Wiping Out the Radio Bug

We’re fortunate to be able to bring you our series of Small Market Stories, and even more fortunate to have the support of Smarts Broadcast Systems in doing so. (Thanks to Smarts, also, to let their talented director of marketing, Henry Mowry, write the stories.)

I bring this up, not only to acknowledge and thank a major sponsor, but because in every interview, Henry asks, “What would you tell someone who wants to get into the radio business?” and I keep waiting for someone to say, “Eh, you’re better off writing apps.”

After all, in these pages and throughout the industry, there is plenty of debate about the future of radio—as in, do we have one? We bemoan the fact that radio is not that bright, shiny object it once was, that radio is not as attractive as a career to young people.

While that might be true to some extent, the one thing that seems to be common to the overwhelming majority of people who join the radio business is that at some point along the line we were bitten by the “radio bug.” For some of us, it was while listening to the great personalities and shows of network radio in its heyday. For others, it happened during the great Top 40 era of Todd Storz and Gordon McLendon. . .or Bill Drake. . .or Jack McCoy. . .or Scott Shannon. . .or Rush Limbaugh. . .or. . .

(As a sidebar, it should be noted that nobody ever gets bitten by the radio bug while listening to “10 in a Row.”)

What is the radio bug, exactly? Maybe it’s like falling in love: it’s a feeling you can neither explain nor rationalize, something that comes over you unbidden and unexpected. One thing is for sure: once bitten, you are bitten for life—or until the next round of layoffs, or until conditions become so untenable that a career in government service begins to look sexy.

So the question is, Are people being bitten by the radio bug in as many numbers as in the past? If not, is there such a thing as the “trans-media bug”?

Regarding the former, perhaps the question should be, Are there as many ways to act on being bitten by the radio bug?

In the old days—before 1996—anyone who came down with a bad case of the radios would march down to the local radio station of choice and ask how much money they wanted us to pay them for the privilege of hanging out there. (Maybe the people who ultimately went into sales asked, “How much commission and T&E will you pay me for gracing your hallways with my presence?”)

Consider the environment in which you were hanging out in the old days: live jocks 24/7 and the buzz in the air (and on the air) thus engendered. (In my case and those of many others, my radio station of choice had a storefront studio, to expose the magic to Main Street. And people were fascinated.)
Fast-forward to today: When you march down to the local radio station of choice, the odds are pretty good that you will encounter something like the scene in American Graffiti when you see a burned-out old guy playing voice-tracks on cart—minus the burned-out old guy, and minus the carts.

(Sidebar to movie buffs: I know, that was actually Wolfman Jack playing the burned out old guy playing the voice tracks of—well, you know.)

No matter how many people are bitten by the radio bug nowadays, I believe we have finally found the antidote: piped-in personalities playing 10 in a row. Somebody should tell the CDC.