A valedictory to the glory days of radio
My relationship with the radio has always been a love/hate one. On the one side, it’s a remarkable invention that though, a blip in human history is responsible for birthing many technological, communication and even artistic advances. It has helped countless ships avoid crashing into rocks, sent war winning telegrams and even inspired other great inventions like the television and wireless phones. None of those things I’ll be writing about – BORING! For me personally, it was something much bigger than saving some silly ships who couldn’t handle a little fog. The radio introduced me to the outside world. It opened up my mind to exotic music with lyrics like “I want to fuck you like an animal” and mind expanding programming that would dare to ask the existential questions we all ask ourselves everyday like “Is my spouse cheating on me?”
Listening to the radio is something that opened me up to a larger community than my grade school could offer. Just one station immediately connected me to thousands of like-minded people spread out around the entire town, all sailing the waves of the same Radiohead song. When I was done being a “Creep,” I could just move to the next wave that suited my ever-changing mood.
To this day it’s still a great way to connect to your immediate surroundings. In a small amount of time, one can learn about cultures and sub cultures in their local environment just by skimming around frequencies a few decimal points at a time. As a travelling comedian/musician, I’ll spend at least 10 minutes scanning the dial in each city to get a feel for the audiences I’m performing for. It’s surprising how much I can learn about people by what they listen to. Though the stations and attitudes can vary from place to place, a lot of it surprisingly doesn’t. Most of the world listens to Justin Bieber unfortunately.
As I said though, there’s a darker side to my connection to the terrestrial airwaves. When I first turn on a radio, I find myself bright-eyed, hoping maybe I’ll discover a new band as I often did in my youth. As I continue to scan however, my sanity quickly diminishes as I sit in my car screaming “Who is listening to this garbage?”
It makes me wonder what some of the early inventors of the radio like Tesla and Hertz would think listening to the invention they helped conceive: the obnoxious DJs, loud commercials, the unnecessary sound effects, and continuous cycle of LMFAO songs. Did their original intention ultimately involve party rocking and free ticket giveaways to Shit-Fest-2012? That would be incredible foresight if it did, but I doubt it. I’m not even sure Al Gore, the self-entitled “inventor of the internet” could’ve seen this pinnacle of human existence.
With the internet doing a great job phasing out our old antenna’d pal, I questioned if it was always that bad or are we just spoiled now with superior advancements geared more to our personal tastes like Pandora, XM and podcasts? As I continued scanning the radio dial, I realized that most of the same genres were being transmitted now as when I listened as a kid: rock, pop, jazz, talk, even the occasional bizarre college station. So what was it? It seemed to still have anything and everything that a person could want. Then I realized that it wasn’t the radio that had changed. It was my view on it.
When I was younger, I could handle listening to the latest Disney star and her new single that sounded exactly like the last Disney kid much easier than I could now. The continuous replay of the same 10 songs didn’t bother me as much. Even the rock DJs seemed so much cooler back before I realized that they’ve always been a bunch of corporate nerds with fake raspy voices used to plug furniture ads. These things hadn’t ever really changed, which admittedly was a little depressing being someone who likes to see progress; it was my understanding of what the radio was that had changed. The radio that was once seemed magical and revolutionary technology that opened up my adolescent world became a little too predictable and well, real.
So I created the Imaginary Radio.
Drennon Davis is a US comedian. His show, Drennon Davis The Imaginary Radio Programme is playing at The Assembly as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August
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