The Importance of Radio Throughout Time

Mitchell Dorr, writer

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The medium of world entertainment has rapidly changed since the turn of the millennium, with technology such as the computers and the internet revolutionizing the way that people experience new information. While, in the past, people’s entertainment was at the whim of constricting publication, such as the cutthroat and ad ridden state of prime time television, people are now able to enjoy their favourite movies and music instantly. With so much change, the question of what happens to the old way of doing things arises. This is shown in no better way than with radio. For so long, mainstream radio play was a large factor in a musician’s ability to garnish popularity, as it was the only way of listening for most people. Now, with the introduction of smartphones and instant internet access, it would appear radio has lost its use. While the odds are set against its survival, the radio is actually thriving amidst all these changes, and remains one of the largest ways people experience music in their day to day life.

The beginning of radios had transformative effects on American culture, allowing for the change and development of the music industry and entertainment as a whole. People were given a platform to spread their art and ideas across the globe, and, from then on, radios found themselves inside the homes and vehicles of Americans everywhere. As the century went on, technology around listening to music developed with the emergence of television broadcasting, in 1953, and CDs in 1983, yet the radio industry remained thriving and expanding. In the 1990s, ‘shock jocks,’ such as the infamous Howard Stern, began using radio as a platform for free speech, enjoying the ability to create content that would have been deemed too controversial for mediums such as prime time TV. Radio remained thriving even with the development of other means of communication not only because it was already heavily ingrained in American society, but also because, up until the turn of the millennium, it was unchallenged in terms of availability and convenience. Televisions are expensive and require too much money and time to create content. CDs and vinyl records were limited in the amount of media they could handle. Radio was everywhere for a reason; it was a cheap and easy way to spread information. Radio was allowed to enjoy mainstream utility amongst the general public without any real competition. This was true for a large portion of it’s lifetime, but the emergence of extremely easy ways to gain access to the internet have finally given the industry something to worry about. Now, same as television and other technological developments, radio is faced with a competitor that can ‘do it all.’ 

I feel that the radio does not die with time, but instead expands and evolves with technology. Similar to how television and movies are finding new life through streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix, music is also moving to streaming. Services such as Spotify and Pandora advertise themselves as “Internet Radio,” with the latter having 159 million users worldwide in 2017.  Internet Radio takes music out of the hands of disc jockeys and makes it far more personal. These platforms feature the ability to choose, but they also evolve to the personal taste of the listener through suggestions based on previous listing and most listened genres. This means that people are no longer stuck with whatever may be playing on mainstream radio or waiting for physical new releases. Instead, they can listen to anything at anytime. With this being said, it’s surprising to think how strongly the radio continues to exist within mainstream culture. Up to 93 percent of Americans listen to AM/FM radio monthly, making it an even higher reach platform then smartphones which are on at 83 percent.

Even with the competition of the internet, the radio appears to be going as strong as ever. With up to 93 percent of millennials being reached by the radio every month, even the younger generation is living in a culture of radio dominance. I think that the secret to the radio’s success, despite the odds being against its survival, is its continued unmatched convenience and tradition in American culture. Every car you get into has access, all homes and stores contain it, and anyone can listen to the airwaves at far cheaper rates than any internet provider can possibly offer. Even those who are growing up in a time of big change in media are constantly exposed to the radio based off of availability. With this being said, radio will continue to have large influence over facets of popular culture, such as the music industry, as well as news and informational shows. It’s simply impossible to avoid signals and waves that flow around constantly, just waiting to be heard virtually anytime, and anywhere.      

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