Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Notes on Freeform Radio

This short essay was written in 2011 when I started my blog for my show on WCBN called Doomsday Radio. It's a concise summary of my theoretical approach to freeform radio. As such, the issues it raises need expansion, which I will provide sometime. For the time being, this suffices.

Notes on Freeform Radio

Record albums foster content- and object-based community, through the distribution and sale of plastic objects with sound encoded into them. When you listen to the radio, there are likely (at least) dozens of other people who are listening to the exact same thing, at the same time. In other words, radio fosters content- and time-based community (i.e. when you and your friend listened to the same radio show at the same time of the day). Another way of saying this is that a sound recording preserves neither space nor time of the event that it documents; radio preserves time but does not preserve the space of the event.

Despite the common joke that radio is a "dying medium", radios are ubiquitous: far cheaper than a CD player or an iPod, included in all cars, and many alarm clocks. This implies wide and easy access in our society, lending to its ability to foster a time- and content-based community. Indeed, a recent Nielsen poll has found that 56% of teenagers listen to music on the radio, and 48% of the new music people hear is first heard over the radio.

Commercial radio expresses the desires and interests of advertisers and the rather unadventurous producers who are responsible for assembling the songs we hear. Advertising dollars run commercial radio; the songs are filler in between the content: advertisements.

Freeform radio expresses the desires and interests of the individual DJ, him/herself a member of the community. The DJ's interests are filtered (though very slightly) through the interests of institutions like the FCC, and in my case, the University of Michigan.

Freeform Radio is a performance art for an unidentifiable, uncountable audience.

The radio DJ has a responsibility to his immediate community, and also to whoever may be listening via an online stream. This responsibility differs depending on the DJ's style. The freeform DJ is not free of responsibility responsibility is not to dull the senses; not to entertain; not to provoke; not to agitate; not to teach. The responsibility of the freeform DJ is to learn. If his/her audience also learns something, so much the better.

The freeform DJ plays songs like a jazz musician improvises, or like a classical pianist plays a Bach Invention: with deliberation, curiosity, humor, honesty, and taste (however tasteless). Songs are selected by direct choice, through association with another recording, or completely at random. Continuity between songs is interesting, but may not be consciously pursued. Continuity emergent from deliberate contrast is a powerful experience. Serendipity is the lifeblood of freeform. A good freeform radio show will teach everyone who hears it: the DJ and the listener alike.

Last updated: August 27th, 2012

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