Commentary

So that's what 'The Golden Age of Radio' was like ...

In the midst of a party with friends Saturday night, a handful of us huddled around my 8-year-old stereo in my neighbor's apartment.

It's a three-disc, two-cassette deck 50w detached double speaker system with auxiliary input. The radio tuner is rarely used now, a drastic change from when it sat in my bedroom at my parents' place. The 3-disc changer hasn't seen use since my junior year of high school. And, yes, in the very early days the cassette deck got some use. (Then I discovered Napster.)

Back to Saturday night. The stereo system now gets its greatest exercise when it's hooked up to a computer or iPod, and such was the case here. Tonight's main act was not our boy band megamix or Hulu watching, but my favorite artist.

John Mayer's second annual Holiday Revue, "On His Own," was streamed live at Mayer's site, allowing fans across the country to listen in stunning clarity. A continuously updating photo slide show accompanied the live player page, adding some perspective as to the set, Mayer and his tone. That was all secondary, of course. It's the music I was focused on. With a volume-maxed stereo, the show was in our living room.

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I could close my eyes, allow my imagination to take over and soon I, too, was there. Two friends, also avid fans, joined in the stereo-huddling. A popular fan blog posted the set list as it developed, and its comments section served the equivalent as between-song side chatter with fellow fans. There we were, most of the way across the country, feeling like we were there.

I flash back to the scenes from "A Christmas Story," where Ralphie runs to the radio to catch the latest broadcast of radio Orphan Annie. (Yea - this is my recollection of radio's glory days, as this 1984-born product has always grown up with MTV, let alone transistor radios.) A remarkable Internet broadcast quality made me feel as if I was at Nokia Theatre.

So that's how the dawning of radio and TV felt.

My generation takes for granted the power of "live." We've grown up in a media-saturated environment where seeing or hearing in real time something elsewhere isn't "cool" - just normal. Whether it's a TV station live shot from across town, or a war correspondent on the opposite side of the Earth - we're used to that.

Last week my best friend told me how he'd just come from chatting with a high school friend serving the country in Iraq. He initially brought up the subject with no real "ooo" or "awe" to it, and was more/less focusing on how bored his friend seemed there .. not so much the fact that he was talking to him in real time over Facebook Chat. He stopped and showed a contemplative look on his face after realizing what he'd said, and how remarkable it truly is.

That same friend was one of the two friends enjoying the sounds of Mayer's set Saturday night. He had his "live" moment earlier in the week, as I was having mine right then and there. The two-hour, LA-based show started at midnight EST. We intently listened through every minute of it.

Then the feed cut out during the second-to-last song of the encore.

"S---." It resumed minutes later, as Mayer finished a memorable blend of Coldplay's "Lost" and his own "Clarity."

Some general glitches posed some problems for the stream at the end, Mayer's team blog acknowledged Sunday as they touted the replay of the show. Even now the site continues to stream the concert live, and recordings of the show are already floating about the fan base.

Not only could I hear it live, but now I can replay it like it is forever. Art and technology are beautiful things.

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