Radio: The Master Of Surprise And Delight
There really is something almost magical about radio's ability to make music sound more exciting, satisfying and bigger than life. That's a huge benefit of "broadcasting". We call this radio's music "multiplier" effect. It's when you listen, enjoy, and sometimes turn up the volume of a song on the radio that you'd normally click past on your iPod or "thumb down" on your personalized Internet station. Songs played on air seem to resonate differently due to a combination of serendipity and surprise.
Maybe this is why many of us are more likely to crank up the music when it comes on the radio than our iPod. Have you ever noticed that a movie viewed in a theatre is usually a more powerful viewing experience than when viewed alone at home on TV? The same phenomenon is at play when listening to music on the radio. The contextual and social environment in which a product is consumed does make a difference.
The act of downloading songs to iPods/MP3's or liking/disliking songs on Internet stations eliminates any semblance of surprise. And without surprise, it's difficult to experience delight. Is it possible that we're personalizing and "thumbing" our music up or down to the point of emotional detachment? Radio, on the other hand, due to its serendipitous nature, has the ability to delight far beyond that of other musical alternatives.
Social bonding or a para-social kind of relationship is also at work and exclusive to radio. It revolves around the kinship listeners believe they share with the personalities, which leads to a "he/she gets me" response from a personal and musical standpoint, which enhances the enjoyment that leads to a richer listening experience.
But there's got to be more to radio's magic than this music "multiplier" phenomenon. No matter how hard the online audio pureplays try they will never be able to match radio's ability to provide an intimate shared experience -- another human being sharing the same moment in time with the listener, offering up tidbits of new information about an artist or song, while introducing them to new music being played in the context of their favorite station's playlist. This is radio and this is will always be special.
Thinking of online music options as radio simply because both play music is analogous to categorizing billboards, skywriting, magazines and newspapers as similar mediums because all four are dependent upon the written word. While radio and the Internet audio alternatives both play music there's a cavernous difference between the two audio options and why and how often they are utilized.
Online music services certainly have a place in the new audio world but there is a certain soullessness about them, a sterility that is not present on broadcast radio. Both Clear Channel and CBS are now playing in this space as they should to round out their audio assets, having created iHeartradio and Last.fm respectively.
But no matter how it might be sliced, diced or rationalized that these Internet playlists are radio, it is difficult to not to feel like Will Smith in the movie, "I Am Legend"-- isolated, disconnected and alone if you are exposed to them for too long.