Radio, the “Intimate” Medium

Recently, Howard Stern interviewed MSNBC host and one-time Air America anchor Rachel Maddow, and the conversation eventually drifted to radio and what makes it different from TV.

Compared to TV, “radio is an intimate medium,” Rachel said. And of course, she’s right. While we lump radio with television when we think of “broadcasting,” TV is certainly more one-to-many while radio is really much more one-to-one….

Among many.

That’s not just a voice in your ear, after all. It’s a voice you have a relationship with.

With TV you’re always aware of the glass rectangle separating you from that character in his or her sterile studio. But when you listen to the radio, it’s just you and that voice in your ears.

You and your friend.

This intimacy has tremendous value. And it happens not because of the right mix of songs, for hits are commodities. It happens not because of production value or messaging. It happens not because of contests and bits. It happens not because of more music or fewer commercials. It happens not because of personalization or interactivity.

It happens because that voice belongs to someone who matters to you.

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  • Lenja

    O wow, so beautiful. This reminds me of what Ira glass told me in Barcelona (Radiodays Europe) why RADIO IS BEAUTIFUL for him! Will send you the audio! Take care Mark. Lenja

  • I agree wholeheartedly! Working a small market, we find that people not only consider us friends, but nearly family. They share so much and make our programming personal. We are able to connect on so many levels. It really makes me love my job even more. They are not listeners to us, they are our neighbors and friends. When you can have a conversation with a listener on the air and it feels like your are talking to a friend over coffee, The laughter, tears, information and fun make it comfortable and easy.  Lucky for us we have very entertaining listener friends! Makes for Real Radio fun! 

  • Acstowe

    Well put, and so true!

  • Don

    You said something I’ve been trying to articulate for years…from blog posts to comments to a novel set in broadcasting: the difference between radio and TV is best represented by that “glass rectangle” that sits in our dens and family rooms.  It limits the personalization of the medium.  Radio, on the other hand, is in your ear…literally in your head!…and goes with you wherever you go.

    There will always be a divide between us and the person behind that glass rectangle, but with radio, the person is right there, and in the best of situations, carrying on a conversation with you.

    Let’s please not let this wonderfully intimate medium die!


  • So true, Mark! We receive write-ins from listeners all the time whose lives have been changed through a program or host on our stations because they feel like the person was talking directly to them.  

  • Thanks Holly!

  • Gordon Kern

    Radio has non of the extraneous stimulus, when I’m listening to the radio it has me in its trance and the message it sends is received like no other media.

  • Well that MAY be true, Gordon, but it is not necessarily or always true. It very much depends on the station, the format, the execution, and the context.
    Thank you for the comment!