There’s a line in a John Mellencamp song, about 17 turning to 35 and being surprised about “still livin’.” A lot of Mellencamp’s songs have the theme, “How did we get here?” Because in life when you blink your eyes, before you know it, it’s Social Security time.
One early morning a few months ago I stopped into a Tim Horton’s Donuts in Orchard Park, NY. Sitting there alone, at a corner table, with a cup of coffee, and reading the Buffalo News, was a white haired gentleman. I thought about interrupting his morning routine, but decided against it. It was Danny Neaverth, one of Buffalo’s most famous radio and media personalities. He’s now in his retirement years. In all my decades in radio I had never met him and honestly I was a little in star struck. When I was growing up he closed my school many winter mornings. How could I not be in awe?
“Come on Danny. Get to the L’s and close Lackawanna schools.”
Back in college, and already working in radio, I looked at some of the old timers around me then and knew they were the past and I was the future. Now I’m asking myself, “How did I get here?” I looked at Mr. Neaverth and knew I would be joining him at a corner table at Tim Horton’s in just a few short years.
“17 has turned 58” for me.
Much of the commentary written and opined about radio today is from someone like me, no longer the idealistic college student looking toward the future, but one who, for better and worse, knows of, remembers, and is somewhat jaded by a past. My past and yours may no longer be important. But, there are those whose opinions carry a lot of relevancy for radio’s future. College students.
A few days ago I came across a podcast from the Entercom news/talk station in Buffalo – WBEN. In their “930 in 716” podcast, WBEN’s program director Tim Wegner interviewed two students – Harper Horton and Dylan Jock – both studying media at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Fredonia. He got them to offer their views about radio’s future.
Dylan is optimistic about radio.
“People say video killed the radio star. I don’t know if that necessarily true. If anything I feel like now the opposite is true, visual media is getting eaten alive by the Internet. Whereas the radio is not going anywhere. It’s a terrestrial thing that exists as…waves. So I don’t see radio getting smaller. If anything it might get larger, but it’s never going away.
Harper, who says she knows of AM radio because her father listens to Yankees’ games, sees radio going in different directions.
“For me it’s general broadcast and the other aspect would be podcasting. It’s still a part of radio, just in a different way. All these technological things that were talking about…it all comes down to better ways to get your signal on a broadcast and out there the way it always has been. Whereas you have podcasting…a lot more production heavy and you get to edit things more easily and also you get to explore different fields. My favorite podcasts to listen to are audio dramas, which is not something you see as much in traditional radio as much anymore. It might be a way to bring that back to traditional radio…starting in this place where it can be more easily edited and may be you can do like a live audio drama.”
A belief you hear a lot from people working in radio today is consumers don’t care how they get the content they want. If it’s AM, FM or podcast, it doesn’t matter. Harper feels differently.
“I care a lot about where my content is coming from, because it has to be a source that I trust. Every source has its own different style. It has to be a style that I enjoy listening to. But, the trust thing is a really big one especially when we’re talking news content. There’s a lot of sources that are completely untrustworthy or you know you’re not getting the whole story or the best researched story that you could. So you want to find these sources that you know are going to give you the best content that you possibly could find.”
Harper wants to get into the audio production and Dylan loves producing live audio and looks forward to that after graduation.
Radio has been around for a long time and each new generation is ultimately responsible for its continued innovation and survival. Just as I came after Danny Neaverth, my generation will entrust Harper and Dylan with radio’s future.
As John Mellencamp goes on to sing in the song Cherry Bomb, “If we’ve done any wrong, I hope that we’re forgiven.”