Rockbrat Wonders: Did video really kill the radio star ?

I have had a love affair with radio since I was a boy. It continues to this day – and if anything, my love for radio is as strong today than ever before. Although far from being a luddite, I am often overwhelmed by the rapid pace of technological change that imposes so much electrical gadgetry on my life – most of it unnecessary, (although I do admit to being a Skype fan). Do people ever stop to think why they have a big screen TV in every room ? Why they have the need to be in constant touch with their army of ‘friends’ on Facebook? Or have 50 000 electronic books ? Or why when they leave their houses and make their way to work they are watching a little screen on their phone or in the car. When they get to work, it’s another 8 hours in front of a screen. If you add it all up, most of the day is in fact spent in front of a screen. I’ll leave it for others to debate why and how as a society we ended up like this – but the fact remains  – we have.

One of the positives that has come about in the last 15 or so years with the rapid changes in the information age and how we communicate – has been the re- emergence of radio. The digitalising of audio, first as WMA and MP3 and now other formats, has been beyond significant. The abundance of internet radio stations and podcasts, pretty much all freely available – has seen radio re-emerge as a strong contender to its bastard half brother, video – who first tried to kill it off with the introduction of TV in the 1950’s.

I know many people who are overwhelmed by the intrusion of video/TV and hold a nostalgic, yet unrealistic desire to return to those golden days, when the radio was the source of family entertainment. Each night families gathered around the imposing edifice known as the wireless to be frightened, amazed, amused and delighted by a range of radio shows. Without pictures it was the mind’s eye which presented the dashing, daring, dizzying or devious scenarios. Imagination and enterprise were the key tools of the radio entertainer and producer. Throughout the 20’s and right through the 50’s, millions were entranced by sounds created from a variety of bric a brac – glass jars, sheets of metal, crumpled paper and the like- all rattled and walloped to the backdrop of a trusty pipe organ which was capable of chilling blood in veins with a single note pattern.

Commercial broadcasting commenced in Australia in 1924, and the pace of technological change in radio in less than 90 years has been astounding.  From the days of The Quiz Kids and Pick A Box, Jack Davey and Bob Dyer, to Nightbeat, the Shadow or Gunsmoke – radio was the undisputed, unchallenged king. That era of radio in the 50’s is now known as the golden years of radio, or OTR (old time radio), and in 2011, it’s far from lost. Due to the advent of MP3s, you can relive these classic shows with relative ease. Sites like have ziliions of OTR files.  So in a sense, technology has re introduced this classic period of radio again – for a whole new generation. (Some of my favourites are the aforementioned Gunsmoke and  Night Beat, but also the Six Shooter and Fort Laramie). From the days of listening to Gary O Callaghan, Lawsy, John Pearce, Ron Casey and Max Rowley, or to sports with Frank Hyde or cricket on the radio, there’s a personal comfort that only radio can provide. There’s no great characters like those aforementioned left any more, save for say Phillip Adams.

At risk of becoming obsolete, traditional radio stations saw  the writing on the wall, and hopped aboard the internet train too. So now you can steam or listen to them on the net with no limit imposed by local frequencies. (I remember in 87 when Mr. Rockbrat and I used to drive to a geographically higher location to pick up a better signal of the 2RRR Metal Show. That’s HM dedication). Through radio stations streaming, it’s now possible to listen to millions of radio stations from around the world on your laptop. Pick a country and away you go. Remarkable. Do you ever stop for a minute to think how incredible it is that you can do all this in real time?

I was thinking the other day that I could easily ditch the TV. Much like the land line telephone, it’s on death row. Sure, TV is now LCD and has more bells and whistles – but is it needed ? Most lap tops/notebooks serve the same function. With a TV card you can stream live TV (if you so desire) or watch DVDs. The death of TV would be just retribution for radio who continues to thrive.

Weekly, more than 1.5 million Americans and others around the world tune in to “This American Life”, a public radio show broadcast on more than 500 stations. It is produced by Chicago Public Media, distributed by Public Radio International, and has won all of the major broadcasting awards. It is also often the most popular podcast in the country, with around 650,000 people downloading each week. If you want an example of how well radio is doing in 2011 – tune in for yourself.

So where do you go for radio on the web ? NPR, BBC, ABC Radio National – do some digging and you will find quality radio shows at the touch of a dial. You could do a lot worse than listen to radio stalwart Phillip Adams show ‘Late Night Live’ on ABC Radio National. As a rock fan – I listen to the Rock n roll Geek Show, and the Ronnie Wood Show too.  The age of the internet has meant that any John Hancock can have his own radio show – some good, some bad. Rockbrat Radio is a good one. Check out Blog Talk Radio and you too can become a DJ.

In 1980, radio was arguably, staring into the face of decline. With MTV around the corner and space invaders killing off pinball – the future looked a little hazy. It may well have appeared that video killed the radio star, but 30 years later – that star still turns still burns brightly. The Sports once asked the question, “Who listens to the radio?” By all accounts, millions of people still do.

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