Sometimes–often, actually–I miss radio. I don’t solely mean working in radio, though that’s true, too. Twenty-five years ago as I type this, I was in my first year of college, meaning I was in my first year at the college radio station. Around this point in the year, I’d just been elected to serve in my first position on the executive staff, a vital part of my higher ed journey that itself would represent four-and-a-half years of diverse, exhausting, challenging, exciting, gratifying work. From there I went to commercial radio for a time, learning just enough to realize it was absolute not the right place for me, and then eventually back into college radio, as an advisor instead of a student. One way or another, I spent nearly twenty years behind the mic.
My time as a steward of the public airwaves ended some seven years ago, when I made a professional shift and moved to the mountains of North Carolina. Thing is, it wasn’t just my professional connection to radio that ended. For the most part, I’m not even a listener any longer. That’s in part because my brief daily commute goes through enough varied terrain that radio signals are frustratingly unreliable, and also a result of my somewhat limited capacity to endure playlists filled with Mumford & Sons and bands that are trying so very desperately hard to sound like Mumford & Sons. Furthermore, on the rare occasions when I do listen, it does seem more and more as though radio, as it’s predominantly practiced, is entirely lost as a medium, bereft of the sort of vital local connection that would keep it viable–indeed, invaluable–in culture in which Spotify rules and cultural consumers operate at the speed of thought to such a degree that there’s not even enough patience to get to the end of a song before hopping to the next one. The things I love about it are increasingly difficult to find.
I still believe in broadcasting, radio in particular. And I’m proud to note that there are still clear, ongoing efforts to approach it the right way at both of my left-of-the-dial alma maters. Things aren’t perfect, but they never are when the reins are given to students. That’s the point. College, and college radio, is a place to learn, often through mistakes. The question is whether or not there is an ongoing attempt to make the mistakes meaningful, to serve the long-established broadcasting principles of serving the public good, and to transform a lovingly worn studio setting into a tremendous laboratory for the uncommon alchemy of leadership skills. In different ways and for different reasons, I’m confident those goals have the necessary commitment at the stations with which I’ve been associated, which in turn gives me hope that such a commitment is even more widespread. That’s exactly what the public airwaves need and deserve.
Listen or download –> Steve Carlisle, “WKRP in Cincinnati”
(Disclaimer: So it may be difficult to discern precisely what the three paragraphs above have to do with the song shared this week. Let’s say there’s a connection that means a lot to me and leave it at that. If you’d like a little more, it is fair to say that the television series WKRP in Cincinnati was my introduction to the inner workings of a radio station, an introduction that was reasonably accurate. Now, if I had cooler taste in toys, it presumably could have provided an even more hands-on introduction, but, alas, I was simply a viewer. Anyway, the extended version of the theme song that I’ve included with this post is a track that I believe to be unavailable for purchase in a manner that would duly compensate both the original artist and the proprietor of your favorite local, independently-owned record store. It is shared here with that understanding. I will gladly remove it if contacted by someone with due authority to make that request making that request.)