Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Radio for the 21st Century? (Part 1)

I first walked into a radio studio in 1998.... Just to look at that sentence makes me feel old. The room was about the size of a janitors closet, and a good quarter of it was taken up by a reel to reel machine. Yes, in 1998, there were still a few programs that would be shipped on reels, (through the US postal service) therefore necessitating this refrigerator size machine. There was a production computer with the precursor to Audition, Cool Edit, on it, an on-air "assist" computer which played our ad spots, (and about half of our programs), 3 microphones, and CDs...LOTS of CDs. I wandered in on a weekday morning, expecting to "help out around the church" and was called into this closet of a room, where the rest of the staff was enjoying their coffee. I walked in and was greeted by a mic being swung around, and someone said "Say good morning Kelly!" Being slightly sarcastic, (not to mention that it was 7am) I smarted off.."Good morning Kelly" and the DJ pushed play and slid the fader up for the next song... and that ladies and gentlemen was my debut into radio.

It's kind of mind boggling to realize that I've been around this world of radio for as long as I have, but even more surprising is the rate at which things have changed. From thumbing through the phonebook for sales leads, to calling the National Weather Service for the days forecast, or having a DJ live in studio 24/7, radio has changed significantly over the past several years.

There really seems to be 2 camps that radio folks tend toward: "Radio is going the way of the Dodo, get out while you can!" or "Radio is bigger than just another form of media, it will adapt and change its methods, but it will continue to be relevant and needed." I tend to see the wisdom on both sides of this coin, in part because both can be true, depending on your definitions, creativity, and ability to innovate and adapt.

Radio, as I was introduced to it, has gone the way of the Dodo. Djs can now sleep soundly in their beds while their voices continue to entertain us on that pre-recorded morning show. The ever growing, iconic wall of cart decks, cassettes, LPs, or CDs has been replaced with mp3 or .wav files stored on a hard drive the size of a small toaster. The radio studio has begun to look sleek, almost sterile, as the signed posters and album covers that were status symbols have been replaced by the newest technology in sound treatment, and monitor screens.

I had a computer programmer stop by our studio several months ago, as we needed some specific code written for one of our on air computers, and as he walked in, he stopped, looked at me and exclaimed "I didn't know radio was so nerdy!!" Yep, the gig is up folks, radio in the 21st century is where nerds are cool. (And believe me, the nerds are vital!) It's still a world of voice talent, musicians, sales people, and sound engineers, but the days when all you really needed to get on the air was a mixing board and a mic are gone. Computer programmers. Network engineers. Cyber security specialists. These guys are all vital to the adaptation of radio.

With all of the techno-toys that are available to the radio industry, it's easy to get caught up in the sleekest, newest, most bells- and- whistles gear that you can find, and, if budget allows, that's not all bad. The important thing to remember is that radio is bigger than the gear. This is the reason that the heart of radio will endure no matter what tech changes come down the pike.

In the next post we’ll take a look at some of the reasons that folks still tune in to their favorite stations. In the meantime, we’d love to hear from YOU! In a world of Pandora, Spotify, and podcasts, why do you choose to listen to the radio?

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