The story goes that Roger Taylor’s son didn’t like what was playing on the radio, so the three-year-old uttered the phrase “Radio ka-ka!”
This resulted in the drummer of Queen penning the song Radio Ga Ga.
Both a celebration and a critique of radio, it wasn’t the first, and definitely wouldn’t be the last.
Years earlier, a song mourned how video had killed the radio star. Ironically, radio stars still give it a lot of airplay.
Brushing off these (not so) near-death experience, radio continues to survive, even with the advent of faster more immediate mediums like Twitter.
Even with direct competitive innovations like podcasts, Spotify and iTunes, radio showed that it tends to bend and sway, but not break.
Yes, listeners wander off out of curiosity, but ultimately they return to the charming familiarity of the unexpected content coming out of the wireless.
Over the years that I have enjoyed working in radio, there have been numerous and exaggerated warnings of the medium’s imminent demise.
Perhaps that’s because it is based on flawed and bias analyses from pseudo pundits claiming to understand the medium better than anyone else.
While they find radio’s longevity confounding, one of the earliest lessons I learnt is that I should stop trying to make sense of radio, because nobody truly understands why it works.
By its very nature, radio attracts outsized egos, who love the sound of their own voices too much; some cackle at the drop of a canned laugh, while others indulge in cringe-worthy controversy.
They often have a shelf life, while presenters with a pure passion for good radio tend to last a little longer.
It is impossible for any medium to be everything to everyone, which is why there are so many options – to cater for individual choices.
So what comes out of the speakers may sound like a death rattle to some, it is very entertaining to others.
The truth of the matter is, when you’ve worked at enough radio stations for long enough, you can make intelligent observations and get to understand that no one radio station is truly better than another.
Only a small percentage of high listenership numbers can be attributed to outstanding presenter content.
Legacy and comfort-zone listeners all get factored into the equation.
Switch-resistance is the bane of all new businesses in all industries and existing brands will throw massive marketing budget at reinforcing the status quo.
So radio listenership is more a reflection of those marketing budgets than it is of the quality of what comes out of the speakers.
The most annoying thing about radio is the frequency (see what I did there) with which commentators keep trying to kill it off.
They discard nostalgia, ignoring the fact that listeners treasure radio as being (after newspapers) the original influencer, the original content curator, the constant, comforting companion that doesn’t overwhelm you and that doesn’t demand your undivided attention.
You don’t have to learn a new technology or a new language to be informed, laugh or sing along.
In fact, I would venture to say that radio’s perceived immortality is due to both its intimacy and because it has stubbornly refused to speed up its own evolution; staying pretty much unchanged from its heydays.
In a world obsessed with speed, where “move fast and break things” is a corporate motto and where the only constant is constant change, even bad radio is like that tattered old pair of slippers - a warm, familiar companion that provides comfort.
Individual radio stations alone is not the magic. Radio as a whole is.