It may not be the best time, entertaining the possibility of apocalypse, to realize the importance of the radio, but better late than never. Radio may seem important when you need it, but how often in our ever-growing tech society, do we really need the radio. The obvious answer is; All the time. Ok, so maybe the answer isn't that obvious, but once you think about what radio is and what it represents, you will have a better understanding of its importance. Not only the obvious emergency necessity, but radio has a cultural necessity as well. Radio, especially community radio, is how the public can reach out to others within the area and neighboring areas express views and information. Newspapers, Town Hall meetings, and even Twitter can do this as well, but it is really the simplicity of radio that makes it stand apart. Newspapers need; paper, ink, printing press, staff, and, on top of all that, it still needs to get to the reader. A radio only needs a signal and a receiver. That's one of the reasons why, in emergency situations, radios are the last form of communication down, and the first one back up. Radio is important, because there is no medium as easily accessible to participate and partake in, that represents so many varied perspectives, and plays such a critical role during emergency situations in Humboldt County than radio. It would probably be best to realize this before the "End of the World" too.
"End of the World" or not, you probably already have some perspective on the importance of radio during an emergency, and because of that my guess is that you already own a radio. When I try to remember, I can probably count, on one hand, the amount of places that I've stayed at, that didn't have a radio. Whether it was a hostel in India, a bungalow on the beach of Thailand, or just relaxing at a backyard BBQ at my sister's house in California's central valley, there was always a radio playing either colloquial music I enjoyed or news I tried to listen to. Even in Africa, according to the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, 87% of homes in Kenya had a radio in 2010 (The Importance). Here in America the number is slightly higher at 92% in 2011 (Olmstead). This illustrates two points; the first, being the ease to takes to acquire and listen to the radio, which I will explore later, and second, being the understanding that the world has about its need for the radio. Radio provides lifesaving information during critical situations. We all know what those times are in Humboldt County: fires, tidal waves, earthquakes, and out of commission highways. Around the world though, natural disasters aren't the only critical times that the information that radio carries has life saving potential. All over Latin America: Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Mexico, revolutions and civil wars have been facilitated with the use of radio, by gathering support and reporting war news that wasn't being reported (Darling). In cases like that, I doubt, that that had a nice tests of an emergency broadcast system, which they could conveniently change stations to listen to some top 40 entertainment instead of listening to a prolonged game show buzzer sound. It was a constant state of emergency. People were fighting the political power and dying every day. It may be odd, but I consider it lucky we only have fragile freeways and forces of nature to contend with, and we're even luckier that those incidents aren't constantly happening. If they were, I could almost guarantee, that you wouldn't be waiting on six-o-clock news to report them, you would be glued to your radio. This is where the simplicity of the radio really shines, because you don't need a connection to the internet or even much power to receive radio signal. All you need is a receiver with a hand crank.
Hand crank radios are a top pick for disaster preparedness kits, because they are small, reliable, and come with a nearly unlimited energy source, you. Although, if you are excessively lazy and can't be bothered to turn a crank, there is still a way for you to listen to the radio. During WWII, the army men, who dug into foxholes were incredibly ingenious in the way they built makeshift radios using everyday items that they could find on a battle field: wire, razors, and pencils (Foxhole). Foxhole radios, as they became known, didn't even need a power source to pick up a signal. The signal actually has enough energy in it to power the foxhole radio itself (Foxhole). This is the second point I wanted to make earlier, radios are incredibly easy to make and when you don't even need a power source, incredibly easy to listen to. The ease of this accessibility is the strength that enables radio it to stay as important source of information in our everyday life as social media is becoming.
Today social media is proving to be a very powerful tool in today's world of entertainment and political change. The hard hitting effect it had on the political frontier has been made clear during the revolutions of the Arab Spring. In comparison to radio, social media has only contributed a few notes in the concerto that is the global information share. Radio has not only played it's part in Central American conflicts, but has been used in every war since World War I (White). When it comes to the entertainment aspect though, radio's popularity dropped significantly in the 1950's, when more people started to gather around a television set rather than a radio set (Television). It was a blow radio has yet to recover from. Today, although 92% of households have a radio, only 22% of those people said that it had a serious impact on their lives (Olmstead). Cell phones top the list at 54%, the internet is second at 49%, television is strong in fifth at 34%, and local AM/FM radio is in dead last (Olmstead). Even with the technological strides media has taken, it is interesting to see how local radio has intergraded with these mediums. Cell phones, for instance, can download an AM/FM tuner application. One of the internet's widely use tools, the podcast, is exactly like a recorded radio program. This is where radio has benefited by the growth of technology. Most radio stations have websites today and have an audio archive, in addition to a live feed. This archive is where you can listen to shows you missed or programs you want to listen to again, essentially making radio programs into radio podcasts. The only real difference is that podcasts are more commonly have video as well as audio. Even so, radios DJs aren't alien to the thought of cameras in the studio. In fact radio has successfully attached itself to television as well. Radio shows are a common place to gather ideas for shows, or more appropriately shows themselves. With the success, on an international level with "The Ricky Gervais Show," national success of "The Howard Stearn Show," and even on a local level with "Armstrong and Getty," radio has proven to be an inspiration to modern day social media. I would venture to say, that radio, especially community radio, was the first social media.
Wikipedia's first definition of social media is "interactive platforms via which individuals and communities create and share user-generated content" (Social Media). At the very core, that is the essence of community radio. The other definition suggests that, to be considered such, there must have "internet-based applications" (Social Media). Though radio is not "internet-based," it does have applications for the internet, so in my view, that argument is a mute one. The main ideas conveyed in this definition are; interactive platforms, individuals/ communities, and user generated content. Interactive platforms means; that you can directly respond to the person representing a perspective, that person, in turn, can respond to you, and even a third party can interject. All those who participate have an equal voice, and all those who don't participate have an equal opportunity to do so. As far as community radio is concerned, anyone can call into the radio station and express anything they want to. Community radio is encouraging in this way, because if you have enough to say, it might be able to grant you time for your own show. It is important for individuals to express what is important to them, because it is how the community as a whole can identify what is important to everyone. Individuals have an important message and that message is turned into their "user generated content."User generated content is all that community radio is. Each program is the product of a volunteer effort to express; themselves or the changes they want to see in the community. Regardless of what message is expressed, volunteers don't get paid. They donate their time and energy to a radio station, because they use the radio, know the importance of it, and care enough about it to participate in the decisions that affect it. With the dedicated contributors, the support of individual for the sake of the community, and an easily accessed interactive platform, how is radio not social media? Why doesn't radio get the attention it deserves, here in America? Can you listen to the radio more?
Everyone should and can listen to the radio more often. Dave Brooksher, a ten* five year veteran of radio journalism, explained, that radio is experienced by the means of passive consumption and that passively consuming something means you can take in the experience without working to do so. Of course, you actually have to turn the radio on, but after that you don't have to work to listen to it. It can play in the car, while you're working, or even in the shower. You might think that community radio doesn't play music or air programs that interest me. I would say that, you haven't looked enough. Community radio has a huge range of entertainment and information, because of the many people who volunteer. KMUD, for instance, has 150 programmers (Graham). That means 150 different points of view culminating into a single voice that represents Humboldt County. There is music from gospel to reggae, news from around town and around the world, even political and children's programs. This diverse representation is the truest incarnation of our freedom of speech we currently have available to us. Therefore a healthy community radio station can be a real measure of a healthy community. If a group of people in a community, who can come together, to utilize and support the rights of all people in that community can flourish, then that community must be healthy. Again KMUD is a prime example. KMUD has just recently built radio towers in northern Humboldt to reach people who wanted to hear more of that station, but couldn't due to the station's lack of signal strength. This proves that community radio in this county is being used plenty and can't be used enough. It is not quite the same as support though. Radio needs a constant stream of support to remain as health as the community needs it to be.
Support for community radio is really the keystone of the whole operation. Like I said before, community radio programs are a volunteer effort of over 150 people. Whereas airtime may be in abundance, everything it takes to actually have airtime is not. Radio needs three things to remain a healthy contributor and supporter of a community; manpower, materials, and, of course, money. There is always a need for phones to be answered at the station, stages need to be set up at concerts, and, of course, there needs to be enough programs to keep the station on the air. Manpower can be, by far, the most exciting way to donate. The most critical and versatile way to donate is, of course, financially. Money keeps radio with a roof over the DJs head and keeps the lights on. Materials, during pledge time, can be incredibly helpful as well. Food and gifts for people donating are needed more for the success of a pledge drive. Pledge drives are when the most donations are contributed, but donations are always accepted and needed. So, as you look out the window at the rain, you remember that you heard that this storm was coming on the radio, during its pledge drive. It is now you finally realize how important the radio is. It is now you wish you pledged. With the radio pressed against your forehead you half pray half make a deal. Please let your station be on, you promise to pledge. You take one last deep breath and turn that dial. What do you hear? Live air or dead air. News or nothing. Do you hear the product of a healthy community or the neglect of one? That date, may seem far off, but I suggest you invest in your future and donate and listen to your local community radio station. Because if the "End of the World" really is just around the corner, you know you'll need it.
Brooksher, Dave. "Importance of Radio." Personal interview. 12 Oct. 2012.
Darling, Juanita. "Latin America, Media, and Revolution: Communication in Modern Mesoamerica" New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Print
"Foxhole Radio" Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Oct. 2012. Web.
Graham, BR. "Importance of Radio." Personal interview. 12 Oct. 2012.
"The Importance of Radio in the 21st Century." Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. 12 Apr. 2011. Web. 24 Oct. 2012. < http://cjfe.org/resources/features/importance-radio-21st-century>
Olmstead, Kenny, Amy Mitchell, Tom Rosenstiel, "Audio: By the Numbers." The State of the News Media. Web. 24 Oct, 2012.
"Radio." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Oct. 2012. Web. .
"Social Media." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Oct. 2012. Web.
"Television." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Oct. 2012. Web.
White Thomas H. "Radio During World War One (1914-1919)." United States Early Radio History. 11 Mar. 1996 Web. 28 Oct. 2012
* edited by webmaster to more closely reflect reality
Daniel Reyes is a student at the College of the Redwoods, Eureka Campus, and a volunteer at KMUD. See his article Radio Resurrection