Friday, 8 August 2014

In Defense of Radio

Image courtesy of Reunion Radio

Despite the concept looking a little anachronistic in 2014, I still love Radio.

No really, I do. I just think that, in Australia, its content is poorly executed. Mindless bullying pro-conservative talkback presenters, vacuous imported pop music, machismo-driven rock stations are all an issue for me. However there's still a lot of fun to be had in the medium. For example, exciting things are happening in the digital spectrum, with Triple J Unearthed being an amazing station, showing the majors that there's plenty of room for a station playing all Australian unsigned music. And community stations around the place like FBi and East Side Radio in Sydney, and 4ZZZ-FM in Brisbane are doing interesting things in their respective areas.

And if they don't float your boat, look online to a whole range of overseas terrestrial stations that stream online, or dig your way through the massive directory of amateur stations on Live365 or Shoutcast.com.

Radio gets a bad wrap, however, in both the independent media and, occasionally, in these here pages as well. I've been thinking about the criticisms that people have been throwing around, especially towards stations like Triple J and the BBC's Radio 1 to try and see if they have any merit.

Both of these stations have recently been in the news because of the fact that the music is too "teeny-bopper", or playing to an audience much younger than that of the listener making the criticism.

The criticism would carry more weight if the target audience of those stations wasn't aged between 12 and 25. If you were born in the early part of the 1980s, chances are they're not playing anything you like for that very reason.

The selection process for new additions to the station has also come under fire of late, with Radio 1 using all kinds of other-worldly metrics to measure the quality of a band and their work.

There is some merit to the criticism. If you're looking at the number of YouTube views or Twitter followers a band has, before you've even listened to the record, you have to ask what's the point? The BBC is not supposed to be a commercial broadcaster, where I'd imagine these statistics would carry more sway.

But I'd like to ask, whatever happened to listening to a record and determining its value based on whether it is a good song or not? Then again, that in itself is problematic, because in whose opinion is the song a good one?

The problem with this approach is that the band has to do exponentially more work to get noticed. Twitter followers and YouTube views can happen overnight, but only if you pay for them.To my mind, radio exposure is one of the main ways that these numbers can be increased - I'm not sure having the equation the other way around is particularly sensible.

Another common complaint is that radio plays the same songs over and over again. Radio 1 seems to only have a limited number of spots available for new music every fortnight and to my mind it seems to be quite low. Still, what's the reason for it? Is it to enforce repetition and minimise variety?

Maybe, but the fact of it is that that is what we require to get to love a song - repetition.You know that album that you say is your all time favourite? It didn't get that way from a single solitary listen - you didn't play it once, file it away for 20 years and then claim it to be your "life-changing" record. No, you played it, over and over again over a long period of time. And so it has to be with radio.While I have no problem with that, per se, I just find some radio programmers and their song choices questionable.

The other reason for repetition is the logic that listeners don't typically listen to radio for more than 2 or 3 contiguous hours per day. By that logic, theoretically someone listening at 10:30am won't be listening at 2:00pm and therefore playing the same song at both these times most people would be oblivious. That's why the "No repeat work day" is a great idea, to cater for businesses who do have the radio on all day.

So, in an age where the internet is changing the way we discover and consume music, can radio compete? It's certainly trying hard, but will it ever return to be the cultural force it once was?

Who knows...

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