Photo by Dave Weatherall on Unsplash

My car was in the shop recently, so I was driving a borrowed car for a few days. Normally, when I drive, I listen to CDs or my iPod. (Yes, I said iPod. The old school iPods are way better than smartphones as music players.) Since it was temporary, I decided not to load any of my CDs into the player, and there was no hookup for my iPod, so I decided I would listen to the radio while driving until I got my car back.

Other than baseball games, I haven’t listened to the radio in many, many years. I was never much for the radio. My personal collection has had more variety and less crap since I was five. As technology has made music more portable, I’ve had less and less need for the radio. Sometime in the early 2000s, I stopped altogether.

I was actually curious to listen to the radio again. In this age of streaming, what has the radio done to remain competitive? It turns out they have done absolutely nothing. Based on the music I heard while driving around for a few days, it could have been 1997. I was so confused.

I’ve never known the radio to be musically adventurous, but they used to play new music. In the 80s, I could hear Van Halen, SRV, and Guns & Roses on the radio. In the 90s, they played Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and The Black Crows. In the few days I was listening, they still play all of those bands, but nothing more recent. They didn’t even play any newer songs by any of the old bands. AC/DC and Paul McCartney have new music out this year, but it was nowhere to be heard.

It seems like a huge missed opportunity. The radio is now just peddling nostalgia for people who haven’t embraced modern technology. Obviously, they can’t compete with Spotify and YouTube in terms of music on demand. But, that doesn’t mean they can’t compete. If you read my post yesterday, you know that algorithms leave a lot to be desired. One of my least favorite parts about the internet is the way the explosion of choices has made it harder to find anything good that you’re not specifically looking for. If a music-loving, knowledgeable DJ curated the playlists, it could be amazing, a music discovery paradise.

Humans are still better at some things than computers. The radio should embrace that. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that they will see the light. Instead, they’ll just continue their long, slow decline playing the same songs everyone has heard a thousand times.

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