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The Future of Radio

January 12, 2009 | 4 Comments

Mr. Keillor:
I absolutely love Prairie Home Companion. I will forever remember dancing a jig to the Powdermilk Biscuit theme song and listening with intrigue to the news from Lake Wobegon. Journeying back from a soccer tournament down windy country roads while enjoying the annual joke show is a favorite memory of mine.

I want to know what your views on the future of radio shows such as yours. I am sad to say that I am one of the few people in my high school who are aware of the wonders of NPR. As far as I can tell the future of radio is bleak.

Do you have any thoughts on what will be the destiny for radio?

Erin L.
Huntsville, AL


I'm happy you like our show, Erin. The future of public radio is shining bright if only we can wrest it out of the hands of people my age and into the hands of people forty years younger. The problem isn't the medium — the technology is light, portable, easy to use — the problem is the heavy hand of tradition that keeps innovation at bay. There is so much that can be best conveyed through audio, Erin, and that won't change. The music industry is getting flattened by the Internet, but there's a great future for radio. I see reality radio as the next big thing — eavesdropping radio, the microphone picking up things you weren't meant to hear — and then I see radio drama coming back to life, but radio drama that attempts to impersonate reality. And for bands and songwriters who want to reach a broad market, there's nothing like radio, especially as record production goes flat. Do a whole concert on the air, let people tape it for free, and sell copies to people who can't make their own. That's the way to advance your music. Get it out there first and worry about income second. A whole new business plan. And radio is where you can do it. As far as news goes, radio is the province of the Authoritative Voice, and people are always ready for the next one. We are creatures who love to listen to our own kind. We're intrigued by the sound of ourselves. When I see people walking around with little wires running into their ears, I have to think radio has a future.


I wouldn't be surprised Erin if a lot of your classmates start listening to PHC and other stellar shows once they hit their 20s. You can cook and listen to the radio at the same time; texting while stirring a pot of stew just ain't all that practical.

From a 40 year-old bread-making radio-listening junkie

Hi Erin,
I left the Huntsville area almost 2 years ago after having lived there for 8 years. While enjoyment of PHC is not an eclusive province of Lutherans, it sure helps. And Madison County is not known to be a hotbed for them, with Missouri Synod congregations outweighing ELCA (perhaps due to the heavy concentration of Baptists in the area? - just my personal theory). I was very surprised & delighted when Garrison was the guest of honor at a Huntsville library fundraiser in Sept. 2006. I have very fond memories of the evening, including meeting the man himself. As far as radio & the young, all I can guess is that it's not seemingly high-tech enough for most of the generation. Consider yourself well-rounded & more cultured than your peers. Your knowledge & appreciation of the medium will most certainly help you when it comes time to communicate with & impress those older than you.

I have listened to the PHC for at least 30 years (that is if the little grey cells are functioning properly). Its collective genius has always provided a formidable collaboration with the miracle of electromagnetic wave propagation.

Speaking to the craft of this wonderful medium, I should say that I have a unique understanding of what it is capable of. For years I produced a radio show on a local 50KW AM station. On occasion I created and aired radio drama pieces of approximately 20 to 25 minutes in length, which seemed to be an optimal period of time to allow the fertility of the human mind to adorn a stage, clothe a cast in remarkable attire, paint beautifully majestic backdrops, tell a moving or entertaining story -- and do it all with a unique individuality that only the listener can create.

Radio will never die so long as the mind can imagine, and so long as people with talent and creative passion like Garrison Keillor and Jim French, just to name a couple, have access to this amazing pallet on which to render their illustrations.

Here's to a golden age of radio yet to come.

Rick Olsen

My parents listened to NPR when I was growing up, but I didn't tune in myself until my early 20s. My friends and I are now in our late 20s and early 30s, and most of us listen to public radio regularly (having grown up in North Dakota, the News from Lake Wobegon always reminds me of home). I think it just takes time and maturity to appreciate the humor and the quality of the shows that NPR broadcasts. Don't worry, Erin. Others will join you.

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