”  Ownership felt it was a harsh criticism of the then administration.  And who really wanted to be on Nixon’s famous “Enemies List?”  They weren’t really sure how their audiences were going to react either.  In fairness it was a confusing time for most, regardless of their generation.  As the years pass, time always seems to provide focus in helping to understand events like this.

That didn’t stop FM progressive rock stations and college radio stations from playing the song, though. Many of these FM stations were run by mom and pop owners, unlike the consolidators of today which own hundreds of stations. Back then, many of these stations, especially FM stations, spoke for, identified with and advocated for groups of people. Today we call this a “social network,” but it’s something that’s been homogenized out of today’s radio.


Gotta get down to it. Soldiers are cutting us down. Should have been done long ago.


So I go back to my question, would “Ohio” get any radio airplay today?

A downside to being a big consolidator, like iHeart Media, Entercom or Cumulus, is you need things from the government. Things like relaxing those pesky ownership rules again, helping to make more consolidation possible. Things like getting rid of the rule saying you need an “actual studio” in your city of license.  Or what about allowing foreign ownership of broadcast licenses? There’s a lot of money that could come from beyond our borders that would make Wall Street banks very happy.

Would the consolidators risk their futures by doing what may be right and playing a 3-minute song?

I doubt it.


What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground. How can you run when you know?


Kent State Marker

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