How Corporate Radio Helps & Hurts NPR & Community Radio

Less stations worth listening to means less reasons to visitSome 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.


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