It cannot be denied. The customer who introduced me to the Radio Garden website has, with a click, changed my audible wallpaper. As a googly-type earth revolves on my screen, with tiny sparkly dots indicating the different radio stations, channel hopping and globetrotting has become indecently quick. Indecent, because my finger tapping is so light that I am rarely sure of which channel I am listening to – not that it matters because, in three or four minutes, I will swap continents and tune in elsewhere.
At first, the oddity of waking in the morning to an Australian tea-time show felt no worse than quirky. I found it more difficult to reconcile my ears to an American West Coast weather forecast for the afternoon which, for me, had already been and gone and I was thinking about my evening cocoa. I do wonder if this environment is disrupting my concept of time, drawing me closer to an unavoidable black hole.
But, whisper who dares – the time of day and the place on earth do not matter one jot, because everywhere is churning out the same stuff all of the time. Now, I am sure that I could find more specialised stations if I employed little more diligence and a little more awareness of what I am looking for. But that hardly changes the wallpaper pattern when I randomly select one little sparkly dot from somewhere in the world and the content is, well, the same as the other randomly selected little sparkly dots. You would think that radio from small town America would be different from small town New Zealand.
The concession that the audience gets what it deserves is of little help. We decide what is popular and the radio stations deliver it, is that it? Are we really saying that producers are so devoid – and so caught up in corporate boundaries – that, as professionals, they are unable to deliver new ideas in attractive ways? It seems so; they seem focussed on elbowing their way to front of that race to the bottom spawned by the proliferation of choice. In short, it seems inevitable that professional radio will go the same way as their newsprint predecessors.
Because, in this digital-cyber age, enthusiasts are eager to be imaginative and they are ready to do it for nothing. Photography, journalism, music, broadcasting – almost any media activity.
This is already happening. And I am sure that I am not alone in recognising the picture. I ditched the television years ago and, although I enjoy listening to the wireless, the list of web podcasts which I am desperate not to miss has to be managed if it’s not to occupy two or three hours each day. These programmes are put together by enthusiasts with a burning need to set out their specialist interests in a serious way. They are already pushing the radio schedules aside.
Someone, somewhere, needs to wake up? Not so, apparently. The great broadcasters and the newspapers will survive because the listeners will always trust their content first, I’ve been told. Ladies and gentlemen of the press, that conceit will be revealed as a fool’s paradise in the few years it will take for more enthusiasts get good at it.