I am fortunate enough to go to the National Association of Broadcasters' annual trade show every year in Las Vegas and every year during the annual trade show in Las Vegas I overhear a conversation about how radio is dying. People have written numerous articles about the subject in trade magazines and others talk about it over cups of coffee first thing in the morning. I even hear some on air personalities talking about it on their shows -- that are on the radio!
Yet we're seeing record enrollment in classes that offer training in various aspects of radio. We're seeing revenue being generated. We're seeing small businesses benefiting from ads placed on the radio. We're seeing a public that still hears new music first on the radio.
Why is it doom and gloom for radio? Is it? What am I missing?
Here's a format that relies on the imagination and creativity of not only the individuals that are writing the songs, engineering the songs, performing the songs, telling the stories, sharing the memories, asking the questions, and giving the speeches but also the imagination and creativity of those who are listening to these elements. I keep coming back to the somewhat cliche "theatre of the mind" but I can't think of any other description that perfectly encapsulates what radio is.
It's active. It's engaging. In public radio, especially, there is a phenomenon that's known by many names but I call it "driveway moments." It's when you've arrived home and are sitting in your car listening to the radio because you can't tear yourself away from what you're listening to. It's that compelling. Why is it so compelling? Whatever it is that you're listening to is doing something with your mind. Are you revisiting a memory that was triggered by a song? Are you sitting in disbelief that a government could do such things to its people? What is going on in your mind that is forcing you to sit in the car, in your driveway or parking lot, waiting until the story or song ends? It's a completely different experience than with TV, movies, or any visual format. Don't get me wrong, there are other things that stimulate us with any visual format like those but radio is different. Radio is relying on YOU to paint the picture. You don't see it with your eyes. You see it with your mind.
Apart from the theatre of the mind, here are a few more reasons why I love what I do:
1.) I get to share music with others. Music is my life and it has gotten me through SEVERAL situations. The reason that the heart of #abftp is music and memories is because I've attached so many memories -- good and bad -- to so many songs. I'm transported back to those memories every time a song comes on and I can taste, smell, and feel exactly what I felt when I first heard -- or first associated a memory with that song.
1a.) I get to share NEW music with others. Cher just released a new song. I love the song. I get to share that song and that love with others and, hopefully, that love and enthusiasm will attach to someone else.
2.) I get to immediately let listeners know of a public emergency. When I was young and dumb, I used to chase tornadoes. My car got picked up by one. It was -- fun? Now that I pay my own insurance and am responsible for a mortgage, I don't go out of my way to see a tornado but I still am in awe of the awesome power of one. As a broadcaster, I'm the first line of defense, for the public, against the weather. I'm usually one of the first to know if a storm is heading for a town or if you really need to take this storm cell seriously. That relaying of information is important and as a broadcaster I can geek out on weather while keeping the public (and myself) informed and safe.
3.) I get to be creative and have fun. Yes, radio is a business. All businesses have a bottom line. But how many jobs can you invent things like rotating thumb scales and laws that say you have to play We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions side by side or else We Will, We Will, Never Listen To You Again (boom-boom-clap). I am free to be creative, silly, and sometimes just downright stupid -- and laugh at it. The day I take myself too seriously is the day that I need to be in the ground.
Wrapping up... TL;DR: Radio isn't dying. As long as we have creative, silly, fun, engaging people to share minds and local, relevant information with on both sides of the radio, smart speaker, or mobile device, the format will stick around for a long time. It will reinvent itself and remain relevant as long as there are ideas to share and innovators to build.
...and advertisers... they help, too!