The future of radio, and why it will never die.

memory cards
Smaller size, greater capacity

With the shocking speed at which technology is advancing these days, many products have come and gone in the blink of an eye. Remember flash drives? Of course you do, you may even still own one. 10 years ago, early flash drives came in what would now be considered appallingly small sizes for absurdly high prices. I remember gritting my teeth upon shelling out the $40 it cost to buy just a few hundred megabytes of storage. Today, I sneeze at a flash drive that has any capacity smaller than 4 GB, and I wouldn’t pay more than $10 for it. In fact, I probably wouldn’t pay anything for it at all, because in the last few years flash drives have been made all but obsolete by the rise of cloud storage. I have 15 GB FREE storage on Google Drive and I don’t need to worry about carrying it around in my pocket and potentially misplacing it. Flash drives were just a flash in the pan.

original ipod
The original iPod

This is just one example of a technology that has been introduced just to quickly be replaced by something new. In the music industry, even the successor of CD’s, the mp3 player, is on its last legs. The first iPod came out in 2001, and I couldn’t get enough. Now, I haven’t owned an iPod in 3 years thanks to how incredibly easy it is to stream music from services like YouTube, Pandora, and Spotify. If there are some mp3s I can’t live without and I need to have the actual files with me, I download them onto my smart phone.

But in the media industry, here is one form that stands the test of time: radio. Think about it, when you’re in the car, you still listen to the radio whether it be AM, FM, or “XM”. And I’m here to make the case that radio will never die.

vintage radio

First, let us define “radio”. If you define radio as content that is broadcast wirelessly via towers and radio waves, then stop reading right now, because you are right. The technology of broadcasting via radio waves is 100 years old and is being replaced by more modern methods, such as broadcast via satellite or the internet. I do not define radio based on its using radio waves, but radio as an industry. Here is my list of criteria for what I categorize under the word “radio”:

  1. The streaming of the content is controlled by someone other than the listener. A listener may tune in to hear what is currently playing, but cannot skip around to different songs/programs.
  2. The content is created or chosen by a person or persons, not a computer.
  3. The content is played on a “station” that takes programs from different sources
  4. A station has programming that all follows some sort of theme (ex “classic rock” “Christian” “talk” “news” “top 40”)
Spotify Radio
NOT “radio”

That’s about it. What fits this description? Well not “internet radio”, such as Spotify Radio or the new iTunes Radio, where the user chooses from a list of characteristics and a computer algorithm then pulls music from some giant distant cloud library. Marketers of these streaming services chose the word “radio” because it is a word that is familiar to the consumer, and because the service fits my criteria #4, all the music played follows a theme. This theme is chosen by the listener when they click on which genres they’d like the computer algorithm to play for them.

What does fit my description of radio is anything you tune to in your car, whether it be coming to you via radio waves or not. Radio is where you discover new things: new songs you may not have heard, news stories that are just breaking, interesting conversations and wonderful stories told by journalists. All of this unique entertainment is available to you without the use of your eyes, a special quality which makes radio quite different from any other form of media you might encounter.

Yes, there are also audiobooks and podcasts that can be enjoyed with ears only. But there are also loads of internet videos to enjoy, so why do we still have TV? TV and radio still exist (and will continue to exist) for the same reason: there is something enjoyable about giving up control about what you are about to hear or see, an excitement about not knowing what will come up next on your television or radio, and the knowledge that it will probably be something brand new that you’ve never heard before. You constantly have the opportunity to experience something new. When a person plays their own pre-loaded audiobooks or music, that chance is greatly reduced.

Radio as an industry will continue to thrive. As both a producer and listener of radio, I know that the human desire to both be entertained (sometimes without having to commit your eyes as well as your ears!) and informed will keep radio alive. That is, maybe, until they perfect those self-driving cars….

Has Pop Music Gotten Worse in the Last 50 Years?

The answer, undoubtedly, is yes.

I have had this argument with my boyfriend a few times, and he just can’t come to accept it. It’s not fair, he said, to compare the music industry as we know it today to the music of the past, because we see all the bad music around us today whereas bad music of past decades has faded out of history and we don’t even know about it today.

This is a good point. However, if you take a cross section of the most popular songs of each decade, you can see from the top five hits of each year how the trend is really going. Take this list for example. It begins in 1946. We have jazz standards, some silly pop songs. Then we move to The Beatles, who, let’s be honest, were some of the finest pop music of the century. In the 1970s we see the charts get peppered with frivolous dance and pop music (come on, can “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” really be compared to Nat King Cole or “Hey Jude”?)

It only gets worse from there. The number 1 song of 1982 is Olivia Newton John’s “Physical”. While I am not saying this isn’t a terribly catchy song, the overall quality or intelligence of the piece surely cannot be compared to the jazz standards or classic rock of previous decades.

Of course there are still some great songs on the list, but as the years progress, the ratio of really great songs (“Every Breath You Take”, “Billie Jean”) to rather stupid songs (“Walk Like an Egyptian”, “Flashdance… What A Feeling”) makes a clear shift towards the stupid side. By the 2000s, we seem to have descended into complete idiocy (“In Da Club”, “Since U Been Gone”, “Buy U A Drank (Shawty Snappin’)”).

To make myself clear again: I am not saying these songs have no merit at all. These are songs I myself have sung along with, danced to, or performed in a private concert to my adoring fans in the bathroom mirror with a paddle brush as a microphone. But when you compare the general level of artistry involved in making these songs with songs earlier on the list, we see a clear divide.

But how could music just get worse? What driving force would possibly be behind that? Well, I didn’t know it until this past week when I read it in my music history book.

Over 100 years ago, the only way to enjoy music outside of a concert was to purchase the sheet music for it and play it yourself. Obviously in this society, only people with musical training and thus refined musical taste would be seeking out music and giving their consumerism to the music industry. Thus, the industry demand for music was only for the type of music these people would like: “classical” music, musical theater/opera, etc.

Then, recording technologies were invented. It started as the wax cylinder, and evolved into the vinyl record. Here’s a neat fact, the early incarnations of a record were not very efficient and could only hold 3-4 minutes of music on each side. This is what dictated the length of songs and is why typical pop songs are about 3 minutes in length today. With each new advancement in recording technology, music became more and more easy to purchase, own, and enjoy. Most importantly, you didn’t have to be able to read music to access it anymore. As more people gained access to music, the demand for music changed because it wasn’t only the classically trained musicians listening to it anymore.

In the past 50 years, music technology has improved at an exponential rate. Since the vinyl record, we’ve had radio, 8 tracks, cassettes, CDs, mp3s, and finally, free and universal streaming services (YouTube, Pandora, Spotify). In 100 years the amount of effort it requires to listen to a piece of music has gone from studying for years to perfect an instrument in order to play the piece all the way down to simply typing in the name of a tune you want to hear. As non-musically educated people have saturated the market, so has the quality of the music gone down to meet their tastes.

Improved technology also means that it has become easier and easier to record music, and this fact has sped up the production of the “bad” music supply.

I am not saying there is no good music at all these days. I am a huge fan of Mumford and Sons, Avett Brothers, Seven Lions, and the like. However, can you really compare Justin Bieber to The Beatles? Besides the hair cut, they really haven’t got a damn thing in common.

Remembering September 11th

I only have a few distinct memories from that day. I was in the fourth grade. The school year was just really getting really started. It was a beautiful Georgia day out, and I was loving my 9 year old life.

None of the teachers told us what was going on, but all the kids knew something was amiss. I don’t remember what time of day I left school, but it must have been the morning. Everyone was getting pulled out by their parents. Though I thought it was strange, I was just happy to get to go home and play.

When my sister and I (she was in first grade) walked out of the school, we found both our parents waiting for us. This is when I realized that something must have been really serious. Our parents had been divorced for over four years and we never encountered them together.

I asked what was going on. Perhaps our parents told us that there had been an accident. I don’t remember what happened until we got to my father’s house and they turned on the TV. We were just in time to see one of the hundreds of replays of the second plane crashing into the South Tower.

I immediately started crying. It was a horror, a tragedy that was happening right now on American soil. My mother told us that all of our family was safe. Nobody worked in that area of the city.

I hardly watched for sixty seconds before I asked them to turn them off. Even at my young age I completely understood the magnitude of the situation. I realized that I was witnessing history. Future generations would read about this day in school, and kids might ask me what it was like to live this day. At the same time, I felt guilty realizing that events like this happen all around the world but I never seemed to care about those events, only this one. I still feel guilty about that to this day.

Later that day I did see footage of the towers falling. I cannot imagine what it could have been like to be near that attack. I was far away physically, but near in spirit as all of us were.

Of course, the WTC towers were not the only buildings to be attacked. There was also a crash at the pentagon and a final plane that missed its target but still crashed to the ground, killing its passengers. We lost almost 3,000 lives to the events of that day.

Today I am enjoying the most perfect weather I have ever witnessed in South Carolina. There is not a cloud in the sky. But I’m confident there is not a hijacked plane up there, either. The horrors of September 11th did have one silver lining: they brought us together as a nation. I hope that on this anniversary, we can put our election squabbles aside and remember that we are all proud Americans.

I am my own fifth cousin.

No, I’m serious. My uncle keeps a record of our family’s genealogy on a computer program, and there is a view where you can see a list of names of family members and your relationship to them. Next to my dad’s name it says he is my father… and my fourth cousin once removed! I am my own self AND fifth cousin!

There is actually a very simple explanation for this technicality: one set of my great great great grandparents (of which there are 16 pairs) was first cousins. I will go into more detail.

What is a cousin? First cousins are something we are all familiar with. First cousins are people who each have one parent that were siblings with each other. Basically, my mom’s brother’s kids are my first cousins.

Second, third, fourth etc cousins occur when you go down another generation. My kids and my cousin’s kids will be second cousins. People who are any degree of cousin-ness are in the same generation, but the higher the degree of cousin-ness, the farther back your common ancestor is. First cousins have common grandparents. Second cousins have common great grandparents but NOT common grandparents, and so on.

Then there are also “removed” cousins. A removed cousin is someone who is in a different generation from you. For example, my first cousin’s children would be my first cousins once removed. This is because they are removed one generation from me, and we share ancestors who are my grandparents but my first cousin’s once removed’s great grandparents.

So how did I become my own fifth cousin? Well, my great great great grandparents, as I mentioned, were first cousins (this was like, the 1700s or something so… let it slide). This would mean their children, who were obviously siblings to each other, were technically also second cousins to each other, because the children of first cousins are second cousins. This meant my great great grandparents were first cousins once removed to their own parents.

Go down a few more generations and the same technicality remains, but you go from first to second, third, fourth, and fifth degrees. I am five generations from the first cousins who married, so I am fifth cousin to myself. I am also fourth cousin once removed to my father, and fifth cousin to my sister.

Here is a simplified family tree I have prepared to illustrate this. There are no siblings on here (I have sister, my parents have multiple siblings, basically everyone on here has siblings but they are not important to the story and it would make the chart too big).

This strange technicality occurred with my father’s mother’s mother’s parents being first cousins. There are, of course, hundreds and hundreds of pairs in this lineage where these kind of things could have happened that I don’t know about. What about my father’s father’s side? What about my mother’s side? The possibilities are endless.

If you think about it, the chances are rather high that you are your own fifth cousin, too.