Jesse Walker is is the managing editor of Reason Magazine. In this episode of Virtually Speaking, we will be talking about his book, Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America. (Hat tip to Fishgrease for bringing Jesse to our attention.)
Whenever a new medium comes along, the general critic/pundit/futurist reaction is “Death Knell!!” to the dominant medium that predated it. In fact what happens is that while everything changes in response to the new medium, old media always remain with us. Television was supposed to kill radio. What it did, of course, was change radio. Television was a much better format for The Lone Ranger than radio was, but radio is a much better format for call-in talk than television will ever be. The Lone Ranger is better with pictures, while Rush Limbaugh is decidedly better without. It takes a while to work these things out, as the old guard still trying to keep things the same are forced out, and the new guard engages in sometimes desperate experiments to keep the business afloat.
Jesse chronicles this process in the first half of the book, focusing on smaller operators, most especially operators who found ways to create
content programming that responded to local interests, and local material. In Seattle, Houston, St Louis and other large American towns, there are thriving social and musical scenes that translate beautifully into radio’s broadcast limitations. The limited scope of the enterprise makes experimentation possible with little downside risk–you can keep a midnight to six program going for a while without endangering the future of the station, especially if nobody was listening in the first place. So we will talk about that pretty darn colorful history.
Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we are in one of those periods of change right now. Media like newspapers and magazines are going to have to change or die. The end of local monopolies over classified and merchant ad content has doomed many newspapers that cannot find a new, web-centric business model fast enough. But for media like radio, the web is a potential godsend. A station like WFMU (linked above) now has a potentially global audience for its unique free-form style.
We will discuss how this has, and will, play out in an environment that is also dominated by (colluding) corporate and regulatory heavyweights.
Then we will talk about the opportunities for new voices, new content made available by both the web (as we are demonstrating here at Virtually Speaking) and with inexpensive micro-broadcasting. Fishgrease is scheduled to call in with a report from the ground–and we will talk about what these new media may mean–with the proviso that all such forecasting is both fun, and generally wrong.