Broadcast radio is getting worse… and you like it

No one talks about broadcast radio anymore… yet it seems everyone still listens to it. It’s not the sensation it once was, and after 75 years of competition, radio is just one of your many entertainment choices. In 1939 there was no television, no internet, no streaming, no iPods, no smartphones, no XM, and essentially no other choices for personal entertainment other than humming or playing the ukelele.

Radio has survived every challenge and thrived, surprisingly. Today there are more options for listening than ever and yet every car has a good-old-fashioned AM/FM radio built-in and it gets plenty of use. The funny thing is… instead of evolving to become more competitive, radio is getting more repetitive. This article at Yahoo points out the seventy percent increase in repetition in FM radio, and if you’ve spent more than fifteen minutes in a car you’ll probably know in your gut that the article’s right.

AM radio went super-repetitive years ago, with “traffic on the 5s” and other repetitive formats. FM seems to be following with tighter-than-ever playlists and shorter rotations. There are more and more commercials, too. This should make people flee radio in droves but strangely it’s having very little effect. In some cases broadcast radio is actually becoming more popular!

Why is this? Freed from the burden of bringing new music to the masses (Spotify and other services do this quite well) radio has become a comfort medium to be enjoyed in small doses or in the background. We want a little local traffic, thirty seconds of news, and the chance to hear a song we know. That’s what we want out of broadcast radio, and that’s what broadcast radio gives us. It’s a little bit of background noise and occasionally something worth humming.

If broadcast radio weren’t free, we would probably dump it in a heartbeat. It’s not terribly effective for advertisers so that’s going to be a problem long term, but for now, radio seems to be relishing its role as the lowest common denominator of entertainment.