Radio, Gospel Music, Streaming and other Thoughts

One thing I like when I’m down South — on the radio, you can hear all that good gospel, that church music. It gives you life. Life you didn’t even know you needed. I don’t know what it is, but the minute you hear it, you’re like, god damn, this is kind of special.

Maybe they play that music on the radio up in New York too, but if they do, I can’t find it. I listened to the radio more when I lived in Staten Island and drove a lot. Living in Manhattan, I don’t hear the radio as much.

I’m not sure how many people listen to terrestrial radio anymore. People certainly listen to it — at work, in the car, at the doctor’s office, places like that. But I suppose if you’re really into radio, you’ve probably ponied up for satellite radio, or listen on your phone.

Both radio and television are interesting mediums because, no matter how many new music or podcasting apps are launched, no matter how much great programming exists in the new media space, there is something quite intimate and hard to explain about the relationship people have with radio jocks and television newscasters.

I’m not saying that your local nightly news anchor is the most important person in someone’s life, but they turn the television on day after day, they find comfort in seeing that person there. The anchor becomes kind of like a distant friend, someone they know, but don’t really know.

Radio is very much the same thing. When people drive to work in the morning, they grow to count on hearing whoever it is they’re listening to. If, by some chance, that routine changes — like say, someone is replaced on a morning show — the listeners notice, and wind up changing the channel.

To me, no matter how bad radio or television gets, the biggest challenge facing new media is how standardized, how consistent, old media actually is. The fact that these radio and television shows air day after day, year after year, with very little change. A person can just turn them on and, miraculously, they’ll be there.

With new media, platforms launch and then they’re in this period where they’re kind of cool but not really known, then known but obviously in their growth stage, then growing but maybe not in a way that actually makes the service much better. A lot of times they have the content part down, but there’s no personalization, nothing that makes the consumer feel like: okay, I am here and this is what’s happening.

In my opinion — and it’s subject to change, of course — but the the second biggest issue facing new media is the one I got at it in the very beginning of this piece. Which is that, look, no matter where the hell I am in the world, once I’m listening on an app or satellite radio, the time and place of where I actually am makes no difference.

For some people, that might be a desirable scenario, but to me, it’s akin to driving on the interstate as opposed to the U.S. highway. You know how it is on the interstate, a rest stop with the same damn Pizza Hut, McDonald’s and Auntie Ann’s pretzel shop every 10 miles. Whereas if you’re on a state road, you can’t help but drive through any number of towns, picking up on all the local flavor along the way.

I guess what I’m saying is, there is a lot of homogeneity once music — and more broadly, information — is removed from its physical surroundings and beamed at you anonymously from some server farm in Santa Clara.

Just think about being in Nashville and not being able to immediately turn on the radio and hear country music. Alternatively, just think about how great your favorite music-streaming app would be if, whenever the heck you landed in wherever it is you wanted to go, once you loaded that app up, a whole slate of region-specific, real-time programming came your way.

Now that’d be kind of like a radio station, I’d say. And that’d be kind of cool and efficient and, honestly, worth paying a few bucks for. Basically, if you want listeners to reward you with loyalty, give them something to actually be loyal to.

What do you think?

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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