The Death of Radio

How often do you listen to the radio just to hear music? If you do, you’re in better company than you might think: a large number of people and especially Millennials were found by a 2014 Nielsen study to still regularly listen to the radio. However, radio is far from being the cultural bedrock it once was. It has remained incredibly resilient despite the naysayers who have been crying about the death of radio for the better part of a century, saying that things like television and cassette and record players would deliver the final blow, but the true demise of radio may be coming faster than any of us think. There’s still countless radio stations here in Washington and across the country that do well enough for themselves, but they will never be able to escape the same basic problem: there’s a million other, better ways to listen to music.

The proliferation of cheap portable media players is a large part of what made radio largely outdated. Even if you don’t have the latest and greatest smartphone, it’s effortless to find cheap media players and phones that are simple to use and have generous amounts of space. The last bastion for radio stations are cars—since it’s many times more convenient to turn on the radio if you want to listen to something while driving—but even that is being taken away by modern technology. Many modern stereo systems allow you to plug your smartphone in or connect to it over Bluetooth. There’s also more modest options available such as buying cheap plug-and-play cassette deck adapters that work with most media players.

Moreover, radio stations aren’t an ideal way to listen to music by their very design. No matter how much you love a certain station, there will always be songs that they play over and over despite how much you despise them. There will always be subgenres that you don’t care for but  you can’t escape because you have no control over what they play. Your only recourse is to switch the station, but that doesn’t help a whole lot since they all play the same songs. No matter where your taste lies, be it rock, pop, country, rap, or something different altogether, they all spam their respective top 40 and ignore everything else that isn’t new or popular. God forbid they play songs that aren’t singles.

People like being able to control everything about their music and not being reliant on a station to play what they want to listen to. From now on, people will always have their vast (and probably pirated) libraries of their favorite music taking up space on their memory cards and computer hard drives, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for music services that offer a more guided experience, such as Pandora and Spotify.

The beauty of services such as Pandora and Spotify is that they allow you to discover new music while still listening to the artists and genres you already love. They have a ton of mainstream music, but you also get exposed to a diversity in genres and song selections that far outstrips anything you could find on the radio. If you don’t like a song, you just skip it (usually only so many times per day or hour though) and that will be taken into account when selecting future music for you. Finally, as long as you have an Internet connection handy, you can listen at your leisure on whatever device you wish.

It’s that potent combination of freedom and guided discovery of new music that radio stations won’t ever be able to match. For all the good memories it has given us, radio may not be around forever and it will continue to be replaced by newer forms of delivering music to people, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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