It’s 8:31 on Saturday morning. Last night, since radio never sleeps, I hung out at the station fooling around with “This is Dead Air.” It’s a podcast that Lane Paradis the plumber and I do about the Grateful Dead. We play recordings of old Grateful Dead shows and then we talk. That’s the extent of it.
There’s this underground swirl of spiritual pot smoking types that can’t get enough of anything Grateful Dead. We have yet to plug into that swirl. Our average podcast gets about 40 listens. We can count that.
Lane and I get together during the week and record the podcast, and then by Friday I edit it and post it on the internet. And then on Friday nights at 9pm, we play our latest podcast and some earlier podcasts. It’s three hours of me, Lane and the Grateful Dead every Friday night.
This is not a business endeavor. Lane and I love the Grateful Dead music so much that we have given up hundreds of hours to do the podcast. Lane selects the music and brings it to the podcast. I oversee the recording, editing and distribution. Although I do not under any circumstance enjoy editing audio, I do enjoy Grateful Dead music enough that it overshadows any misgivings I might have about using Adobe Audition.
Every Friday, though, it becomes a race to 9pm to see if I’m gonna get this week’s show edited in time to play it on the radio. Yesterday, I did not get it done in time. I went to my nephew Al’s baseball game in Lynwood, Illinois, and didn’t get to the station until 9:15 pm. Our podcast from last week had already started to play (they’re all about an hour long), so I had to cut in live to ask our three or four listeners to just listen to last week’s until I could edit this week’s podcast and then play it.
It’s hillbilly Grateful Dead radio at its finest. And nobody really cares. Few people listen on the radio, few people visit our site – ThisisDeadAir.com – and even fewer people listen to the 24-hour streaming audio station of our podcasts and other Grateful Dead stuff that I set up on the internet.
The three or four of you who read my blog can go there right now and enjoy 24 hours of Grateful Dead music and Grateful Dead talk. That would make six or eight total who consume my blog and our Dead podcast.
Big numbers, right? But is that really the point? I write this blog to preserve the history of what is happening as radio changes from radio to something other than radio. And Lane and I do the Grateful Dead podcast because we love the music. Period. Both of these are labors of love.
In other words, I don’t really have a business reason to write the blog or do the Grateful Dead podcast. It’s just something I want to do.
Now this goes back to the whole reason that I got involved in radio in the first place. I did, of course, work at WJOB right out of Berkeley. And I did also write for the Times for five years. But when it came time to plunk down a couple million dollars to invest in WJOB, why did we do it?
I know why my wife agreed to do it. She was afraid that if I didn’t have anything to immerse myself in after the action of the Chicago Board of Trade that something bad would happen. She’s probably right. I look now at the many traders who have killed themselves or drank themselves to death or just generally went downhill. Some have prospered. Many have not. I would have no doubt been part of the many.
But what was the draw for me?
After 18 years of screaming for dollars, I wanted to get involved in this thing that I had only heard about but never gave any real consideration – quality of life.
Other phrases that I didn’t really know the meaning of also came into the picture – like making the Region a better place, giving people a place to talk, helping charities, giving coverage to local athletes. These phrases didn’t really mean anything specific to me at the time. I was chasing a windmill and inside that windmill was something that was good and pure and beautiful. I didn’t know what was in the windmill, at the time. I do now. It was radio.
Radio really is pure and good and beautiful. I knew that from my first go-around working at WJOB. And I knew that from lying in bed as a kid listening to Chicago radio every night. And to this day I rehearse my romantic love for unseen airwaves when I punch up old Jean Shepherd shows from WOR in the 1960s and listen to them. Jean was beautiful and his medium was and is beautiful, and that is radio.
But what is it about radio that makes it beautiful and real? Is it the airwaves themselves? Is it the overregulation by the FCC that keeps radio family-friendly? Is it the towers? The kinds of people who are attracted to radio? Is it the listeners themselves?
These are all interesting questions, and no doubt the three or four of you who read my blog and the other three or four (The Other Ones) who listen to our Grateful Dead podcast could come up with more fantastical ideas about what makes radio beautiful.
To me, it’s simple. It’s the spirit of radio.
There is a spirit behind my talk show every morning on WJOB, AM and, now, FM. I talk and ramble for a while and then Ramon calls in from Gary or Fernando from Merrillville or Cindy from Hammond. We talk about what is going on in the Region. Sometimes they complain. Sometimes I complain. Sometimes we figure something out. Sometimes we disagree and almost swear.
This goes on all morning. And then maybe we’ll sprinkle in a little traffic, although that’s not a real thing here at the bottom of Lake Michigan. It is never “a little traffic.” There is always traffic. Except on Sundays maybe. And then maybe I'll interview the governor or a local business leader.
And then I vacate the studios at 8am. Then 27 different groups in the community buy time from us to fill the 8-10am slot. And then Geno comes on at noon and Tony Panek at 3pm and then Harlow at 4pm. Somewhere in there Rick Kubic does his show and there’s high school sports and college sports and even NFL. We even did the Indy 500 this year.
Our days at WJOB are not altogether different from the days that I lived when working here in 1985, and the days then were not altogether from the days that Frank Reynolds lived when he worked at WJOB in the 1950s. And if you want to go back far enough, the radio days that Frank Reynolds lived in the 50s and I lived in the 80s are not altogether different from the days that Jean Shepherd lived here in the 1930s.
It’s a continuing spirit of beauty and grace. And it’s dying.
What is dying? Radio, for sure, is dying. Less people listen every year. It’s a fact. Maybe there will be some unforeseen miracle that rescues radio, makes it relevant, but it’s more likely that the trend will continue. Radio will become less and less relevant, at least in the near term until something sea changes.
But what happens to the spirit of radio that I so affectionately talk about? Will that die too?
No. As a matter of fact, I believe that the spirit of “local communication,” let’s call it that for lack of a better term, is stronger than ever. You can see it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. You see it on WJOB and at the Times, but our audiences often do not grow as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram does.
This is reality. The Times and WJOB slowly lose relevance, while Facebook and Twitter gain. Once you accept this, you can dissect the situation further and find a place where media like The Times and WJOB can not only stay relevant but can flourish (perhaps in a different form that no one has thought of yet.)
Now, it’s a Saturday morning and the wife is gonna actually get away from her law practice for a few hours and I’m gonna pry myself away from this blog, my podcasts, our radio stations for a few hours and we’re gonna drive a couple hours to take a pontoon ride. So I’m not gonna go into all of the things that I think need to happen for places like The Times and WJOB to fight in a world now dominated by Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
But I can tell you this: far from being afraid of this situation, I welcome it. I wake up every day grateful that I am part of this sea change from traditional media to non-traditional media. It’s already occurred and occurs more so every day.
Why am I not afraid of the change?
Because I already lived it. I already got pushed out as a floor trader when, after 171 years of doing it with your hands and your voice, it turned into something that you do with your index finger and a computer. I wasn’t ready then. I am now. Talk later. Time for a pontoon ride.