When was the last time you turned on a radio and listened to a local station?
For me it was more than 3 months ago. Even then it wasn't strictly a "local" radio station. I was in the Jeep, playing with the car radio. I'm in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market. I was listening to ZNS Bahamas out of Freeport.
After I got bored with that, I switched through a series of "HD" radio stations, all of which were better than FM quality sound, but all of which were "automated". Basically listening to someone else's iPod.
This morning, my own iPod needed a charge so I switched over to my phone, started an app that goes out and finds radio stations and internet-only broadcasters. I finally settled on a bitcaster that is internet only out of Germany that plays top 40 music in English.
Only. No Commercials.
It got me thinking how far things have changed.
In my father's day, there was AM. There weren't too many choices, they all had static, and way back in his day, there were actual programs. This was before TV, so there were dramas, comedies, and special interest programs run.
TV changed all that, and it became music. News on the hour and the half, sports when "there was a game on". Offerings got more diverse. By the time I got interested in radio, I started with Dad's Radio, a Blaupunkt Shortwave/AM/FM/Longwave that still works. Glass tubes that glowed warmly and delivered a surprisingly mellow sound.
We had Rock, Dance, RnB, and more. But still we had diversity in programming because the markets were managed. No one company was permitted to own too many radio stations in any given area.
That all changed in the late 90s and by the 2000s, Radio (with a capital R) pretty much was dead or dying.
Sure, people still listened to it, but the MP3 players and iPods came on the scene. You could program your own music if you had a mind to it. It would take a bit of effort, but you could do it. I skated 21,000 miles listening to cobbled together podcasts legally downloaded from the internet.
I still had Dad's Radio, but by then the BBC World Service that I grew up with had pulled the plug on its services in North America and for the most part and the only things I found were some stations that I didn't have too much interest in. Once BBC was gone, Radio Nederlands was hard to find and that left me with CBC. It was too easy to find other outlets for news and general interest programming.
Luckily it was easy to keep loading up the iPod and surf stations online at home or work. I was listening to a station in Miami when I lived in Philadelphia, and if that lost my interest there was BBC Radio 4 or an excellent dance station in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
The world opened up and local radio died to me.
I would only listen to NPR on the way home if I was following the news, otherwise back to the iPod because, again, Corporate radio stinks.
I guess the next step is what we do in the car. Here we are in a major media market in the US and we can't find anything to listen to that isn't 22 minutes of commercials plus probably as much "DJ Patter". So fire up the phone, plug it into the car audio input, and play some bitcaster on Kevin's unlimited data account.
Commercials make me twitchy, and always have. I'm the fastest remote clicker in the East.
Why bother listening to something local in the car when you can have something that you enjoy? Forget Sirius Satellite Radio, they're just as bad with all that blathering from abysmal DJs like that horrendous Tim Bauman.
I wish I never got Sirius XM. It's better than Corporate Radio but it's like saying I'm happy the cold I have is not the Flu.
Some of the lesser popular or "fringe" music formats are simply not available in Corporate Radio because they don't have the right demographics. Smooth Jazz, which got very big for a couple years, drew an older audience primarily. It's rare that you'd find a teenager who was really into listening to a smooth jazz audience. On the other hand, it was played pretty much everywhere - dentist and doctors offices, elevators and the like. It had a place. Small shops would love to have it on because it would be much less jarring than a Top 40 station in the background.
But they left South Florida, at least for a while. They may be back, I haven't checked. My godmother, Kathie, is a huge Smooth Jazz fan, and she simply left the radio off for most of the time. 10th largest market in the US and she simply ignored the radio. Eventually she got a smartphone and a data account and happily can listen to her Smooth Jazz wherever she likes.
Really, there has to be a better way to do it, but I suspect that the Genie is out of the Bottle. The Radio in the car dash of the future will have a port to plug into the phone, and a volume control. FM? Who needs it, we've moved on. AM? Wall to wall static from distant cities and right-wing and religious shouters. Again, we've moved on.
At least I have, and so has my godmother... and so has .... well you get the picture.
Now, I think I'll change the channel. Time for some Goa or some Trance. Maybe some Hawaiian or Bhangra. I've got a world of choice and commercial Corporate radio is none of it.