Some NPR and community radio listeners are happy that commercial radio sucks. They reason that the bland corporate programming drives listeners to them. They couldn’t be more wrong. Crappy commercial radio hurts public radio stations and the whole medium of radio itself. When a shopping mall loses all its best stores except one; there is less reason to visit. That dead shopping mall is now the FM dial.
Imagine a road trip where when as you traveled from town to town you could learn something about each town just by tuning in as you drove through. Now imagine how many people used to find new stations because of…curiosity.
It is normal for the most loyal listeners to switch away from their favorite station when they hear a song that they don’t like and then switch back 3 minutes later. But when those listeners only find crap to choose from on the other stations then it becomes normal just to turn the damn thing off. Where’s that ipod?
Young college students today have no recollection of locally owned commercial radio. It ended before they were teens. Every year more young adults go exploring their world for something new. They try tuning-in to radio until they learn that there is nothing new there for them. These listeners are not abandoning NPR, they are abandoning the entire medium altogether.
FM has become the city of abandoned competition. NPR and community radio may be a bright light in that wasteland of airwaves, but if there is no other engaging option besides those; then I’m going to search a different medium that gives me more choices. A television with 1-2 channels would be equally worthless. In order for radio to still be considered an important medium, there must be valid competition that draws in a diverse audience. Otherwise the entire spectrum may become obsolete, and redistributed to other wireless devices. That would be a grave loss because no other medium is as effective at uniting concentrated populations as radio. It is the only infrastructure that reaches everybody.