Saturday, June 27, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
You can’t open a paper or magazine or website nowadays without stumbling across critical reviews of movies, plays, TV shows, web videos, restaurants, chiropractors and plumbers. For some reason, the same can’t be said of, you guessed it, radio. In Seattle, we were lucky enough until a few months ago to have two daily papers (each of which, unusually, had a full-time TV critic until 2008). The now defunct Seattle Post-Intelligencer (still online but no longer publishing a print edition) had a weekly radio column written by Bill Virgin. While Bill (who—full disclosure—is a friend) wasn’t exactly a radio critic, he covered local and national trends in the radio industry, previewed upcoming programs (including several radio dramas and documentaries produced by yours truly), and kept readers abreast of the constant personnel and format changes that are a fixture of local radio. Bill’s weekly column is deeply missed, and its absence calls attention to a larger issue many decades in the making.
Even though there are more than 600 million radios in use in the U.S., the average household has 5.6 radio receivers, and radio reaches 96% of people 12 and older weekly (these Arbitron figures are quoted here), it’s been years since a national publication has devoted significant and consistent resources to previewing and reviewing national radio programs. Most column inches about radio are devoted to controversy: statements made by Imus, Stern or Limbaugh; layoffs at NPR; stunts pulled by local FM jocks. Nobody looks at programming trends, history, technique, production quality, or treatment of subject matter—in short, radio content gets a critical free ride. Try to remember the last time you read anything thoughtful in a general circulation publication about the content or performance quality of This American Life , A Prairie Home Companion, All Things Considered, Air America, Phil Hendrie, Sirius/XM, Tavis Smiley, or Rush Limbaugh.
For examples of what radio criticism can be, one must look to the distant past, when writers such as Jack Gould of the New York Times, John Crosby of the New York Herald Tribune, and Ben Gross of the New York Daily News regularly wrote about radio (and TV) for their respective publications, and (in the case of Crosby and Gross) published books of radio and TV criticism. Crosby’s Out of the Blue and Gross’ I Looked and I Listened (both originally published in the 1950s) can be purchased secondhand without too much trouble; a posthumous collection of Gould’s TV columns was published in 2002.
My hope for contemporary radio criticism isn’t simply to trash bad programs. Effective criticism is fair, but it recognizes good work, and holds accountable executives, producers and performers when the work isn’t so good (yes, there is subjectivity in criticism). Effective criticism examines what went well and what didn’t, and ultimately inspires creation of better programming and fosters more choices for listeners. Effective well-written criticism is also fun to read, and can inspire new audiences to tune in or download something they otherwise would have ignored. Especially in the age of podcasts and downloads, reviews and recommendations of audio programs can be more useful than ever, since the option to easily hear a program again is a fairly new phenomenon. Add to this the programming on web radio, HD radio and satellite radio, and the choices available to the average listener are overwhelming.
So, I’m going to try and occasionally fill this critical void where I can with the I Still Love Radio blog. Stay tuned. And tell me if I suck.
Friday, June 19, 2009
For my first post for I Still Love Radio, I thought I'd put together a list of my favorite books about radio. Sure, I like listening to the radio just as much as the next guy, but what I really like is reading about radio. Thus, the following books range from general audience to academic and are listed in chronological order, with the newest title listed first. My criteria for putting them on a list like this are that they were enjoyable and informative to read the first time around, and that they’re worth returning to every now and then for reference or pleasure. Most of these titles are too old to be still circulating in public libraries, but many can be purchased affordably secondhand. My favorite places to start are any good local used bookstore or www.bookfinder.com.
Are there other titles that should be listed here? Are there any that shouldn’t? Please let me know . . .
Something in the Air: Radio, Rock, and the Revolution That Shaped a Generation (2007) by Marc Fisher
Manipulating the Ether (1998) by Robert J. Brown
On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (1998) by John Dunning
Radio Voices: American Broadcasting, 1922-1952 (1997) by Michele Hilmes
On A Note of Triumph: Norman Corwin and the Golden Years of Radio (1986) (originally published as Norman Corwin and Radio: The Golden Years) by R. LeRoy Bannerman
Radio In The Television Age (1980) by Peter Fortanale & Joshua E. Mills