There used to be a time when it was all you could do to pull me away from a radio. Now? I hardly ever turn one on. Why should I? There really is no point to it anymore. It’s lost so much of it’s functionality and personality that there are days when I’m not entirely sure why it still bothers to exist.
A couple of weeks ago when we had the big ass storm and we all learned what a Derecho is, for example. Did I learn that word from the radio? No, I did not. In fact, were I forced to rely on my local news radio station, I wouldn’t have even known there was a storm. They were too busy rerunning talk show segments from earlier in the week to tell me about the carnage outside and why nobody had any power.
And that’s talk radio, which still sometimes sounds like it’s trying to serve a purpose and keep you company here and there. It could be much better at it than it is, but at least you can sense some effort now and again unlike the boring, nationally programmed jukeboxes with zero identity that the music stations have become.
For years I’ve tried to come up with a simple way to sum up my feelings about the state of radio. I’ve used all sorts of less than kind adjectives to get my point across which is fun, but not super succinct. But thanks to this post by Sean Ross, I think that at long last, I’ve finally found it. Radio is an abandoned mall. It used to be a cool gathering place where you could find all sorts of interesting things, but now it’s uncared for, deserted and dragging the neighbourhood down.
When I hear a station that is largely unhosted or minimally hosted, it reminds me of the abandoned mall. There is no greeter at the front door of the big box store. There is no clerk to ask if I need help. I’ve always felt that turning on the radio should bring the feeling of a friend greeting you at the door. These days, I often get the feeling that the host can’t be bothered to get up from the couch.
When I see a radio station schedule posted online and seven-eights of the broadcast day is listed only as “WXXX Music,” punctuated perhaps by a morning or afternoon show, it reminds me of the abandoned mall. (I have one friend who sends me at least one example of that from his radio listening every month.)
When I hear a heritage radio station that is now clearly assembled from parts-found-around-the-house, especially if there is no localism or no sense of place, it reminds me of the abandoned mall.
It might feel like pushing the metaphor a little too much to say that an ill-tended radio station feels unsafe. Yet, what we have wanted from radio during COVID-19 is, in part, to help keep us safe. That’s a bigger job than radio can do alone, especially now, but I don’t hear enough of that information on radio.
There’s always a franchise for one station to be the “local” and “personality” station. But when other stations sound generic, thrown together, and barely hosted, the abandoned store feeling makes people less likely to turn the radio on. The shuttered stores hurt the other tenants. The more radio stations do to market and attract radio usage, the more listening there will be for all of us.