All Their Lives Radio Listeners

I’ve been listening to the radio the last couple of days. I don’t even really know why.

It’s unusual. I have an FM transmitter in my car, and so I’m almost always listening to my iPod or iPhone through that when I’m driving. At home, if music’s playing, it’s generally from my computer or, occasionally, iPod, vinyl or CD, in that order.

I was recently selected to participate in a Neilsen survey, not for TV, but for radio. I almost messed it up; I didn’t pay enough attention, and didn’t even get out the journal until the end of the week I was supposed to be filling it out for. It ended up not really mattering — I hadn’t listened to the radio at all that week. I just went through every day and marked the spot indicating I hadn’t listened that day. (A television journal would have had the same result.) And for that effort, they sent me $5. (I think. They sent me money for the journal, although they also sent some up front to guilt me into doing it. They also sent me money for an extra survey I sent in at the same time. One netted $5; for the other I was paid, awesomely, with a crisp $2 bill.)

The decision to stop listening to radio wasn’t intentional. I didn’t listen to it often when I drove the Sebring, for which I had a tape-deck-based iPod input. Back in those days, however, I was less likely to have the iPod with me to play in the car. So, when I didn’t, the radio was on. When I got the Taurus, I was back to not having a convenient way to listen to my iPod in the car, and the radio was on even more. When I got the FM transmitter, I didn’t make a conscious decision that I would listen to it instead of radio. That’s just how it worked out.

And it’s an interesting thing to me. I’ve really just started getting into country music over the last year and a half, and most of what I know is from what I heard on the radio. For the last half a year or so, I haven’t listened to country radio. I’m hearing no new songs. After the divorce, I listened heavily to the local contemporary Christian station. Now, in the car, I’m more likely to be listening to those same songs from that period than from something new today.

The iPod/iTunes/iPhone approach is just so easy, and so compelling. If I turn on the radio, I’m at the whims of someone else. I can pick between stations, but at each station I’m listening to a song someone else decided to play. I can put my iPhone on shuffle, and I’m guaranteed to be hearing a song I love. Heck, if I want, I can even choose the exact song I listen to. And, for that matter, with my iPhone, I can choose the exact song I want to listen to, even if I don’t have it! I decide what I want to hear, and a few minutes and a buck later, it’s playing through my car speakers. How can radio begin to compare with that!? 3G killed the radio star!

I used to be afraid of becoming insular. I’ve had tastes of the radio-free life before, and had the idea that my musical tastes and collection would freeze, and I would simply be stuck listening to whatever music I had when that happened for the rest of my life.

In reality, that’s far from the truth. In the month of March alone, I added over 300 songs to my iTunes. I buy ridiculous amounts of music. I hear a song I like, and download it immediately from iTunes on my phone, a bad capability for me to have. Or I’ll go on Amazon and buy a used copy of the CD. I’ve been to at least two concerts recently where I ordered used CDs of the artist during the concert. I’m constantly being exposed to and discovering new music. And music remains a way I communicate. I get to know you by listening to the music you like. It’s amazing what it says about a person.

But — it’s not the same. I can definitely tell a difference in the way I discover new country and contemporary Christian music. The same is probably true of pop; I just no longer care. I’m aware there’s someone named Justin Bieber, but I have no idea what he sings. Ditto Paramore. I’ve heard part of one Lady Gaga song. Chances are, if they’re popular right now, I know nothing about them. But, really, at this point, I’m OK with that.

I still get new country music, but it’s not the same without radio. From the year I was listening to it on the radio frequently, I have a collection of individual songs that I like. “People Are Crazy” “God Love Her” “Just Got Started Lovin’ You” “Need You Now” “Feel That Fire” “Whatever It Is” “Here Comes Goodbye” “Daddy’s Money” etc. Some of those I might have heard anyway. I bought the Zac Brown and Dierks Bentley albums, though largely on the merit of those songs. I bought the Need You Now CD because I already knew that Lady A was awesome. (Three days to the concert!) The other songs, I never would have come across. And, even if I had, may never have noticed without the dreaded curse of heavy rotation. Which makes me wonder what I’m missing out on.

I forget why I went back to the radio in my car a couple of days ago. It’s annoying and frustrating — the commercials, the talking, the songs I don’t know and, even worse, the songs that are just crap.

But, right now, there’s a song playing on one of my presets that I would love if I gave it a chance, a song that I’ll never hear if I don’t have my radio on.

So I think I’m going to give it another chance.

I tried to turn it off to say goodbye, my love
That radio song — Hey, hey, hey

The world is collapsing around our ears
I turned up the radio but I can’t hear it

I tried to sing along
But damn that radio song
Hey, hey, hey