On Love and the Void it Leaves Behind, or Doesn't
There are lots of us who love radio, in a generic sort of way, or used to love it. I am guessing, however, that there are substantially fewer people who can claim to have loved an individual radio station. As a listener, I'm not sure I ever truly loved one, at least not to the point of maintaining long-term monogamy. As important as WLS was to me in the 1970s, I switched allegiance on a number of occasions--to other Chicago stations, like WCFL and WIND, or to local stations on the FM dial. I listened to Chicago's WGN and WBBM through much of my adult life, especially in the car, until the mid 90s. Today, I listen mostly to our local ESPN Radio affiliate. However, if it went dark tomorrow, I doubt I'd feel a void for more than a day or two. I'd find something to listen to, elsewhere on the dial or on the Internet, and life would go on.
That's the key thing in measuring whether you love the station you listen to, or whether you just like it. How much of a void would it leave in your life if it went dark or changed format tomorrow? More broadly, how much of a void would it leave in the community? Can you or the community imagine life without that station in it every day?
I am guessing that in any given market, there are only one or two stations that have an impact significant enough on the market's quality of life--that are loved deeply enough by enough people--that they would be truly missed by the community if they changed format or went dark. During my tenure at KDTH in Dubuque (1979-1983), that place was loved by a lot of its listeners, but that was the only station of mine that ever seemed to inspire such emotion deeply and/or broadly. At the other places I worked, we did our best to insinuate ourselves into the community in hopes of being the kind of station that would leave a void if we left, but I'm not sure how well we succeeded at any of them. There were people who liked us, but love? I can't honestly claim anybody loved us, except maybe the contest pigs.
Nope, I think it's a fact of radio life today that there are many stations whose absence would be noticed if they changed format or went dark, but who would not be long mourned. With so many stations in the typical market, each one seeking a thin slice of the demographic pie, individual listeners might feel a void, but the community would not--certainly not like the void that would have been created in days of yore, when the typical station had far broader appeal. But even if mass-appeal stations still existed, their disappearance in the current media environment would be less likely to cause pain. We expect less from our radio stations than we used to. It's hard to love someone who doesn't seem all that special to you, and it's even harder when you don't seem all that special to them. With so many stations sounding so generic, indeed so aggressively uninterested in the real lives of their listeners apart from servicing their musical desires for a couple of quarter-hours, how many are worth giving your love to?
All this gasbaggery is my introduction to an article from the Los Angeles Times earlier this week. (I'm late linking you to it, so click now before it disappears into the archives, to be retrieved only if you pay for it.) It's about a mysterious radio station in Arizona that has managed to inspire love, and has done so without DJs, or without promotion of any sort. And it's probably the exception that proves the rule--in the brave new world of corporate radio, stations worthy of a listener's love are mighty rare indeed.