As a mother, I don’t often have the chance to enjoy the sounds of silence. In fact, I’m usually struggling to listen to multiple conversations at once, all at varying volumes. Add to that a non-stop ringing phone, some sort of timer always going off, and a neighborhood lawn mower humming in the distance at pretty much all times. So when I get a moment alone, usually commuting to a work meeting or to pick-up my kids at school, you’d think I’d enjoy complete silence. But you know what? It’s really hard to sit in my car for more than a couple of seconds without turning on the radio. Have you ever tried it? Well, it is hard.
I wake up to my radio, albeit earlier than I’d like, and as soon as I’m in the car, it’s back on again. And when I work? Right – I listen on my laptop. When I’m exercising after work (okay, twice a year tops) I cannot stay on pace without music to keep me going. In a pretty normal day, radio is with me most of the time. It’s the ultimate portable entertainment, and in a world where the best things in life aren’t usually free, radio is.
But in a world without radio, what do you do? You could pay a subscription fee or accrue data charges for music services like Sirius XM and Pandora, or you could listen to your own playlist (though it’s boring after a while – where’s the spontaneity?) That’s okay for entertainment, but doesn’t help me so much when traffic is at a standstill and I don’t know why, or when there’s a massive storm coming through with tornado warnings. Nope, local radio is pretty much the only place to get breaking news, emergency information, and listen to the best music all for free. In fact, 265 million Americans listen each week – young and old alike.
So why even try to imagine a world without radio? Because the craziest thing I read recently was someone who said they were going to support artists by turning off the radio. Great idea! (What?) How do you support new artists by ignoring the medium that can introduce them to hundreds of millions of people with just a few minutes of airplay on local radio? How do I know about Walk the Moon or The Weekend or other artists whose names confuse me… because I heard them on the radio! They certainly didn’t show up on my playlist when I’d never heard of them. And honestly, why pay for a music service when I know I can get so many local channels for free?
But believe it or not, some people actually believe that radio is bad for performers. To be fair, most of those people are in Washington, DC (where rational thinking can get you into trouble), and they think radio should be paying performers more to air their music. I guess that’s because free promotion (to the tune of $2.4 billion each year) and copyright fees ($430 million each year) aren’t enough to line the pockets of artists. (Have you seen Jay Z’s yacht lately? Totally tiny.) These people who want to “turn off the radio” are not the artists, but they do hide behind them. They are speaking for the execs at big record labels who aren’t making it hand-over-fist anymore since the Internet changed the way they do business.
It’s a whole new world today. You don’t have to buy an entire album to get your favorite song. You can hear a song on-demand without buying it. And while all that is great for people like me and you – the fans – it’s not so great for the record label suits who have been striking it rich on the backs of artists for decades.
Just as the landscape for entertainment has changed, so has radio. Radio today is not your grandfather’s radio. Could he have imagined a world where you can listen to a radio station online from another state (or even country?) or fathomed the ability to push a button on your phone and immediately buy a song that’s playing on your favorite local station? Probably not, but that’s what you can do with radio today. And while it’s changed a lot, one thing is the same: radio is both the fans’ and the artists’ best friend.
Outside of the bubble of Washington, DC – where everyone fights over money – things still work the way they always have. New artists (and even those who have been touring for decades) still covet radio airplay. They still want to stop by studios and talk about their new music and upcoming concerts. Because what really drives artists is getting their music out to the fans – and radio does that better than anyone.
So when someone suggests I turn off the radio and stop listening and interacting with my favorite stations, I have to say no thank you. I love Simon and Garfunkel, but the sounds of silence is too dull for me.