Monday, August 20, 2018

A Tribute To Radio; An Ever-Changing Medium

Today is National Radio Day. It is especially poignant for me as this is the first time in my carer that I have not been officially employed by a radio station. But my passion for, and belief in the medium is still strong, even though I recognize the many challenges radio faces in 2018.

Having a view from the sidelines, however, has given me some objectivity.

When I was young, I had 3 sources of electronic entertainment: radio, television and my personal collection (records/tapes then CDs). TV was a shared experience where everyone watched the same thing and my parents picked the show. Radio, however, was very intimate and one-on-one. I was in control. I had a small transistor when I was very young and when I got older I treasured my full scale stereo system, which included my FM receiver, because always included in my musical experience, no matter what else came along, was radio.

Radio was my source for new music discovery. After hearing a song I liked on the radio, and learning all about it from my favorite DJ,  I'd go out an buy the album.

Listening to the radio, and listening to songs in my collection went hand in hand. They complimented each other. I never thought of them as being competitive. If I didn't have radio, I'd have never have heard the songs I ended up buying. Because my collection wasn't mobile and a radio was, I'd listen to the radio everywhere I went, in the car, at work and at home. Although I'd spend hours listening to my vinyl, I would still love to hear my favorite songs, or brand new ones "curated"  into a playlist that came out of my FM radio. Those stations and their playlists and the air personalities who "schooled me" on music became a soundtrack for for the many seasons of my life.

Clearly, the radio industry has changed dramatically. For anyone under 30, radio might be one, (hopefully is still one) of many sources to find audio at the touch of a button, and mostly in the car. But it will never be as it was because the technology surrounding it has made it only one of  multiple sources for music and media.

While I still love radio, and am nostalgic for those memories of my youth, I admit,  I consume most of my music through the many digital platforms available to me. Because there are so many sources to find great music uninterrupted by commercials, I tend to curate my own lists. But what I miss in these DSP's is the information I'd get between the songs, and I believe the one way radio can remain relevant is to return to that part of what made radio great: intimacy, one-one-one communication, and, in a word: personality. Radio's more music less talk strategy may have been relevant before Spotify and Pandora, but much less so now. because there is NO talk on these streaming services.

In short, we need to bring back talk between the songs. More music less talk is not a viable position on over the air radio anymore because radio cannot compete in that area. MORE talk, (of the right kind, of course) not less is what may bring people back to radio. Personalities that keep you company. Personalities that inform, entertain, console, educate and overall, just serves that role of a companion.

Personalities are emerging, however, on YouTube and other video streaming platforms. Personalities are becoming stars via a podcasts. NPR has, through its podcasts, extended it's brand well beyond its airwaves. While radio chose to eliminate much of its local focus for syndicated air talent to cut costs due to the overwhelming debt caused by conglomeration, online services are quietly filling the void becoming the "farm team" for talent that local radio once was. Don't get me wrong, no one can argue the talent and entertainment value of nationally syndicated  shows like Howard Stern, Bobby Bones, Ryan Seacrest and their predecessors like Casey Kasem, Rick Dees or Paul Harvey...but those stars of the past  may not be coming from radio or TV in the future.

I'm not so nostalgic for old radio that I think we need to completely return to the way it was done way back when, but as far as personality and locality, I think we can learn a lot from the mistakes of deregulation to help turn this ship around.

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