Radio confuses me. Not so much in the how radio operates, but instead why. Having a USB input in my car stereo when I moved up here to Atlanta two years ago meant that I didn’t have to search for a local station I connected with. I just brought the music that I like with me, and plugged in. Just recently, I went a few days without plugging in my iPhone while driving. In doing so, I found that in the two years since I had left radio, still the same old hits are being played.
I’ve written about radio before. In fact, in this article, I gave praise to that station that I grew up with for implementing a new “you control the music” format. It was a bold idea that let listeners vote on the songs played, and (from what I can tell) is going over well. I had high hopes for this new terrestrial based yet internet minded format, but listeners still seem to gravitate towards the familiarity of songs they’ve already memorized.
For the classic rock stations, repetition is one thing. From the start, the station is based off of an extinct genre. Even though dinosaurs like the Rolling Stones and Black Sabbath are still putting out new music, classic rock stations are still busy excavating dusty old bones without the need or desire to see and hear the living behemoths in their natural habitat. For every other format though, new artists and songs emerge on a regular basis. So why is it that even when we’re given a large selection of music, we still prefer the familiar?
While in the past radio seemed to play more of an active involvement in breaking artists, we now have much better avenues with which to better serve this purpose. It’s almost as if we’ve given up on radio as a way to discover new music, and instead choose radio only when we wish to tune in to our own comfort zone. Seeing this in its listeners, the radio industry has all but thrown in the towel in the fight for discovery. With both sides feeding the other, radio has perhaps unknowingly become the primary supplier of background music.
Without an active engagement with listeners, music played over the airwaves is seldom engaging, except when we find ourselves singing or humming along with the chorus of a song embedded in our subconscious. Not tuning in with the intent of finding something new or exchanging opinions with the radio host, radio simply acts as a drone against the silent backdrop of our daily lives
There is some comfort in knowing that at any given time, I can count on hearing the music that I grew up with. The problem here is that I’ve grown up, while radio seems to remain stuck in a time that it can’t seem to forget. But maybe that’s just what radio has had become in today’s market - an always present but seldom noticed reminder of the music we enjoy, if only for its nostalgia.