Remembering when AM radio was ‘social media’

It dawned on me the other day that I’ve now been in public radio longer than I was ever in commercial radio, which was shocking because I’ll always consider myself a loyal son of the AM band. It remains for me the most pure form of community media that ever existed, at least when it existed in some abundance.

Before moving to Minnesota, I ran the programming for a small station in a little town in New England, which focused on local events, which included putting the alert on when someone lost a dog, or a family needed help in some crisis. And, of course, it’s not community radio without a “trading post.”

It was a tough way to make a living in an era in which people aren’t as interested in the work required to be a community.

Local radio stations survived on local businesses advertising, but people tend not to shop local businesses as a matter of communal responsibility.

That’s why this Detroit Free Press profile of a radio station in the U.P. today is so utterly delightful.


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People don’t realize what they’ve got in local media until it’s too late.

We had two radio stations in my now-dying hometown. One is gone, the other programs out-of-market satellite radio. The newspaper, which is owned by the same company as the St. Paul Pioneer Press, has seen its best days.

Over Thanksgiving, the local cable TV channel, now operated by some of the people I used to work with in radio there, provided online coverage of the high school’s Thanksgiving morning football rivalry game, a tradition that’s more than 120-years-old there.

Instead of appreciating their effort, viewers around the country inundated its Facebook page with comments that it didn’t show enough of the band at halftime.

“It’s what radio used to be before the Internet — a way for people far from each other to connect, and to be part of a shared experience,” the Free Press says of the little radio station.

Maybe shared experiences will come back in style someday.

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