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Radio’s Opportunity

What does the disappearance of a Public Radio Jazz format in Chicago have to do with radio at large?

Quite a lot, actually, if you listen between the lines of this story from NPR’s terrific On the Media.

Jazz writer John McDonough investigates not only the public uproar over the station’s format change – but also a much more interesting issue: Why didn’t the Jazz fans who complain the most ever actually listen to the radio station?

The answer: They have vast collections and can create their own listening experience which is tailored to their tastes and will, by its very nature, beat whatever any station decides to air.

McDonough goes on to interview a very non-scientific selection of teens who make very similar decisions not to listen to the radio because, to paraphrase one, “You can’t control what you listen to.”

McDonough and I agree on this: What makes radio worth listening to for this and future generations is what makes it different from other media, not what makes it the same.

If I can program my own personal station better than you can (and I can), then you are a diminishing commodity, a generalist in the world of specialists.

If, however, you provide me with something which is unique – which I can’t create my own personal version of which beats yours – then I have a reason to listen and you have an audience. For now and a good long time to come.

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