Sunday, June 1, 2008

R.I.P. Radio

Recently, my former colleague, Chris Core weighed in on the reason he (and I) were let go at WMAL... And now, the Washington Post's Marc Fisher is offering an expanded obituary for the radio business. I wish I could say I believe Fisher is being overly pessimistic, but from my current seat, he seems pretty darn on point to me!

You can read the entire article here, but here are a couple of passages that pass awfully close to my heart:

In the easy decades of a tightly constricted mass media, there were three TV networks, monopoly newspapers and a handful of radio stations in each place. That lack of choice meant that much of popular culture was middle-brow in ambition and middling in quality. But the nation was guaranteed a common conversation about music, politics and nearly every other aspect of life.

The challenge for all media now is to find a path back to mass, while retaining as much as possible of the freedom and access that the infinite range of the Internet promises.

The programming on the radio these days does not light a way toward that goal. Music radio seems superfluous -- a selection of tunes nowhere near as varied as what iPod users choose for themselves, and without the added value that knowledgeable and entertaining DJs once provided. With the strong exception of public radio and a handful of all-news local stations such as Washington's WTOP, radio has largely gotten out of the news business -- too expensive. And the local talk programs that once made it easy for a traveler to figure out his location without ever glancing at a road sign have largely given way to Rush Limbaugh and a legion of imitators.

And there's more...

The next decade or more will be a transitional time, as radio, like newspapers and television networks, forswears allegiance to any one means of distribution and declares itself platform-agnostic. Those media that, like the record industry, cling to old technology and a collapsed business model will see their futures crumble before their eyes.

Radio, shedding talent as fast as it loses audience, is rapidly becoming irrelevant to the younger generation. Yet most Americans still listen to something for much of the day. Radio could be the way into those ears, but only if it invests in creating compelling reasons to be there, only if it grabs hold of us the way the voices of past decades connected to the loves, pains and dreams of young listeners. As always, the future lies in the past.

The future lies in the past? Maybe THAT's why I've been obsessed with my college choir lately! Is there any money in singing four-part harmony?

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