The evolution of radio. I know, sounds like a strange topic but it crossed my mind because I have found myself listening to a lot more radio lately than I use to in recent years. I had to stop to think why that is.
There was a time when radio had a communal role to play. Before television of course there were radio shows like Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, or the Mercury Theatre Group. After television came along a lot of those stars migrated to tv and movies and music became the dominant feature.
Diversity came to music on the radio with the onslaught of rock-n-roll. There would be no Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis without radio. I doubt anyone remembers the DJ Alan Freed who basically coined the term rock-n-roll and organized what is considered the first rock-n-roll concert.
This communal feeling inspired Top 40 programs and DJ’s that would do crazy things. I remember a 2 a.m. food run in rural Ohio where the DJ was playing album cuts and clearly had a bottle in the studio with her and from the ramblings was trying to pick up the shambles of her love life. These events though are what made radio fun. Everyone went to school having shared the experience. It was a cultural influence.
Then something happened. Corporations took over. DJ’s – real ones – ceased to exist. If you flip on the dial now in your car you find stations playing lists and shows that are generic in nature and cooked up by a suit in an office a thousand miles away. Two-thirds, or more, of the stations are now owned by a handful of corporations.
People stopped listening. You might turn it on for background music or something like NPR sometimes but no one was inspired by what they heard on the radio anymore. There was zero creativity. The music was all bland easily forgotten tunes. Suits and bean counters had killed the medium – or so it seemed.
Like a freak of nature that Darwin would have predicted, radio made a comeback. I find myself with it on all the time when I work anymore. In an age of downloads and youtube videos why and HOW has radio wormed its way back into my life?
The answer is simple: the internet. I have access to an Apple TV and thus hundreds of internet stations. You can also stream just about any station online. This means I now find any type of music I wish to listen too and find music that will never make its way onto the public airways.
One of my favorite stations is CHIRP Radio out of Chicago. This station is actually made up of volunteers. They run community programs around Chicago. They also have a rule that no DJ can play just one genre. The result is a wild mix that is unpredictable and since the DJ’s aren’t professionals they can be a bit off the wall.
If you know me, you know I listen to a wide variety of music. I might catch a jazz station from Paris or rock from Tel Aviv and when I am writing, like a lot of writers, I often have movie soundtracks going with channels that play just those.
Yeah, radio has evolved. It still hasn’t regained the communal function it once had because like everything else tech related it boils down to a selection of niches. Still, it is good to find myself once again listening to the radio and not totally having to rely on my itunes library, as extensive as it is, for my listening pleasure.