Death of Radio? Far From It!


Radiop Station1

Last weekend, Mike Austerman, a man who has covered radio for The Oakland Press since 2001 and the founder of Michiguide – Michigan’s Radio and TV Broadcast Guide, brought us a veritable treasure trove of reason and examples that prove radio’s vitality in the 21st Century. The core of the Michiguide article is a group of examples that Austerman has compiled, illustrations of the fact that rumors of radio’s death are “greatly exaggerated.”

The first instance he brings to attention is the first comprehensive interview with Detroit, MI, mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, performed last month. It was an interview that made headlines and garnered TV attention when Frankie Darcell, the midday host on adult urban WMXD-FM (92.3), performed the on-air interview. One of my favorite points is raised in this first segment (emphasis mine):

When Kilpatrick made morning phone calls to news WWJ-AM (950) and news-talk WJR-AM (760) following the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision to allow the release of documents related to the whistle-blower case, it again was must-listen radio that created a community buzz. I was impressed with WJR’s Paul W. Smith as he skipped breaks to continue a nearly hour-long conversation with the mayor without interruption.

What got my attention is how much more in-depth radio interviews go when compared with the packaged 90-second bits that are presented during TV newscasts. These two interviews show the true power of radio and its ability to not only entertain, but to connect with the community on important issues.

It’s interesting to note that in an era known for sound bites, it would be the one medium based purely on sound which provides the most in-depth coverage. In fact, if you take a quick trip around the dial, you will find that radio is a rare bastion of longer form examinations of current issues and events. From the notorious pundit-fueled talk shows of the extreme right, to the “shock jocks” of the left, the issues get spun and debated at length. Meanwhile, news coverage provides detailed info for these debates with interviews (sometimes half and hour to an hour long), investigative reporting, and live on-the-spot transmissions.

As we move on to Austerman’s next example, we come across a familiar theme: localism. While the FCC is attempting to apply outdated restrictions on local content (see yesterday’s post) using the reasoning that local radio is out of touch with the communities it serves, the annual Dick Purtan Radiothon for The Salvation Army’s Bed and Bread Club flies in the face of that assumption.

“Once again the incredibly generous people of metro Detroit have come through,” said Purtan. “The money raised assures that nearly 5,000 people will be fed and more than 500 will be sheltered every day and night for the next 365 days. In extremely difficult economic times, our listeners found it in their hearts to dig deep and once again prove that the people of this area are among the most caring in the nation. On behalf of those who need it the most, I thank our listeners for their incredible support and for offering the gift of hope to those men, women, and children who count on the good works of the Salvation Army Bed & Bread Program for not just a meal and a mattress, but for a new start in life.”

$2.3 million dollars raised last weekend, and more than $19 million raised since 1988, all going to provide food and shelter for the community’s hungry and homeless. Maybe it is just me, but that does not sound out of touch with local needs. As a matter of fact, the Radiothon brings us my favorite observation in the whole article:

While much has been written about how the younger generation doesn’t show interest in radio, I can attest that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. My second-grader and kindergartner were most interested that Daddy was going to go see Mr. Purtan’s show and dug out some of their own cash to help the Radiothon. Learning and caring about our community and its leaders isn’t something that can be developed by listening to a bunch of MP3s or satellite radio.

There is more. Go spend a few minutes and read the whole thing. I am sure that Austerman would love to hear from you, as would we!

Photo courtesy of Ross Murray, used under this Creative Commons license


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