Why Radio (Still) Matters

They say FM radio is dying. And to some extent, they’re right. FM radio is playing only the hits. But Spotify, Apple Music, and the like have made it possible for just about anyone to play any song, anywhere, at any time.

Music has become fully individualized, and that is a very good thing. In part of music streaming and personalization, we’re seeing an explosion of diversity in music and the experiences we can have music.

And yet…

There’s something special about the radio.

Tonight I was driving home through Atlanta when I turned my dial and heard a magnificent cover of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin. It was the live radio show Live From Here, and show host and mandolinist Chris Thile was leading a magnificent rendition of Free Fallin. 

All of this was happening live. And everyone in the country dialed into that live performance was experiencing it, too.

Wherever we were, we were sharing in the experience of a great song across all the miles that the FM signal reaches. For me, that soaring song paired perfectly with the backdrop of the Atlanta skyline. It was perfect.

My best-curated Spotify playlist couldn’t have provided that. By it’s very nature, my own curation can’t surprise or delight me in the same way that a DJ (or a performer’s) selection of music can do.

The experience of listening to music on the radio is the experience of serendipity. You can’t control what comes next. You don’t know what comes next. And that unpredictability can be a bother, but it can also be the source of unexpected delight. It can be the source of shared musical experiences you would never have expected – those times when you want to roll down the windows and let everyone else join in the fun.

Radio (especially live radio) will always have a place alongside music streaming if it becomes expert at providing experiences of delight and surprise, like Live from Here did tonight.

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash


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James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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