Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Media Convergence, circa 1984

With all the talk lately of the crisis facing traditional media (again!), especially this provocative article by Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal, it reminded me of a little "media convergence" ritual that I used to enact several days a week 25 years ago, with help from the Columbia Broadcasting System. (Note: thanks to Jerry Del Colliano's always thought-provoking Inside Music Media blog and e-newsletter for pointing me to the Wall Street Journal article in the first place.)

I lived close enough to my high school to often come home for lunch and catch the last ten minutes or so of The Price Is Right with Bob Barker (this was in the glory days, when I knew the first names of all the Price Is Right models--wasn't it Janice, Holly and Carol?) Just after TPIR ended with Barker's traditional spay and neuter entreaty (just shy of the top of the hour—maybe at 10:58 am Pacific Time), CBS Television would present a short, live "newsbreak" broadcast anchored by longtime CBS newsman Douglas Edwards. As soon as this 90-second video newsbreak was over, I’d head to the bathroom I shared with my father and brothers, and which also housed a battered AM radio perpetually tuned to Seattle CBS Radio affiliate KIRO (710 AM).

I’d immediately hit the "ON" button and usually hear the local lead-in to the hourly CBS Radio newscast (promo for the next hour of KIRO's Midday with Jim French and/or local headlines) as I used the facilities and then got ready to brush my teeth before I had to return to school. More often than not, anchor for the hourly radio newscast was--you guessed it--Douglas Edwards, whose aged visage I ‘d just seen in living color on my parents’ TV set.

Hearing Douglas Edwards like this (after just seeing him) always made me feel like I was taking part in something cool, something obscure that maybe only I was paying any attention to (rather than "obscure," I almost said "rare," but that sounds a little too glorified for how small this is). Small or not, how many other radio voices (circa 1984 anyhow) could you see LIVE on television, only moments before you heard them LIVE on the radio?

Moments like these speak in a small way to the magic (which is a corny word, I know) possible when mass media is truly mass, which nowadays only happens during the Super Bowl and terrorists attacks (which are the only two occasions I know of when the majority of Americans tune into the same broadcast together--otherwise known as the First Down & 9/11 Effect--which is a name I just made up).

Current producers of audio and video content have little hope of reaching a mass audience, and I think that's unfortunate now, and even more so in the future as the audience becomes more and more segmented. Mass media is how Americans (and many other nationalities) collectively defined themselves for the last six decades of the 20th century--by listening to (and later watching) the same programs, often during live broadcasts, and simultaneously sharing national experiences. Collectively identifying as Americans--particularly with a population of increasing ethnic and socioeconomic diversity--is likely to be one of the great challenges of the 21st century. It remains to be seen whether media--new, old, mass, segmented, social or otherwise--will be of much help.

1 comment:

  1. You're right about Janice and Holly; the third one was Dian instead of Carol, neither of whom were to be confused with actress Diahann Carroll, nor with original "Let's Make a Deal" model Carol Merrill.