For the past ten years, I have had an obsession. Well not really an obsession, but something that interests me tremendously. And that is radio. That’s right, radio. I cannot get enough of it. When you sit down, and think about it, the radio is a pretty incredible piece of technology Essential a little box, that can pick up multiple channels of entertainment, news, music, all on different bandwidths and frequencies instantaneously. And you get it all for free! As you are reading this, you are probably thinking that I have never heard of a Television, the Internet, or cell phones, well let me explain why radio has such a special place in my heart.
When I was in college, I joined the university owned radio station. To say it changed my life is an understatement. Without getting all mushy, joining the radio station helped me come out of my shell that I spent 18 years constructing, gave me experiences and life skills I never dreamed of having, but most importantly, it allowed me to meet individuals that have become my closest friends. The friends I made at the station have truly become life long friends and I will cherish their friendships forever. But that’s a discussion for another blog, back to my love of radio.
The second reason why I love radio is the personal connection the radio dj and their listener can develop. It’s like your friends. Whenever you talk to an individual about their favorite television program, the person usually gets excited, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary. But when I asked someone about his or her favorite radio dj or station, their eyes light up like you are asking them about the “Best Friend” or “BFF” as the youths call it today. Whether it’s Howard Stern, Eric and Kathy, or Mike and Mike in the Morning, the same exuberance comes on their faces.
Why is that? There are many reasons why, and I will not get into all of them. But the main reason, I think, is people are driving to work in the morning, by themselves. Most individuals are going to a job that they don’t particularly care for. They long for something to entertain them or cheer them up in the morning, before they enter the 8-hour work grind. That’s where the morning dj comes in. They can be that little piece of sunny light in an otherwise gloomy day. This relationship is built everyday, for hours at a time, year after year after year. You get to know the dj’s personality, and you may even find yourself speaking out loud in agreement or disagreement with what the personality is discussing. It’s weird to think of, but it’s really a two-way conversation between the dj and the listener.
That’s the beauty of radio, that’s how it can hook so many dedicated listeners every single day. No other medium in the world, not television, newspapers, or even books, can develop that personal connection between the broadcaster and audience like radio can. It’s why people’s eyes light up when they talk about “Stern or Eric and Kathy”. You are asking them about their friend.
Currently though radio is in trouble. Radio is competing with not only the traditional medias of television and newspapers for our attention, but it has to compete with the new digital media as well. The media of iPods, the Internet, podcasts, vlogs, blogs, and everything under the sun that is screaming at us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. What are we to do? We keep getting pulled in so many directions and it seems radio is getting lost in the shuffle. According to the Radio Advertising Bureau’s website, which keeps track of radio’s total advertising net income yearly, advertising revenue was down 18% in 2009. That is millions of dollars lost. This maybe one of the reasons why downsizing is happening at radio stations across the country. So the next question you should ask is, “Why aren’t people listening to the radio like they used to?” I believe it is because radio is not offering a product that people want to listen to. Don’t get me wrong, radio is still reaching millions of people everyday, but not as many as they used to. How many people do you know of, when driving now listen to their iPod instead of the radio? (I am guilty of this sin.)
So what does radio need to do to get people listening to it’s product again? Well two things come to my mind when I ask myself this question.
1. They need to play more unsigned and independent artists. Currently radio is playing it safe and playing proven artists. Bands like Nickelback, Eminem, and Rihanna come to my mind. Very rarely do mainstream stations take a risk and play an unknown artist. Why not change that? Currently in the independent and underground music scenes there are some absolutely incredible artists, of every genre, making music that can change the world. But mainstream radio listeners are not getting exposed to this. I actually have a very good example of radio exposing me to a new artist that has blown me away with how good they are.
Last week I was driving home for lunch and I was listening to my old college radio station. While driving the station started playing this band I never heard of called Frightened Rabbit and their song Living Colour. I had never heard of this band before, but as I listened, I really started to enjoy the guitar rifts, drumming, and the lyrics. I wrote the name of the band down, and when I got back to work I checked out some of their other songs. To say I was blown away was an understatement! This band is absolutely amazing and I found out about them only because I listened to the radio. If I were listening to my iPod that day, I would have never heard them, and would be missing out on some great music. That is one of the great gifts that radio can give to its listeners.
2. My second idea to help improve radio is to allow the djs to talk more to the audience. They need to be allowed to develop interesting talking bits and discussions. Once again, the djs can tell us information about an artist or a band they we may not have been aware of, or they can introduce us to that new local band they just saw over the weekend and want us to check them out. The dj is a musical expert; please let them share their passion with us. The best part is, this is information that the iPod cannot give us, only the dj can. So if we the listener wants to know this new information, we will be forced to listen to that station on a regular basis.
About a year ago I had the pleasure of meeting Chicago Radio legend Clark Weber. We ended discussing the very same subject matter that I am writing about now. One thing that he told me has really stuck with me. Mr. Weber said: “People want to hear stories. When you were little, you would run to Grandma and Grandpa and ask them to tell you a story.” That’s what the listeners want, they want to be told stories, and radio djs can tell them some great stories, if they are allowed to talk to their audience.
Hopefully one day, radio continues to its next stage of evolution, and I hope that this next stage will include a greater role for the personality and more independent artists getting airplay. Until then we will just have to wait and see. But I do have one small request for you the reader, give radio a chance to entertain you, I think you might be pleasantly surprise with how much you can enjoy…when it’s good.
Until next time