Radio after the death of radio

Jad Abumrad, the creator of RadioLab, loves radio.

So it was a little disconcerting last evening, though understandable, when he seemed to bury terrestrial radio. “I don’t know a single 20-year-old who has a radio,” he told PBS NewsHour.

He passionately and correctly describes the creative beauty of radio in which the listener is a participant in the program. He’s right. The imagery you create in the absence of a visual is an important part of the experience of sound.

Abumrad, who, for the record, was the voice of reason a few years ago when his program opened some serious wounds for a Hmong family in St. Paul, suggests that podcasts are radio too.

There are a lot of people who think that, and they might be right. But that provides the fodder for an occasional discussion that used to take place in this business. Listening to terrestrial radio has historically been a shared experience. You are bonded by the knowledge that thousands of others are hearing something at the same moment you are; it’s like looking at the moon.

Is that still important? Does radio in podcast form suffer with its demise?

Related: Radiolab: An Appreciation by Ira Glass

  • MrE85

    Interesting that a medium long described as “the airwaves” or “on the air” is now referred to as “terrestrial radio.” I guess it has finally come down to earth.

    • Rob

      A very trenchant and grounded perspective

  • MrE85

    I guess I’ll have to take Abumrad’s word on this, because I don’t know a single 20-year-old. #PodcastKilledTheRadioStar

    • Don’t take his word for it. It’s anecdotal. “The percentage of people who listen to the AM/FM radio each week remained essentially unchanged in 2012, compared with figures from a decade earlier. 1 In 2012, 92% of Americans age 12 or older listened to the radio at least weekly, essentially the same as it was a decade earlier (94%).”

      Here are statistics: http://www.stateofthemedia.org/2013/audio-digital-drives-listener-experience/audio-by-the-numbers/

      • Al

        Anecdotally, my millennial friends and I are all faithful radio listeners. So there’s that.

      • MrE85

        I love it when smart people come to the conversation armed with useful data. Mr. Marconi’s Device might just have a future, after all.

      • John

        now don’t go messing up a good rant with facts. sheesh. 🙂

      • Veronica

        I was going to say, I just got an email yesterday from the marketing department of a local radio stationing trumpeting the fact that radio is the most commonly consumed media.

      • Thomas Mercier

        Cars still have radios, millennials still drive cars, millennials still use the radios in their cars.
        But the hipster agenda of bikes will unfund the underfunded roads and bridges and cause the demise of the radio!

        • Al

          But a must-have in my new car was an aux input for playing Spotify (even though the radio’s still on a majority of the time). We’ll find a way to get the music we want when we want it, because that’s the era of technology in which we grew up.

          • It’s interesting to me now that all of the new car ads I see stress “connectivity” over the machine’s actual performance.

          • Al

            Ha, true. Performance and safety were first for me. Heated seats and an auxiliary input were second. Connectivity was a distant third–that’s what my smartphone is for, isn’t it?

          • Gary F

            yup

          • Rob

            Because as driverless cars become the norm, users will expect connectivity, while performance will – for all practical purposes – become irrelevant.

      • wjc

        I’m most certainly not a millennial, but I listen to radio approximately once per year: Turkey Confidential with my wife. I haven’t used my radio in my car in years. I do use the AUX jack though.

      • Rob

        Three year old stats? What do the 2015 stats show?

        • Al

          Stats from 2015 probably aren’t available. 2012 is likely the newest information out there.

          • Rob

            but given the ever-increasing rate of tech-related change, 3 yr old stats hardly make a convincing case

          • Jack Ungerleider

            But if you look at the trend for the last 4 years listed 2009-2012 you see that the its basically flat. Add in the 94% from 2002 and you have what looks like a decade of basically flat results. That should provide a convincing case.

          • Rob

            Extrapolation is fine, but without fresher stats, I’ll remain among the unconvinced. Anecdotal tho it may be, the millenials I know are moving away from regular and frequent radio listening.

  • lindblomeagles

    It is very difficult listening to radio today. That’s why most of my radio listening is on MPR. It’s about the only station where the information received isn’t slanted. Most of the AM stations are trying to persuade listeners to believe in something. The FM stations are loaded with commercials. Whatever happened to 55 minutes of continuous music?!? And I really miss the days of Disco, where musicians took instruments like the guitar, the sax, the drum, the violin, the bass, and occasionally the piano, sped them up into a quick temp symphony that had you swinging for hours. Now a days, bands use electronic keyboards to create music. It just doesn’t sound as beautiful as it once did. But, I have held onto my four stereos. Three of them, even have record players. And all of them function so that when the Apocalypse comes, and everybody loses their Smart Phones, I will still be able to catch man made airwaves.

  • PaulJ

    Society does seem to be fragmenting. It is sort of like the horse powered days; but Instead of being isolated on farms, we now live in special interest silos.

    • jon

      we’ve always had special interest silos…. recently we’ve just gotten so deep into them that we’ve forgotten how to behave in polite company without throwing a hissy fit about our special interests.

  • Rob

    The universal shared experience meant more in the “before” times, when the only forms of communication were radio and TV. For better or worse, the U.S.E. has become an anachronIism. I wouldn’t be surprised if live radio ends up in the technology trash heap along with dial phones.

  • Noelle

    I almost never listen to the radio anymore. I prefer to drive in silence for my normal trips around town, and when I do listen to something during my commute or on long car rides, it’s typically the podcasts I’ve saved up and haven’t gotten around to listening yet. If I do listen to radio, it’s usually to throw on some background music (for the record, we happen to have one in our kitchen as well as one that’s part of the record console in our living room). Radiolab is one of my favorites, but it’s much easier to listen to it on my own time rather than try to catch it when it airs on Saturday afternoons.

    I’m on the older side of the ‘millennial’ generation (31) and many of my peers adore podcasts. I rarely tune into the radio for actual news – MPR’s website and the internet in general is pretty good at telling me what I need to know. Even though we’re not listening to podcasts at the same time, it’s still a shared experience. I can still chat with coworkers at happy hour about the latest episode of Serial.

    • Rob

      Well said!

  • Brian

    I would say I get much of the same shared experience from the podcasts I listen to as I do when I listen on the radio. I follow many of the people involved in my favorite podcasts on Twitter and see/participate in conversations there. My wife and I listen to many of the same podcasts, as do several other family members, and we have discussions as we catch up to each other (often withing a day or two of them coming out). Plus, many of the podcasts I listen to will either begin or end with various ways of connecting to the audience (i.e. answering a question, etc) and that makes me think about the other people listening. I’m not sure we need to be listening at exactly the same time to still feel connected.

    • Joe

      What I came to say. I talk at work and with friends about Serial and TAL and Comedy Bang Bang. Same as with “TV” shows. We talk about Master of None and Transparent, House of Cards and the Mindy Project. None of us are watching or listening to those shows at the same time, but it’s a shared experience nonetheless.

  • Al

    In defense of us millennials, none of our go-to stores really carry radios anymore. Looking for one to take outside while gardening last summer was a challenge.

    • Kassie

      Amazon does, isn’t that a go-to store for you millennials?

      • Al

        If it doesn’t happen at Target, it doesn’t exist to me. 😉

        • Veronica

          Seconded

        • Kassie

          LOL! Sounds more like a middle aged mom than a millennial.

          I’ve gotten to the point where I do most of my shopping online and stay out of Target when possible. We get two or three Amazon deliveries a week which saves me both money and my sanity. I just started using Instacart which will allow me to further withdraw from society. I’m a Millennial stuck in a Gen Xer’s body.

          • Al

            I’m actually a grumpy old man stuck in a millennial woman’s body. Don’t tell anyone. Now get off my lawn.

  • Gary F

    My 20 year old son barely listens to the radio. “Dad, The Current is geared toward baby boomers and the generation when MTV actually played videos, FM radio basically sucks, and any cool station(he likes R & B and early Rap) are on such weak stations that it isn’t worth the bother” . He’s trying to be apolitical, so that takes out the left and right leaning news and talk radio.

    They don’t need a radio.

    Heck, I’m 51 and I need less and less of radio every day.

    • Al

      Bummer for him, as 102.5 and 105.1 are pretty fantastic right now. Has he checked out 95.3 (modern, but still good)?

      • Gary F

        But we don’t get great reception on those stations either from ST Paul or Mankato.

        I remember when they were Rev105, you put up with the BS of changing frequencies because there was really nothing else.

        • Rob

          RadioK may be the answer.

      • Rob

        fifteen minutes of commercials/hr, though. bleah

    • Al

      But I feel him–Spotify is so much more reliable for music you really want to seek out and listen to.

      • Veronica

        But don’t you think that only goes to reinforce our horrible trends to stay away from everything and anyone we “don’t like”?

        • Al

          Only if you think, music-wise, that’s a horrible trend. For news, that *would* be horrible. For music, we already self-select in the stations we listen to–Spotify takes it one step further.

          • Jeff

            One of the main reasons I listen to The Current is that I hear stuff I would have never been exposed to otherwise. It’s hit and miss, but it’s taken me places I ordinarily wouldn’t have gone. I like being challenged.

          • Al

            Hear, hear.

          • Rob

            Indeed. It’s rare to hear more than a couple of songs at a time that feel interesting and fresh. There’s too many lame tunes that are over-rotated, and too many good ones that are also over-played. They need to have a lot more deep cuts.

      • Rob

        prob’ly old school, but I still buy alternative tune downloads and put ’em on my iPod; got close to 8,000 songs on it

        • Al

          I finally stopped syncing my iTunes last year; my iPod wasn’t big enough anyways, by a long shot. It felt like a great loss at the time, but I came out alright. I’m not sure I like being beholden to a wifi signal for music, but I think cloud-based music is where it’s at for me.

          • Rob

            I’m with ya. I do have an Apple cloud subscrip; got my 800+ CDs on there, as well as copies of all my download purchases, then got rid of all the plastic. So no worries when my iPod dies, or gets too full

    • “The Current is geared toward Baby Boomers.”

      time for dad to have “the talk”

      • Gary F

        Bill Deville says every Sunday morning that his show is sponsored by AARP. My kid hears that and runs for the hills.

        • Al

          To be fair, that’s, like, two whole hours out of the entire week. (Aside from Teenage Kicks, too.) There’s still plenty of good music on the Current for your young whippersnapper.

          • Rob

            RadioK is also a good antidote when the Current gets a little too twee and falsetto-y

        • I noticed that on the NFL, AARP is sponsoring some promotion aimed at 50 year olds.

          Perfect example of how an organization’s mission eventually becomes sustaining itself, rather than its original mission.

          • Gary F

            And my kid says….
            Major League baseball watchers can’t get it up anymore.
            NFL football watchers only drink bad light beer.
            And PGA golf watchers are both of the above.

          • Rob

            So, he’s into watching curling, is he?

      • Gary F

        I did, we were watching a TV special on Johnny Cash one day and he was getting fussy about 3/4’s of the way through. He was going to change the channel and I stopped him. I told him that the best part was coming up. I told him Johnny Cash was going to end his career being cool again with the kids that wear black. He was singing 9″ nails songs. All because of the guy who got white kids to listen to rap in the 1980’s, Rick Rubin.

        He hates it when I can almost sing “Rapper’s Delight” verse for verse. And he hates it when I tell him that that is the only rap song that has “Kayopeptate” in it.

        • Joe

          Not true. Both Eminem and Common have used Kaopectate in lyrics. Eminem on ‘Wicked Ways’ and Common on ‘Charms Alarm’.

          • Gary F

            Thanks, but SHG was there first you know!

          • Gary F

            and my kid hates it when I play “Buffalo Gals” by ex Sex Pistols manager Maclom McClaren. He hates when I say, “all that scratchin is making me itch”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Yf2CIA7Q2M

        • KTN

          “I don’t means to brag, I don’t mean’s to boast, but I likes hot butter on my breakfast toast”. How do you top that line in a rap song. You don’t. for that reason alone, the Sugar Hill Gang will live forever in the annals of great rap.

          • Joe

            “I don’t mean to brag, I don’t mean to boast, but I’m intercontinental when I eat french toast.” is a better line. It’s obviously heavily indebted, but in a vacuum (not knowing one borrowed from the other), the Beastie Boys line is more clever and has better flow. IMO.

          • Al

            Potato, Po-tah-to. They’re both fantastic.

    • Rob

      You can’t tell me that Elle King, Kendrick Lamar. Big Gram, Wolf Alice and Dessa, to name a few, are Boomer bait.

    • Rob

      Your son should check out “A Apolitical Blues” by Little Feat

  • Jeffrey

    It would be sad if radio was to disappear. I think the medium would still be relevant if the creativity and local flavor was still there; stations all sound the same no matter where you are in the country. I remember the old days of WCCO. Now tight playlists and syndicated programming rule the airwaves. If the industry was to take more risks perhaps more people would listen.
    I guess podcasts are ok, but I miss the old days when you could stumble across something interesting.

    • Al

      This, in a nutshell, is why we’re MPR sustainers. The “stumble upon” factor is high at the Current, Wunderground Radio, Radio Heartland, etc…

  • Jeff C.

    If radio dies, I’ll mourn the loss at 4:20 p.m. every weekday.

  • tboom

    It would be helpful if someone would actually make a decent radio with decent speakers for something other than a dashboard – ya know, like a countertop or a nightstand.