I’ve driven to Lake Tahoe many times since moving to the Bay Area in 1997. It used to be an opportunity to tune in to Radio stations from Sacramento all the way to the little stations that dotted the mountains through the Sierras.
My favorite Radio experience was driving on Friday nights after work and dinner so we could hit the slopes early the next morning.
I’d often catch the Art Bell Show coming out of Sacramento. As I drove further into the mountains that station faded out, so I’d tune over one or two more places on the AM dial and find him again on another station. Then that station faded out. I’d tune over another place or two and find Art again on another station. I usually had to change stations at least three times over the course of the trip and could catch most of the show during the 4-6 hour drive.
There was something thoroughly engrossing hearing Art’s crazy supernatural stories cut through the static while driving through the dark sierra mountains at night in the middle of winter. It was the only time I’d listen to Art – and I’d anticipated it each week.
It reminded me of my childhood. Particularly the CBS Radio Mystery Hour which aired on WGY-AM on Sunday Nights. My parents always had Radio on in the house – but the Radio I liked – from my earliest memory – was often the stuff that happened on nights and weekends.
Back then Radio stations took on a decidedly different tone between 8pm and 5am. They seemed to acknowledge that the world seems different after dark. That people feel different after the day is done – the sun goes down – and the “norms” tuck themselves away behind closed doors.
These days most stations just keep running the same programming they offer during the day. The justification being – if someone new tunes in at night and hears you doing something different – they’ll think that’s what you do all the time and won’t ever tune back. Yup – more fear based programming.
All of this was on my mind as my wife and I ventured out on another holiday drive up to Lake Tahoe this year.
As in the past, Radio promised to be a significant part of this trip. But we didn’t listen to “live” Radio as I had done in the past. We didn’t use the Radio tuner in the car at all. Instead we used blu-tooth connectivity to binge listen to the podcast Serial.
I already listened to the entire series – but my wife wanted to know what all the buzz was about and there’s no better way to binge on something like Serial than on the multi hour trips to and from Lake Tahoe.
As much as I enjoyed the series – I was a little uncertain about hearing it all again. But after the first episode I found myself just as engrossed the second time around – sometimes even more-so. Serial is an excellent piece of Storytelling.
We wrapped up the series with about 90 minutes still left in our trip home. I wouldn’t call it panic – but the show being over left a palpable void. I had several other shows on my phone I was ready to jump to – but my wife was so interested in the story she hunted down the Terry Gross “Fresh Air” interview with Serial host and producer Sarah Koenig.
Here’s what I find incredible about this.
A) after listening to the whole series there was still a desire for MORE content about this show.
B) there existed quality content to be found.
C) we were able to access that content quickly and enjoy it while still traveling.
No punching around Radio stations hoping to find something we could settle on. Instead we actively sought out content we wanted to enjoy while traveling – found that content – and listened to it.
As I looked at my iPhone and all the on-demand content I had available I noticed that none of it comes from a Commercial Radio station or network. Audio content Radio people traditionally labeled “other” in research had just consumed my entire holiday travel.
And I wondered – is that the kind of future Commercial Radio can afford?
Here’s a hint – it’s not the future anymore.