The bright future of radio

“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”

–Confucius, The Book of Rites

Music: for many of us, it’s difficult to picture life without it. Love, peace, truth, faith, inspiration, motivation, revolution; these are a few of the many uses humanity has found for music. Deemed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow “the universal language of mankind,” music has long accompanied humanity in our collective journey through space and time, and will likely continue to do so for centuries. Why, then, at a time when music is so dynamic and vivacious, do some continue to insist that radio is dead? My guess is that they’ve never tuned in to their local radio station.

Though radio enjoyed its golden age in the 1930s and 1940s, it has—for a number of reasons—continued to be an incredibly versatile and pervasive medium. Those who have taken Communication and Popular Culture or JTC 100 know that many historians of media often associate the “death” of radio with the arrival of MTV in August of 1981; epitomized by their fittingly titled first song, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles. And while radio did fall second to television shortly after its debut, it has not declined into non-existence as some of these scholars may suggest. In fact, I would argue that radio is making a fantastic comeback—thriving, adapting and modifying to meet the needs of a vastly different social, cultural, and technological climate. By drawing on a variety of disciplines and perspectives to increasingly involve its audience, radio has done something truly remarkable as of late: it has set out its own path to conquer the unique and uncertain terrain of the 21st century.

Walk into the office of KCSU, the student-run radio station on campus, and you enter a world of interdisciplinary engagement and collaboration. Artists, journalists, musicians, philosophers, biologists, engineers—our DJs and employees come from all walks of life. Though the studio is often seen to be the space of a lonely DJ, it is in fact overflowing with an endless stream of thoughts, experiences, voices, perspectives and ideas. Yes, the radio is home to the DJs, but it is also home to nonprofits, live performers, journalists, and creators of all types.

What we produce is collaborative in the truest sense, and what we wish to achieve is two fold. First, we recognize that radio isn’t what it once was: a person behind the mic playing records in isolation. It’s now a fully collaborative engagement in real time between DJ and listener, facilitated by Internet & social media apps such as RadioFX, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others. We’re on-air not only to play music but to engage our listeners in both the exchange and exploration of musical taste. Second, we feel that music is most powerful when it happens in a community. We equally strive at KCSU to engage listeners in an experience that can potentially change a day, a life, or a perspective—we must always consider who is listening in.

Which brings me back to why you should tune into your local radio station. While it may be tempting to reach for the AUX cord the next moment you set foot in your car, try setting it to 90.5 FM instead. Dare to push yourself beyond the limits of your musical universe. You might soon discover that it’s something you simply can’t live without.

Learn more about Interdisciplinary Studies.


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