World Radio Day And How The US Can Learn From The Rest Of The World

By | March 18, 2012
I ran across a post on the PBS Mediashift Idea Lab blog that told me something that I did not know.  UNESCO, part of he United Nations, has declared February 13th to be World Radio Day.  On their website, here’s what they say about radio:

The World Radio Day seeks raise awareness about the importance of radio, facilitate access to information through radio and enhance networking among broadcasters.
Radio has to be recognized as a low cost medium, specifically suited to reach remote communities and vulnerable people: the illiterate, the disabled, women, youth and the poor, while offering a platform to intervene in the public debate, irrespective of people’s educational level. Furthermore, radio has a strong and specific role in emergency communication and disaster relief. There is also a changing face to radio services which, in the present times of media convergence, are taking up new technological forms, such as broadband, mobiles and tablets.  

The World Radio Day website, as well as the Idea Lab blog, wax poetic about how radio is important to most of the Earth’s inhabitants, but not in the way that American broadcasters have changed the medium in our country.  Consider this from Amy O’Donnell, who wrote the Idea Lab post:

In an era where every revolution has a hashtag, we must remind ourselves that community radio has been a forum for collective dialogue for more than 100 years. By a generous estimate, Twitter has 500 million users. Juxtapose this with the 6 billion active mobile subscriptions and 95 percent of people who have access to the radio.
Radio is particularly important for those who aren’t online or able to get a newspaper delivered. Radio requires minimal electricity (a negligible amount with a windup or solar radio) and tuning in is free. Applications using SMS with radio — two of the world’s most used platforms — is proving that mobile technology has the power to create new possibilities by transforming radio from a one-way broadcast to a two-way dialogue with listeners.

She goes on in the post to talk about how radio and SMS messaging has revolutionized communication and community building around the world, especially in the poorest parts of the planet.  She speaks about how radio should be decentralized, how important it is for local communities to have control over what their people hear. And she talks at great length about how important radio is to the people who use it. If you are like me and still have any affection for radio, the post is a must read, and you can reach it by the link at the beginning of this paragraph.

I am not here to judge what has happened to American radio, that’s something a historian but will do in the future and many are doing now.  I still have a deep passion for radio, and while my days of working inside of a radio station may be over, I still believe that radio is a vital communications and entertainment medium for millions of Americans.

The facts are the facts. What is a vital communications link to people all over the world is a business that needs to have a 50% margin in America. What is the only lifeline to billions of people who need it the most and is sometimes the only way for them to communicate with the world outside their community is an experiment in computer automation, centralization, and uniformity in our country.

I know that many of the people who run radio companies in America love radio as much as I do. and I know that radio has become a business that has to deliver a profit. I hope these CEOs can take a few minutes away from looking at the stock charts and dealing with their VC people and can take a cue from World Radio Day and think of ways they can make their properties just as important and relevant to listeners in America as thousands of radio stations are to people around the world.

Radio still means something to a lot of people. Regular people, poor people, rich people, people who are striving just to stay alive. I find the concept of World Radio Day to be inspirational, to show how important a century-old technology still is and can continue to be in the new digital world that we live in.

This is a case where you can have the best of both worlds. You just have to think of how to balance the need for profit with the need for serving the public interest, convenience, and necessity. It can be done, and it would be amazing if some initiatives to make it happen were in place by the first World Radio Day on February 13.

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