The Radio Pendulum


Radio began in the early 1920’s as an experimental medium – almost a toy! By the late 20’s and early 1930’s it had become a major source of news, info and entertainment for the American family. This lasted through WWII and into the mid to late 1950’s.

Radio was then America’s major delivery system for news, info and entertainment. I was what I call an “appointment medium.”

We listened to the 6 o’clock News, and to our favorite “radio program.” Stars like Bob Hope and Jack Benny entertained whole families at prescribed times.

Then the pendulum swung to TV and we all switched our listening habits to viewing habits. So radio had to re-invent itself. In a scant 30+ years radio was no longer the great news and entertainment vehicle for family listening.

Radio became a personal medium. It went one-on-one, it became local rather than national. It became portable. Portability and the auto radio helped design a new type of radio station. This then lasted another 33-40 years. But radio in the last five or so years has faced another crisis.

Instead of doing what it does best (super-serve their local community), radio has reversed itself and started to become more of a “national” syndicated medium.

Today you can travel to 50 different cities and hear the same programs—morning, noon and night.

That is not what radio does best! I believe for radio to survive and once again reach its true potential it must once again cater to its local market! Get back to being a one-on-one local friend.

Certainly there will always be room and need for good syndicated programs, but as icing on the cake—not the cake itself!

If this isn’t done, the next swinging of the pendulum may force radio to go back to what it does best: All of these stations now owned by large corporations—and sounding homogenized—are hurting right now. The next pendulum swing, in my opinion, is that small, local operators will buy back these stations and operate them locally again—back to basics!

— Phil Goldman, media consultant/former Q-94 Richmond GM [email protected]