Listening to radio is one of the strongest memory I have while growing up in India. Music, regional programming, news and sports - All India Radio's Vividh Bharthi had a little of everything for everyone - even children's programming. The radio medium was not open to the private sector then but the programming was comprehensive and the quality was rich. The memories like listening to the program dedicated to song requests by people from the armed forces are etched in memory. Many of the family Sundays and late night with friends have the sound of the radio in the background.
Radio as a broadcast medium has declined in popularity since then. Television has dominated the late 20th century. Internet is fast becoming the new kid on the block with the ability to let the audience engage and interact with the content. In fact, Internet is becoming the platform for delivering all media including TV and Radio. The much awaited media convergence is around the corner.
Regardless of the new media that come along, radio has some special qualities that make it my favourite.
- Simplicity & reach: It is really easy to understand the medium and consume it. Radio technology is not threatening to the consumer. Even the technophobes are at ease with it. Listen to radio in a remote village, while travelling in a high speed train, while cruising in your car or relaxing at home.
- Element of surprise: You can never beat the feeling of learning something unexpected while driving to work. Or the feeling of nostalgia that hits you when you hear a song that refreshes a golden memory.
- Quality of programming: Radio has to engage the audience only through their sense of hearing. The bar for quality of content is very high because you can't supplement it with visuals. Quality of programming on NPR and Vividh Bharthi are a testimony to this.
- Voice as the great equalizer: Have you ever felt that you have known a person for a long time without ever meeting the person? Radio can do to you. A specific personal experience was listening to Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air. The association caused me to read "All I Did Was Ask" but the voice on radio and the conversations are just so much more memorable. When you are listening to someone, you are focused on the content and not judging them on their race, religion, sex, or looks.
- Listening skills: Radio helps developing listening skills in people. In our education system and in the corporate world listening is a very underrated and underdeveloped skill.
There is a lot I am discovering about radio as a part of social culture in different parts of the world. Listen to an old recording of "The Jack Benny Program" from your local library or the vibrant Radio Mirchi while you are stuck in traffic in Mumbai. Radio is an interesting window into our history and culture.
Two very interesting and relevant innovations on the Internet are Pandora (radio from the Music Genome Project) and Mercora (radio using peer-to-peer technology). I hope such innovations keep the beautiful medium of radio alive and interesting for a long time.