If we’ve met — online or in person — I’ve probably spoken to you about radio, and my endless love for the medium. This American Life, Radiolab, and Freakonomics Radio are staples in my weekly soundtrack. Nothing fuels my mind like a great conversation, and NPR is full of them.
In a way, NPR is a porthole to my past, when hosts and disc jockeys cared about their voice, artists they promoted, and conversations they had. Any host could have experienced their favorite bands in private, or sat in a dim bar to chat with individuals they found engaging, but they chose to broadcast instead. The magic of a sometimes crackly radio signal, and the opinions it carried, were woven into my heart at an early age.
My favorite hosts became icons, pillars of creativity for an impressionable young boy. They stood for the love of music, and searched tirelessly for the perfect segue. When done properly, radio is a ride of emotions, not unlike a rollercoaster. Every track should flow seamlessly into the next, glued together with descriptive voiceovers. Your jockey is a conductor, hovering over a board filled with knobs, buttons, and faders.
My time on the FM dial was severely limited. I didn’t go to broadcasting school, nor did I train as a voiceover artist, so my access to this wonderful medium wasn’t as free as I hoped. I spent a bit of time in several radio control rooms, and did my fair share of broadcasting on the dial, but the long career I wished unendingly for never materialized. At least, not until 2004.
2004 was a year full of mysterious power, as the internet speeds doubled in my small town. Suddenly, I could access media online at 1-megabit-per-second — which is slow, yes, by today’s standards, but was blisteringly quick for me — and began downloading radio programs online. Media wizards of the age called these things podcasts, an odd conjunction of Apple’s popular iPod media player, and the traditional broadcast. There were talk, music, and comedy programs all for the taking, and by the gigabyte, I did.
Soon, I began producing my own program, a short-lived music/comedy show. My co-host, a former terrestrial broadcaster, and I only produced several episodes, but our short-lived program garnered a solid 10,000 listeners each week. While that show died an early death, the seed was planted. Podcasting has been an integral part of my creative output since.
Shortly after college, I was chosen for The Pod Five, a collective of influential podcasters from across the country. We told stories and held music competitions between the members. Everyone had a grand time, and our fans seemed to approve, too. While that show eventually disintegrated too, I’m proud to call Zack Daggy, the Pod Five’s producer, a friend. We’ve never met, but the bond between broadcasters is strong.
But why do I tell you all of this? The truth is often longer than the lie: when I began this piece, I intended it to be a few paragraphs announcing the launch of my broadcasting network, The Machine, not a historical account. I suppose it’s worth knowing, though, if it helps you understand my deep love for radio, and pluses of the medium for passionate storytellers.
You see, unlike television, where everything is laid out for the viewer in radiant light, radio forces you to listen closely. Your eyes can scan the television, picking up the scrolling headlines in a glance. Radio isn’t like that at all. Anything that happens, does so sequentially. The music, voiceovers, and discussion combine to form a story that you, the listener, consume in that order. It tames the curious, information-addled mind that so many of us possess today.
I’m a storyteller, by profession. It’s what we do at Original Machine, I do it in my free time, and I’ll continue to tell stories to you, and countless others, via our many broadcasts on The Machine.
It’s August, 2013. With the exception of NPR, I cannot turn on my radio. The genuine love of broadcasting has vanished from most in the industry, leaving a preprogrammed tsunami of compressed music and overdriven commercials in the wake. Podcasts are my refuge.
If you, like me, feel tired from the commercialized world of programmed broadcasting, visit The Machine. We’ll tell you a story worth hearing, play a song you can rock to, and help you become a better artist.