When thinking about what to say today I often got sidetracked into thinking about how to fix the problem radio faces. The predicament radio has gotten into. The tragic, pathetic and seemingly terminal prognosis. I had dinner last night, purely coincidentally, with Jeff Jarvis - the author of What Would Google Do and reformed old-school media stalwart. I told him about talking to you all today - he grimaced and said, “Those guys are dead.” I suggested that maybe the newspaper guys were deader and maybe radio has already reinvented itself in various forms. Maybe. But those guys tomorrow, those guys are dead.
I love radio. I have always loved radio. It’s a soundtrack. It’s a heart beat. It is more a part of real life than maybe any other signal written, visual or interactive. It has the best pictures. I love radio. So I naturally want to fix radio. When I was at the University of Minnesota, I spent time at KUOM. I felt more connected and maybe more creative than in any other job I’ve done since. It had a huge and lasting impact on me. It shaped me.
I remember as a kid growing up in the 70’s in the middle of a corn field in Iowa feeling radio was the one thing that reliably connected me to the broader world. Locally as in the world ‘in town’ but also the world beyond. Listening during the long summer breaks to KWAY and the daily “Swap and Shop” and lives coming together, lives falling apart. Revealed to me in the items that people needed or needed to get rid of. The stories of lives beginning and lives ending and unexpected twists and detours in otherwise normal, boring lives were told in elaborate and veiled detail from eleven to one every day.
Later, as a car-less young teenager, I got around on tractors and bicycles and dirt
bikes up and down gravel roads and through the fields of corn and corn and soybeans listening to radios, discovering popular music, music that was not my parents’ and feeling connected to that agitated, rebellious, horny angst of 38 Special, and Tom Petty and the Heart Breakers and Steve Miller. Then feeling so desperate to be part of it and for it to be part of what I was trying to be. I called the KFMW request line - long distance. A human answered the phone. Older. Male. Deep and busy sounding. I stepped up and said could you play ‘Refugee’ for Christie. What song you want played? Uh, Refugee by Tom Petty and the – . Refugee. Alright I’ll get it right on kid. Click. And my chest felt full of hot blood and breath and my face was hot red and I got on my ten speed and pedaled hard up the road with a radio hanging over the ram horn handle bar of my bike. I prayed I could get to Christie before the DJ played the song. I wanted to see her face. Take credit. Get laid. But Christie wasn’t home. I hung out under the tree across from her driveway, heart beating frantically, hoping that the song wouldn’t come on. Then her mom’s car crawled up the road and slowed as it passed me and pulled into the driveway. I played it cool as her mom squinted over the wheel at me, the radio playing as it hung from my handle bars. I practiced in my mind how I would tell her that I requested the song for her. Her favorite. That I thought I was falling in love with her. And we’d kiss. That afternoon we talked for hours and hours feeling half drunk from the smell of sun and pool water and sweat and faint cigarette smoke that only a fifteen year old girl can twirl together into the sweetest perfume a fifteen year old boy would ever smell. Then as the fireflies came out and the sun got low she had to go in for dinner. I rode home slow. And the song came on. And that heavy, hot blood and breath came back into my chest. And then I was a teenager. A teenager as free and angry and in deep and desperate as any had ever been and protected only by a transistor FM radio.
Signal strength. In telecommunications, particularly in radio, signal strength refers to the magnitude of