Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Image Of Radio - Operators, Listeners, Content

Radio saw its larger than life popularity from the early 1900s to about the early to mid 90s. Old programs that were innovative, entertaining, comical, and light hearted brought families together. Families used radio as a way to bond in the days before computers gave us a wider audience. Before TV, there was radio.

Before we get to the heart of the matter we'll talk about radio operators. A radio operator in the minds of most people are the old time military men and women who performed voice and morse code duties. Radio ops were thought of along the lines of CB'ers with illegal amps who caused havoc with your home electronics, and Licensed Radio Amateurs who were math and electronics geniuses who erected huge antennas to speak with strangers of the world. As radio became commercialized, radio ops were then thought of in a broader sense as DJ's, on-air personalities, and corporations. 

With the growth of radio came the various audiences with a taste each to their own for different types of radio. The oldest forms of radio being shortwave, SSB (HF),  and AM. Long ago, stations were more than happy to ask for or respond to voluntary reception reports. They used these reports to know about how their antenna systems and transmitters were working. Stations also used these reports to study propagation patterns and gain listeners.

Avid radio listeners became known as SWL's even if they were not into the shortwave scene. It was the mid 90s when stations started to notice the demographic of their various audiences, and they also noticed that this demographic mostly consisted of people who just wanted free swag and had little to no attention span in regards to content. This isn;t to say that audiences are not out here that are interested in content, just that they are largely for whatever reason, unheard from.

This demographic created an image problem. Contributing to the image problem was the fact that stations were now confused as to what their audience is listening to and actually sticking around to enjoy. Not long ago, this publication did a piece on Burt - K1OIK from the Eastern United States, and he talked about the image of amateur radio operators with quite a bit of honesty.

Unfortunately, this same image is what stations have of their listeners, especially the shortwave and AM broadcasters. years ago, economic challenges and the advent of computers meant that stations could actually not have such a big reliance upon "On-Air Personalities". Programming started to suffer from quality issues. The quality issues meant that content was not what it could be. Only a handful of shortwave and AM broadcasters have any idea about what good content is anymore. The image of radio is on the decline and desperately needs saving.

Communication is about content and vice versa. SWL's need to stop worrying about so many technical issues and really start to appreciate these stations for what on-air content they offer.


Roy Berger said...

There are so many DX'ers out there who as you say, don't know who is listening. Their far away voices discussing groundhogs on the farm or telling a radio operator story from the 1940's are welcome. They don't know, but all that kidding around and joshing comes through, our otherwise sanitized and regulated air-waves, with great delight. When the sun goes down I'm often up and I find shortwave listening to have inspired me in many ways. I listen on a Grundig 800. There was many a night when it was just me and my Grundig and it led me to write this book. I hope you get a kick out of it. It's called, 2012 Rabbits and the Happy Apocalypse on Shortwave Radio. Couldn't have done it without you. Thanks, Roy Berger.

Shortwave_America said...

Roy, thanks for reading! Shortwave America would be interested in speaking with you about your book and doing a book review here. Would you please contact us? Just use the e-mail link at the Shortwave America profile.

Stephen said...

Great Article. I have no idea what the future of shortwave will be. I have been listening off and on since I was 10 years old as my dad did when he was a kid.

Great article! We SWLers need to start speaking up a bit more.