The rise of radio in the early 1900s has many Parallels to our world today. I think at least.
I don’t watch much TV anymore. Honestly, I don’t have much time. I put a show on to fall asleep and that’s about it. However, I did recently get around to watching a Ken Burns documentary that was made in 1992 and reaired recently on PBS about the men who created radio. There are some very interesting parallels I think from the turn of the 1900s and the turn of the 2000s. Especially in my favorite subject to learn about, media. So here goes, let’s talk about what happened, what is happening, and what is going to happen.
First, what led us into radio was a wired technology called the telegraph. You might remember learning about Morse code in school. Well, figuring out a way to go wireless with this technology, almost like the transition from house phone to a smartphone, is what led us to radio technology. Once they figured out how to go wireless with the telegraph, and they figured out how to project voices through a variety of devices like the telephone, it wasn’t long before the technologies met in radio.
Interestingly, once the radio was invented “broadcasting” quickly took ahold. So did communication at the personal level as radio was quickly picked up by the military and other industrial sectors. This same sort of thing has happened with video and video chat. Once we figured out how to go wireless with the phone, and we figured out to use the phones for video, it didn’t take long to get video publishing and video chat at our fingertips.
With that said, the advertisers who got into radio quickly, recognizing its value while it was still in its infancy, ultimately grew to be household names. Companies like Proctor and Gamble, RCA, etc embraced the new technology and grew quickly as a result.
I believe video is going through a similar transition. Social media, YouTube, and podcasting are still in their infancy, and I think it’s a mistake to brushing off things like video, as having been something that has been around for some time. Sure, video has been around for some time, camcorders, VCR’s, etc. However, the mediums (another word for media) have changed. When I was in Digital Media in Zanesville, getting video online was not an option for our class. That was 2004-2005. We could get it onto a computer to edit it, and then burn it or put it on a VCR tape, but there was not a quickly accessible place to “upload” video. This is why all my content from that time has been lost.
Anyway, at the turn of the century, they called romantic shows “Soap Opera’s,” because they were brought to you by, soap companies. The companies that realize that we are returning to this kind of advertising, through podcasts and YouTube channels, FB Pages, etc.. And redirect their advertising budget in creating content people want to watch (like the soap companies of the past) are the ones that are ultimately going to get ahead. The ones that refuse to see value in this, will be left behind.
When radio burst onto the scene it changed the world. People went from quiet houses, and a slow day to music, news, Presidential addresses, and entertainment are right in the living room. Sort of like how these things went from our TV to our fingertips. It changed the way people lived like it’s changed the way we live.
The golden era of radio was about a decade, maybe 15 years. Right before the introduction of the Television (end of WWII), radio was at the height of its popularity. In those 15 years, some companies went from small outfits to global powerhouses and some positioned themselves to embrace TV and move into the future alongside it.
Personally, I think the explosion of devices and applications allowing people to make content have us in a sorta fad phase. It’s really quantity over quality at the moment. I believe eventually we will see a rise in quality content again, however, it will be by way of companies embracing people with the skill set to create quality content from within. In my opinion, you’ll always have consumers and creators. People that get in front of a camera and people who watch people get in front of a camera. The folks that don’t see the value of quality content, again, will be left behind.
Some other interesting things about the rise of radio. A new kind of star was born. Previously, famous people were in books, they were in the Circus, they were athletes, you only read about in newspapers and books. Radio changed that, it created the Pop Star. A young Frank Sinatra, is the quintessential example, making his mission to go from singing in bars to getting gigs singing on the radio. Frank, seen the power of the radio early. Before him, no singer was really recognized like him. The music industry consists of people writing sheet music and sending it out across the nation for piano players and singers in each town to play the newest jam. Radio connected the song to one singer and made them stars.
Like creative young people today, video is bringing us stars as we’ve never seen before. The rise of the “influencer” is unlike anything we can point to in the past unless we look at stars born from embracing emerging technology.
Which brings me to my next and final point, or prophecy. Radio is still here. Newspapers are dying but the radio is still profitable. However, the rise of the podcast is threatening that fact. As guys like Joe Rogan sign enormous deals with companies like Spotify, you have to wonder if people will eventually opt to listen to podcasts and playlist via Bluetooth, on the way to work, as opposed to local radio. It is already happening, but how far is it going to go? Will it render radio obsolete?
My thoughts are this… It doesn’t have too. If radio stations aren’t stubborn like newspapers were in their opposition to creating engaging internet content, the radio stations can leverage their current influence to remain a valuable asset to the modern world. Radio Stations should be breeding “local influencers.” Guys and girls who embrace the influencer way of doing things, making local people choose to hear them in the morning instead of people like Joe Rogan.
I know this is a long thought. If only I taught a media class somewhere to have these awesome conversations with students and like-minded people. This is our culture I’m talking about though. Past, present, and future. If you don’t think that’s interesting, check your pulse.