When I was a kid, my love affair with radio had everything to do with great-sounding radio stations and great personalities who engaged and entertained me. I used to lie in bed at night, listening to the radio with my head under the blankets when I was supposed to be sleeping.
I would listen to stations from distant cities on my little AM radio, and I was fortunate to be in the signal pattern of Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, and even New York. I could hear Imus on NBC out of NYC, or Cousin Brucie on WABC, Landecker and Winston at WLS from Chicago, and of course the BIG 8, CKLW, which was one of my favorites. I even loved the personalities on my local Fort Wayne station, like Bob Dell on WOWO and the "Live Guys" at WLYV. I wanted to be like them when I grew up.
I have to admit that I go through moments of disgust with our industry and lose faith. We all lose faith from time to time and have moments when radio doesn't seem as exciting as it once was. It's easy to place blame on the state of the industry or on the people running the stations, but we all need to find ways to get ourselves re-energized, and to remember the business we fell in love with.
We have to do it, because most of the people who run or own radio companies didn't have the same passion growing up as we did. They used to get under the covers with a flashlight to look at balance sheets.
From time to time I need to remember the magic and find ways to get myself excited again. Here's what's gotten me energized lately:
1. Travel. I spent the better part of the last month on the road and in rental cars, listening to the radio. Though there seems to be a lot of sameness from city to city (how many more times can I hear "the best hits"?), I would occasionally stumble upon a station with a great personality or morning show, great excitement in presentation or great localism.
2. One of my favorite iPhone-iPad apps is called WunderRadio. I can listen to stations around the world, and there are some great radio stations well worth spending time with. I find some fun and interesting things on the air I would never have thought of. And it gives me hope that someone, somewhere is doing great radio. I also bought a wonderful little WiFi Internet radio from C. Crane Company, so I can listen to the world without my iPhone.
3. I still love "DXing," listening to distant signals. I bought a little shortwave radio, and I'll still listen under the covers at night with the headphones. It's fun to listen to signals around the world, and also to distant U.S. stations. Again, there are some people doing very good radio. It's just not as common as it used to be.
4. Though this will sound odd, I was testing my new iPad application, PastBlast,(based on my book Blast from the Past; Radio's First 75 Years) the other day, before we launched it. We've uploaded over a thousand rare photos from every era of radio, and hours and hours of airchecks and audio clips. I never stop to listen to old airchecks anymore, but I did as we were beta testing the app. A warm feeling came over me as I listened to all the great radio and jocks from the past. I felt all the love and passion for the industry that I used to feel every day.
Though we can all hope that some of the industry leaders who never knew the value of great radio entertainment will eventually figure it out, we all have to be willing to find ways to do what we can in the areas we can impact. It starts with falling in love with radio all over again. You may want to try some of these ideas. And for those of you who missed the era of great personality radio, these are great ways to learn what it was all about.
Publisher of Radio Ink
PS: Did you see Arianna Huffington on the cover of Forbes this month? She is listed as one of the WORLD'S MOST POWERFUL WOMEN, and she is one of our keynotes at the coming Forecast conference this December. This conference is designed to help owners, operators, and investors in radio understand what to expect for the coming year and how to prepare for it. Only 200 seats every year, and each year is a sellout. I hope you'll join us.