Last Tuesday was National Radio Day! How do I know? I saw it on Facebook, of course, which is where everyone who is younger than me seems to get all their news.
But not me. I’m still a radio guy. So I celebrated National Radio Day by working in the news room at Michigan Radio, where we also spend lots of time on Facebook.
Like any good news person, I didn’t just trust what my Facebook friends posted as the truth. If that were the case I’d also believe our President was born in Kenya and that a vengeful Polish dentist pulled out all of her ex-boyfriends teeth after he dumped her.
So, I Googled it as well. According to the “Holiday Insights” website, August 20th was, in fact, Radio Day. I also discovered that Russia celebrates Radio Day on May 7th, Bangladesh celebrates it on February 7th, and Malaysia celebrates it on September 9th. We are among the only four nations on the planet to deem radio worthy of a national day of celebration.
The origin of National Radio Day in the USA is fuzzy. Unlike the Russians and Bangladeshis, there hasn’t been a Presidential proclamation or government decree on this. But “Holiday Insights” did find blogs and radio station websites as early as the 1990s referring to this national day. (Yes…that far back…really.)
Coincidentally (I hope), August 20th is also Pony Express Day, a day when we can sit back and reminisce about a once vital communications system for our country, that is now a quaint historical antiquity seen only in the movies and recreated at theme parks.
Lots of people today like to tell us that radio will soon go the way of the Pony Express. While every radio professional of a certain age seems to tell the cliché story of being a child and listening to their transistor radio under their covers at night, today’s kids are sneaking their mp3 players or cell phones under their covers at night, so they can listen to their itunes or text their friends.
Radio gets maligned in blogs, at conferences, and even in industry trades that tell us radio is dead, nobody is listening, and that nobody under 40 even owns or knows how to operate a radio.
But the death of radio has been predicted many times. So often, in fact, that just writing that sentence seems like another cliché.
But I think the future of radio is strong. It may not all be delivered as a traditional broadcast on the AM and FM dials, but public use of audio remains vital. Audio delivery of music and news and talk and entertainment remains affordable on numerous broadcast and digital devices, is accessible to everyone, and you can still drive safely while making use of it.
As NPR’s Vice President for Programming Eric Nuzum said during a speech to the Ohio Associated Press award winners earlier this year, “Audio isn’t going away, it’s everywhere.” He’s right.
Listeners can stream our radio stations on their computers as work, they can listen to the most recent local newscast on their phones, they can download topic-centered podcasts and listen to all of last week’s political news while they jog on Saturday morning.
Our audience can listen to our news specials and series on our websites at their convenience, and we can use Twitter to tell them about it and Facebook to engage them in conversations about the topics.
The need for news and information, and even for the human voice, is strong, and for those of us who can figure out how to be where the audience wants to hear us, the future of “radio news” will still be very strong, at both the national and local levels.
There may not be many people who celebrated National Radio Day, but I don’t think it will become the future equivalent of Pony Express Day. In retrospect, maybe there’s no foreboding at all that I learned about it on Facebook.