Lighting speed internet connections at home and smart phones becoming more ubiquitous than ever, the curtain has fallen on the age of waiting for… anything. Today we enjoy nearly instantaneous streams of information always available at our fingertips, literally. But at times it feels the convenience and availability of information makes us hyper-aware of the world around us, a state from which we can’t easily revert. Playing devil’s advocate for the ‘smart’ forms of all communication and entertainment technology we’ve grown quite accustomed to, I recognize the likely disconnect from each other we all might in our daily lives; when g-chatting replaces chit-chatting and connections on LinkedIn are more sought after than those personal or professional connections made over a casual lunch date, it’s clear we as a society are experiencing a transformation in how we communicate and relate to one another. And although I feel more included and updated about what’s going on in the world, I can’t ignore how often I choose, whether for convenience or out of laziness: to send a text message when a short phone call would be optimal or to scroll my twitter feed instead of tuning into a public radio station I used to listen to. I worry I’m building walls around my consciousness, actually secluding myself rather than putting myself in better contact with others whom I wish to form and develop real and meaningful relationships. This brings me to the topic I wanted to highlight in this post: the good old-fashioned AM radio and radio in general as a source of news and entertainment- one far less able to be personalized than the newest apps geared with algorithms capable of predicting the news highlights and sets of music I’ll most enjoy.
This article, published last week in the Wall Street Journal, shines a light on the few small but proud independent radio stations still operating just out of NYC’s range of signal, but within reach to everyone connected to the internet. The author says the owner, called J.P. Ferraro, of the Hyde Park station WHVW (“the last locally owned, programmed and operated radio station in the Hudson Valley”) prefers reel-to-reel tape for recording shows and only plays music before 1970. Well, that’s great seeing as the biggest most prominent FM stations on the air today seem to play on repeat the same 15 songs from the past 3 months. Fortunately, there are still plenty of other FM stations that play wide range of genres from various decades, past and present.
In the time before URLs and smartphones, we relied on the radio waves for entertainment and to keep us in the know, not just with important news and music, but unique commentary and insightful interviews. Listening to the radio way back when brought the family together to hear the President speak (FDR’s fireside chats), and from there it grew into an invaluable tool for delivering local news, sports broadcasts, musical diversity and advertising local businesses and community happenings.
There’s something to be said about the intimacy felt by just a couple voices speaking to an audience of thousands; it’s not a conversation, nor an interactive forum, therefore the listener is not permitted much input, but it succeeds at saying something aloud to a lot of different people at one time. It ensures the listener receives a wide range of news and opinions, that may be biased or influenced by personal beliefs, but still helpful to hear and know, and something the listener wouldn’t otherwise get, were they are able to more selectively filter the news they listen to, like they can today. This blanket coverage and its impact is a feat not even television news stations can consistently boast.
I think radio has been very successful at doing this for years. It serves a function irreplaceable by TV or internet or other evolved forms of communication to come. That is, conveying a message in the least contrived way so that it reaches the listener nearly the same as how it left the speaker. The same goes for music and sports commentary as compared to the more modern counterpart modes of delivery such as MTV, YouTube, ESPN, which all precede certain, more limiting assumptions and expectations by the listener.
The varied conversations and colorful voices of radio personalities and their unique guests bring the listener right to the front-row, for a session so close to eavesdropping it would be rude if listening wasn’t encouraged.
When you force a connection while listening to the radio and engage just one of your senses (face-to-face conversations should involve at least 2) to receive and process the auditory input streaming from the radio, I think (an opinion perhaps supported by some research) that by excluding the other senses, the one engaged is strengthened and the experience is that much more meaningful and has a greater all around impact on the listener. With only one sense involved in the process you involuntarily pay more attention to the content, you are more present and mindful of that which you are experiencing, and consequently you take away more from the program.
Radio also seems to be great for the cohesive identity and inclusiveness all communities strive towards. It affords everyone in the community the opportunity to share their expertise or opinion on a matter, to speak frankly to a receptive audience and lastly, and it lets the host design a program based on their interests as well as those of the listenership. This pattern allows for a more organic and better regarded programming where not only is the host a local resident of the area, but an active citizen whose own liveliness is tied to that of the community.
Save the argument that the music was better back then (even if it could be made, let’s leave that to J.P. Ferraro) and let us further the idea of reaching back into our collective pasts for useful reminders of how we were once more interdependent on each other and sought out more personal connections; I think we would see how our personal circles of friends and acquaintances and the neighborhoods in which we live were more dynamic entities that better supported the goals and dreams of their residents and in turn was itself reinforced by the ingenuity and drive of a population more involved, that made the most of all the Queen City has to offer, all which contributed to its vigor and beauty. A part of the Middle Main neighborhood revitalization might consist of looking to the patterns and behaviors of the past as a model for realizing the vibrant, energetic, healthy neighborhood, for which we hope, envision and work today.
This station, WHVW, 950 AM, (whvw.net) is today a rarity here in the Hudson Valley, a true gem for diversity of programming. How the station describes itself,
"WHVW is perhaps the only station in the nation featuring American roots music as it’s primary format. Our format is designed around mostly American music, from the beginning of useful recorded sound (circa 1900) to 1970.
Among the genres you will hear on WHVW are Blues, Hillbilly, Rock ‘n’ Roll (the *real* ‘50's and ‘60's stuff), Rhythm and Blues, Jazz, Folk, Western Swing, Electric Blues (i.e. post WWII blues), Country, Popular, Bluegrass, Doo-Wop, Rockabilly and Big Bands."
I admit I’ve only ever listened to the music and talk segments by local Middle Main-iac John Flowers, who is on the air M-F, 9-11 am, but I want to listen to the rest of the programmes. I was pleasantly surprised with how effortlessly I got connected to the live stream online when I tuned in to hear Hudson River Housing’s own Community Development Coordinator, Lindsay Duvall, being interviewed by John about the community holiday event, Light the Night, that brought together residents to celebrate the holidays, and despite the wet weather conditions outside, the Underwear Factory windows shined bright and a fun time was had by all crowded inside Spicy Mexican Grill with a Santa Clause & photo booth, children’s activities, hot chocolate and snacks. John is a true community advocate and has been for many years. He keeps in the know with everything going on in Middle Main and the greater city area. If you or someone you know is working on or planning some work, program, or initiative in the area that others ought to know about or could become involved in, contact John to schedule a laidback but comprehensive interview on the air and have your voice heard, your project or message shared. Local independent radio could reemerge as a premier mode of publicity since it is affordable (free) and (has the potential to be) a very effective tool for disseminating news, cultural and sporting events, and a wide range of other information, particularly that which would never appear as a notification on the average person’s smart phone.
Jamie Rusek of Mainstay CoWorking with John Flowers in the WHVW studio in Poughkeepsie