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What Makes Radio Matter

So the other day I was in Barnes & Noble for the first time in a long time.  What a revelation!

Where are the DVD’s?!  Gone!  And the music?  Gone!  Both replaced by a wide variety of “learning toys.”  Meanwhile the “Nook” section was expanded and moved to the center of the store, complete with ultra-contemporary Apple-like design aesthetic.

Remember when the bookstore sold books (and music and movies)?  That was back when B&N competed against my dearly departed Borders, the bookseller that once subcontracted their online store to a little company called Amazon.

As I looked around I recognized the slow evolution of the bookstore into an altogether different kind of store –  one that lives across platforms and categories.

And it’s not just bookstores, it’s telephones and radio, too.

Take it from my friend John Frost of Goodratings, a programming consultant to Christian broadcasters.  He writes (go here for the full version).:

This is the tale of two telephones. I call them both phones but that is about all they have in common.

One is functional. You plug it in. You dial a number. You talk. You hang up when you’re done. No more, no less.

The other can be used to place calls, as well, but that hardly the reason people choose it.

I grew up playing the board game Monopoly for hours and hours and hours with my friends Rodney, David and his younger brother Mark. We were excited at the prospect of being the first to land on Boardwalk and Park Place. The utilities–Water Works and the Electric Company—were so boring their spaces were in black and white.

Utilities are there to simply function. Water, electric, telephone. One phone is designed to simply connect with that utility. The other is designed for the imagination.

It strikes me that radio stations can be as distinct as these two phones. One is no more meaningful than its most basic function—turn it on to listen; turn it off as desired. The other is the centerpiece of a conversation with like-minded people who care deeply about their faith, their families, and their communities.

My iPhone isn’t just about the technology of the phone, it’s really about me. I have so personalized it to my specific interests that I’ll not likely ever change to another kind of phone. Apple has a customer for life.

My apps are about my interests. When I share my apps I’m sharing my life.

The fact that one can plug a telephone cord into a wall and lift the receiver to call someone is not likely to be the subject matter of conversation among raving fans. (Although my uncle used to tell the story of when his grandparents first got electricity they’d sit around and watch the light bulb). The fact that a radio station is on the air and plays five songs in a row and has disc jockeys and features is not what makes a radio station remarkable.

Hugh MacLeod says, “It’s not what a product does that matters to us so much, it’s how we socialize around it that matters.”

Great stations have listeners that are engaged and share the station with others–not because of the “radio” things the station does but because of how meaningful it is.

MacLeod says, “Social and personal identity involves a lot of sharing what matters to you most, with those who matter to you most. It’s an amazing thing, when your customer base not only buys your product but also consciously takes individual responsibility for your success.”

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