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Radio and Community

This is not some post extolling radio’s alleged identity as “the first social network.” In fact, I don’t think radio is the first social network – that was probably a gathering of ancestral humans around a campfire, but be that as it may.

This post is, however, about community. And radio’s relation to it.

We are fast entering an age of everything everywhere, a time when anyone can have exactly what she wants exactly when she wants it.

But personalization and my own personal playlist isn’t everything. There’s one zone where radio still rules the roost.

This is the zone of common experience. The zone where everybody enjoys the same thing at the same time together – and it is this universal experience that enhances the value of the experience itself.

This is what the TV audience experience when they all tune in for American Idol or, back in the day, for that final episode of M*A*S*H.

Granted, the magnitude of these communal experiences – like everything else “mass” – is shrinking. But being the “big head” on the “long tail” doesn’t make the head any less important. Nope. In fact, it becomes more important because it is all the more scarce and valuable.

The capacity to rally viewers or listeners to one experience at one time – together – is what community is all about. Community is not strictly the uploading of photos and the sharing of links. It’s also the awareness that somewhere – everywhere – out there, others are here with you, experiencing what you are, right now.

This is what radio – the old-fashioned kind – can do so well, when it truly achieves its potential.

This is what it is to listen to a crisis unfolding in real-time. This is what it is to eavesdrop on a caller with Dr. Laura or Howard Stern and know that the driver in the car next to yours is doing the exact same thing right now.

There’s incredible value in customization and seeking out our own ideal mix of content on our own terms.

And there’s also incredible value in joining together – all at once – for an experience of community.

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