Who's tuning in?

By Kevan Olsen

In a world of suffocating media and entertainment, it seems that the fate of radio is sealed with an ever expanding graveyard. First went the newspapers, then magazines, cable TV, at this rate it seems like everything is being replaced. Society has moved almost all media online. Our news is supplied by Facebook, our television, Netflix and HBO Go. Our ability to plug in and connect has also allowed us to disconnect from traditional media. Yet it seems that we have not yet found a way to dissolve our rooted connection to radio. In an effort to understand what keeps us coming back amongst a sea of alternatives like iTunes and Spotify, I decided to investigate the appeal radio still seems to have, against the odds.

I attempted to reach a small demographic of millennials around the JMU and Harrisonburg community to see what sort of relevance radio has today to them. The survey sought to answer if and where the younger generations were tuning in. What I found was that the radio is not necessarily dead. Every participant in the Facebook survey said they still used radio on an average of 2.8 times a day, primarily while driving. Also, while radios offer many talk shows and other programs, according to the survey, the main appeal of radio is consistently music. I talked with a few fellow co-workers, who speculated that the difference between radio compared to other media was because it’s “live” and “local.” They liked discovering new music and news without having to search for it. Using the radio while driving allows the listener to have a personal DJ that uncovers new artists and genres that speak to him or her.

Radio is diverse and expansive; it isn’t limited by internet connection, Wi-Fi or roaming data charges. Adjacent to its competitors, public radio is free for everyone, universal, and still a unique media used by many. This, however, does not mean we are dependent on it.  According to an article by Hugh McIntyre for Forbes.com called “Millennials Aren’t Very Interested in Traditional Radio Any More,” millennials aren’t as connected to radio as are older generations, and time has seen the amount slide downhill. There was a time when radio was used as a primary source for traffic updates and news, as well as entertainment. Today streaming music online is the dominant way we interact with entertainment media, according to a report from the article, “streaming accounts for 51% of a younger millennial’s daily listening.” Despite this, radio still finds its way into our commute. While it may no longer be the standard, it remains a traditional media source still accessed by over 35% of the population.

Radio is not without its drawbacks. According to my survey, most listeners are turned away by sound quality over radio signals, stations with endless commercials and, in some areas, a lack of diversity among stations. Because of this, alternative media has dominated the space, allowing users to control their musical journey. Spotify and music streaming has replaced the gaps; where we were once limited to a single CD, we now have access to a music vault. An unlimited, unrestricted, uncensored plethora of audial excellence. Why then are we still drawn to radio if most millennials have access to this medial space? From my experience and what I have gathered from peers is that like endlessly searching for a show on Netflix, having vast amounts of choice can be a blessing and a curse. Sometimes letting someone else set the mood is exactly what we need. Radio will always have an audience if we can continue to fulfill that need. Radio is not just a DJ, but a comedian talk show late at night and a way to learn about local events; it can cater to the masses or for a single listener, but only if they can find the right station.

Radio has continued to find a way to fill our airwaves in a world of limitless media. So next time you are commuting to class or maybe driving around town, remember there is always something or someone on the air.  

xX Long live college radio Xx