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What Radio Can Be

Listenership to mass media is eroding. We know that. The number of choices is multiplying. Even the times at which we consume the very same programming is atomizing, splitting into an infinite variety of times, thanks to the DVR and TiVo.

In the world of Radio, Podcasting, streaming, Satellite, and our own (often misguided) efforts at HD Radio stand to splinter the entertainment consumption universe even more.

In a sense that’s progress. In a sense it’s giving people more of what they, individually, want.

At the same time, however, just because something is oriented towards the mass doesn’t mean it’s bad. Hollywood blockbusters are fueled by what’s mass. The fact that everyone wants to see King Kong this fall is nothing to be ashamed about. In fact, these communal events, these universally appealing passion points, they give us all something to share, something to talk about, something to enrich our lives in the context of whatever community we call our own.

It’s great that my individual preferences can be fulfilled by this or that blog or this or that podcast. But a world of differences doesn’t bring us together, it tears us apart.

What I’m saying is that there’s room for both. They must coexist. The ability to have your tastes uniquely satisfied doesn’t imply that you’ll lose interest in the fascinations you share with your friends and strangers alike.

Radio, like all broadcasting, is built on the mass media model. The idea that if we give a large group of people what most of them like, it will help to entertain or inform them and to enrich their lives. That’s why I’m in this rat race, anyway. Not to fill the coffers of the super-groups (although making listeners happier may do just that). Not to satisfy disembodied and uninvolved shareholders. But to help give you, the audience, something that you’ll remember fondly always.

If Radio doesn’t rise to that level often enough – if it rises to that level only rarely – that’s our fault as an industry. There will be no room in the future of media for broadcasting which doesn’t step out and take chances, delight, educate, inform, entertain, and thrill. There will be no room for mediocrity – for laziness, because the listener’s response to the mediocre will be to take their listening elsewhere.

Radio has always been about content. And I don’t mean the record labels’ content. Great content is part of our heritage. And we’re fast approaching the time where we must live up to that heritage. Or the time when we can trim our costs to the bone, split our stations into a zillion digital also-ran format slivers, surrender the really compelling and interesting and entertaining content to Satellite, stretch our employees well past the breaking point, cyber-jock ourselves into oblivion, over-test our music, and banish all risks from our strategic bag of tricks.

The choice is ours.

Time to demand better.

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