Saturday, June 20, 2009

Public Radio

I'm a huge fan of public radio.  I think it brings something really positive to a medium overrun by commercialism.  Most radio (music format, not talk) today is dominated by commerce.  If you aren't listening to commercials, you're listening to music chosen because of its commercial value.  It's radio for the masses.  For the lowest common denominator, trying to please as many people as possible.  In the process it gets stripped of any real character.  One rock station sounds identical to any other.  Commercial radio has become "Top 40 of your Chosen Genre."

Public radio is different.  These stations aren't beholden to advertisers or profits.  They answer directly to the people that fund them...the listeners.  The focus shifts completely away from converting airtime to dollars and creates a paradigm where airtime must convert to quality programming listeners want to hear.  Because if public radio stations don't create great content for their listeners, their funding dries up. 

This all allows radio to realize its potential.  On one channel you can get interview programs, talk format programs, comedy programs, in depth news coverage, and music that caters directly to the listeners, able to delve more deeply and more eclectically than a commercial station ever could.  My station of choice right now, WTMD, often plays deep cuts from albums far off the beaten path.  And new artists, people with loads of talent and no record contract or public awareness.  Many times I've heard artists played months before they attained commercial success.  I feel like WTMD gives me an inside track to up and coming music, before a commercial station would even be aware of them.

Okay, yes.  As a public radio listener I feel obligated, as I should, to help support the station.  I'm a member, as is Kate.  We've donated, over the years, different sums of money, depending on our means at the time.  It's a price I'm more than happy to pay for the value I get from the station.  I could listen to commercial radio for free.  And I do sometimes.  I'm not necessarily knocking commercial radio.  It's good for what it is.  But for real radio value, lasting value and content above and beyond the norm, public radio sits at a pinnacle.  

I could listen for free, sure.  But the system only works if the people who enjoy public radio support it.  If all of us decided to let someone else do it, public radio would disappear.  Radio for the public, beholden to the will of the public only flourishes with the support of the public.

Find a public radio station in your area and give them a listen.  If you've never tuned in, you'll be surprised what radio is capable of.

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