Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Goodbye and thanks for all, Fisher

Marc Fisher, who covered radio with the Listener column in the Washington Post, wrote his last installment Sunday. In many ways, it reminded me of Audiographics' sign-off, and of the mounting frustration of Hear 2.0 and Inside Music Media. They're all saying the same basic thing (and I'm right there with them), "We love radio, and we want to help you. Why are you willfully going down this path of destruction?"
Fisher reiterates what we've pointed out many times before:
Radio's troubles have tracked the broader national decline of locally distinctive popular culture, as big media companies sought to save money by spurning the medium's uniquely local nature and instead serving up whatever programming was least offensive to the largest possible coast-to-coast audience.
When someone talks about what they liked about radio, notice what they focus on. It's not the music they talk about, it's the personalities. As Fisher writes:
Yet the more I listened to the likes of Pandora.com, Last.fm, Slacker.com and all manner of music blogs and Web radio, the more I heard the sound of automation -- sleek, efficient recommendation engines scientifically selecting the music I am most likely to like, yet missing out almost on what radio once offered: a glimpse into the hearts and passions of personalities who knew what music was new and cool, voices that offered a guided tour of unknown worlds, and sometimes even a frontal assault of the unexpected.
I highly recommend the article -- if you haven't run across these concepts before, it's food for thought. Fisher talks about how neither satellite radio nor Internet radio answers the need for human personality. Is it gone completely?

No. It's just moved to podcasting. Now granted, there are plenty of amateur podcasts out there that are a sonic mess. But the best ones have exactly what Fisher's yearning for -- a unique voice with a strong sense of local color.

Now podcasting is a little different than the golden years of AM radio. First, the major labels won't allow their music to be used for podcasts. Not a problem, though. There's plenty of independent artists and labels who do. So if you're looking for great, individualistic music instead of bland commercial fare, then check out a music podcast, or two (or twenty). They come in all genres -- no kidding.

Secondly, the hosts are even more individualistic than any broadcaster could ever be. There are no time checks, no weather forecasts, and (for the most part) no commercials. The podcast host can talk about whatever they want, for however long they want, and play whatever they want. The most successful ones, though, are those that are interesting people in their own right and know how to keep the breaks from running too long -- just like the broadcasters of yore.

Thirdly, local is as local does. A podcast can come from anywhere in the world, yet most of them have some sense of location. The host may talk about their local area, or reference nearby landmarks. And those that don't tend to create their own little world that they inhabit that serves the same purpose. A world of blues, or classical music, or perhaps a place where even the smallest detail of Celtic music is noted and celebrated.

I'm sorry to see Marc Fisher's column go, but as I drove to work Monday listening to "BBC Introducing,"Mostly Trivial," and "AMPed," I realized that I had actually left a long time ago.

- Ralph


  1. Locally, there's the Charlottesville Podcasting Network, which I've mentioned here before. I created it three years ago as a place to give my public radio pieces their own archive, but also to expand into other kinds of programming. The experience has been valuable, with successes and failures. My conclusion has been it's not cost-effective as a for-profit model at this time because the potential audience at this time is so low.

    But check back in 5 years or so.

    My day job at Charlottesville Tomorrow, however, allows me to make a living while using blogs, podcasts, and all of these new communications tools to advance our mission - to inform and educate the public about land use, transportation and development issues.

    I think the future of local media will be through alliances between different groups, and these alliances will take the form of loose partnerships, networks, and more. CPN is a move in that direction, especially as I do a lot less radio then I used to do.

  2. I agree that it's a matter of scale. There are a few that can make a living from podcasting. For most of us, though, podcasting remains but one of the communications tools available to us.

  3. Exactly! It's about creating content and then building a series of tubes to get it to people!

    But, really, I would love to do a show where I could discuss local issues, something highly produced, but I'm afraid I'd be talking to myself.

    I also really miss the spontaneity of radio. When I was producing an art show for WVTF, I used to love putting little easter eggs in the show.

    But, back to topic, I've recently fallen head over heels in love with WTJU, which is on in our house for at least 12 hours during the day. Why? Serendepity. But, how can WTJU better take advantage of the two five-minute segments we podcast through CPN in order to build its overall brand awareness?

    And for that matter, who helps a station like WJMA get to the point where they start doing the experimentation they need to be doing in order to stay relevant in the future?

    My point in commenting was simply to say that I am as frustrated as most that radio hasn't embraced podcasting as much as they should have.

    The big boys have. The other week driving home from Lynchburg, I listened to ESPN's Podcenter Show on a sports-talk. A show that harvests all the podcasts throughout the week and presents samples. One medium drives traffic to the other. After listening, I signed up for a college football podcast produced by ESPN.

  4. Sorry, one more thing on this.

    If I knew I had a radio presence for a 30 minute recap that harvested all the content produced in a given week, I would feel much more complete.

  5. Sean:

    Never apologize for getting off-topic! It usually leads to another post.

    I'd like to hear more about your work with WTJU (especially since I volunteer there). I have some ideas about how the station can raise its profile -- unfortunately they involve money and staff.

    Nevertheless, I think there are some fairly simple things we could do -- but as with other stations, very few see the importance of a strong Internet presence.

    What's the best way to contact you so we could discuss this off-site?

    - Ralph

  6. My apologies! It's been crazy these last few weeks. Shoot me an e-mail to seantubbs@gmail.com....