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May 22nd, 2002

What Happened to Radio?

Chicago has been blessed with roughly two good radio stations. One is public radio, and the other (WXRT) has been exhibiting a slow, slow decline into mediocrity. But it seems that things are just bad all around the dial.

I’m not going to whine and moan about it, though: I’m part of the problem. I listen to CDs in my car, and tapes on occasion, too. If I could listen to my MP3 collection, I would. So, in essence, radio has started to give consumers what they “want”: radio stations that are the same in multiple markets, right down to the DJs. Songs and playlists don’t vary much. DJs are recorded in one city and local drop-ins are added now and then to give the illusion of a local personality. Thus, the music is what’s important. After all, that’s why we listen to our own stuff.

The side effect of this practice is that it tends to remove all sense of personality from the radio. Very few stations have knowledgeable DJs, and even fewer have DJs with genuine interest and care for the audience. XRT has been blessed with great DJs, and although the programming is falling off a long cliff, they keep people listening. Other stations? They don’t seem to matter much – the people could be swapped out weekly for all listeners know. And don’t get me wrong here; I’m not talking about syndicated DJs or talk shows.

Radio is moving more and more towards being a product, because the record labels and radio stations think we want products. Is that what we want, in the end? Does the station not matter? What about personalities? I kind of like the idea of being able to go into another city and find unique, different radio. Most of it’s been relegated to college radio, now – and satellite radio is growing in popularity.

Posted in Television, Movies, and Music

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