Ask Billboard is updated every Friday. Submit your burning music questions to Gary Trust at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.
Thanks to all who responded to last week's Ask Billboard question, in we which turned the tables and asked you about your thoughts on radio.
We'll devote this week's entire space to your thoughtful replies. They range from readers who feel that radio could do a better job of playing a wider variety of new music, a theme voiced in several e-mails, to those who couldn't imagine a day without turning on the dial and hearing what surprises come out of the speakers.
As I was reading your column last week, my radio was on. It seems that I'm always listening to music, whether on my computer, iPod, or radio. While each has its advantages, I am a child of radio. It feels like I am one of the few grown-ups (egads, am I one?) who still listens to music on the radio. My wife is a regular radio listener, but, for her, it is NPR. There are a few things I love about radio: live DJs connecting with the audience, making me laugh, starting discussions and talking about music; hearing forgotten songs alongside new ones; and, the chance to win prizes.
I especially like that radio lets you know where you are. The popular songs of each region may differ, and the on-air personalities often reflect the mores of their environment. If I am away from home, radio gives me a much better sense of place than TV ever does.
Radio has been an integral part of my life. I like that radio connects me to my past and allows me to know what is going on now.
Dr. David Baskind
Associate Professor of Psychology
Bay County, Michigan
For me, radio became obsolete in 1998, when, as a college freshman, I quickly became part of the Napster generation. Within weeks of moving into my dorm, I learned what an mp3 was, how to download and share files and how to burn my own CDs (before, I used to record songs from radio onto cassette tapes). I like learning about new music through iTunes and on my own, instead of being at the mercy of a radio programmer's agenda. And, considering DJs' gimmicks and endless banter, I'm happy not to have to hear them (I always did like Casey Kasem, however).
Since I began listening to music almost exclusively on my computer, the only time I ever heard radio was when my alarm clock would be set to radio in the morning. Now that I use my cell phone as an alarm clock, I officially never use radio.
If I were to listen to radio again, I guess I'd want it patterned more after Internet radio (minimal commercials and DJ talk) than traditional radio. Then again, I truly like compiling my own playlists, so I may never transition back.
I always used to listen to radio, even calling in to request songs, but for years now, I haven't. It seems stations started playing the same songs over and over.
Now, I listen to music and discover new artists online. MySpace and YouTube can point you to some great new acts.
I am sad to see hundred lose their jobs, i.e. Clear Channel's recent cutbacks, but I no longer find regular radio relevant. I recall when I could request a song and a live person might actually play it. I am aware that top 40 was repetitive in the past, but I feel it has gotten worse. The commercial breaks are also terribly long.
I, instead, switched to Sirius XM. I like the talk shows, and the music channels are well-programmed. If you like rock, classic country, coffee house folk, etc., the station you choose will play a deep variety.
With all the modern competition - satellite radio, iPods, online choices - local radio is no longer the only option for music fans.
As a once avid radio fanatic, I have to say radio means less and less these days, due to its repetition.
I don't know if it's just my area, but if we could get current music played with the depth and span of our new variety-based "Jack" station, I'd be snoopy dancing.
It feels as if top 40, R&B/hip-hop/rap and country stations play the same titles until you couldn't care less. When I grew up, the best thing about radio of any format was that you could spend all day cruising, partying at the lake or washing or working on your car, and you'd never turn the radio off. It didn't matter the station, because you'd hear a great variety all day. Our "Jack" station is great, but it plays only older songs (although it is a blast to go from Prince to AC/DC to David Bowie to Aretha Franklin in the same hour). Why not do the same with new music stations?
My radio habits have changed since 2006 when I got my iPod. Since then, I have taken greater notice of music and artists through outlets such as iTunes and amazon.com, as opposed to radio.
I had originally been interested in the Triple A format, due to its willingness to go deeper than top 40 and its overplayed tracks. The artists played on my local Triple A station may be more eclectic, but the station still falls into the rut of playing mainly an artist's handful of most popular tracks.
My music collection is large, so I am not satisfied with radio stations playing just one or two songs from my favorite artists.
I absolutely love radio and listen to it all day long, at home, at work and in the car. I'm a dance teacher, so music is my life. I love hearing new music, personalities, and interviews with my favorite artists and actors.
Our world is changing so much. What's next to go? The postal system because everyone is e-mailing and faxing? Or, maybe we don't need printed money anymore because transactions can be done online.
Radio has so much unique content to offer. It can't go away.
Thanks again to all who responded. A few thoughts of my own, perhaps biased a bit based on my years working in radio:
Radio, at its live and local best, provides companionship to listeners. When heritage news/talk station WBZ-AM/Boston recently let go its local overnight host and announced plans to air syndicated programming from St. Louis in his place, listeners flooded the station with opposition. Even in this age of widespread budgets cuts, the station's management recognized the importance of providing a local community forum, even in the third shift. When we can't sleep, it's nice to turn on the radio and know that someone else is up, too.
I feel that news/talk formats may have an easier road going forward than music formats. As a Boston sports fan, if I want to hear the latest news and discussion about the Red Sox, Bruins or Celtics, I can only gauge the pulse of fellow fans by listening to WEEI-AM (online from enemy territory in New York, much to the chagrin of the office's many Yankees fans). The same goes for New York fans addicted to WFAN-AM, national sports talk can't provide the same depth. Radio play-by-play of all sports is also unique to radio. You can't watch a ballgame on TV at the beach, after all, but you sure can take it with you on the radio.
Best of all, traditional radio is free. It's ironic that radio and newspapers are two of the hardest hit media financially of late, when the former is available at no charge and the latter at as little as 25 cents daily. Top news stations like WBZ-AM and WCBS-AM/New York provide news headlines, traffic, weather, entertainment updates, health and business tips, and so much more information. Flipping the switch to FM, even with tight playlists at certain formats, still provides numerous music choices. For those who have grown up listening only to personal music devices, they simply may not know how much they're missing. (And, hopefully the day arrives when AM/FM radio is standard in iPods, without the need for remote adapters).
Ultimately, I'm not sure I can fully define what's special to me about radio, but I do know that a song just sounds different when I hear it on the radio as opposed to my iPod, even if it's blasting from the same speakers in my car. Maybe it's the element of belonging that draws us in: if I play a song on my iPod, I know that I like it. If I hear it on radio, I know others do, too, and that provides a deeper human connection.
Current radio may not be perfect, but it's thrived for nine decades. When serving the needs of its listeners, it can continue to. I agree with the writer of the last e-mail above. Radio, done right, can't, and won't, go away.