Rick Wright sees things a bit differently. Wright, a professor of radio broadcasting in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a radio industry veteran, blames the decline on commercial radio’s changes in attitudes and management models.
Wright says that, in the past, college radio served essentially as a feeding ground for professional radio stations. Radio station owners listened to college radio because of its potential to influence commercial stations with its entertaining and informative programming. Today, commercial radio’s business-oriented approach often favors syndicated programs and an emphasis on technology, which, Wright says, has all but killed college radio’s relevance.
“Radio’s present ownership and managers, they’re businesspeople,” he says. “They shot themselves in the foot by basically eliminating everything that made radio great – made radio work – and that was air personalities and disc jockeys.”
Scheib agrees. He says that, more than the music, radio depends on having engaging, likable presenters. Without them, shows can’t offer much to their listeners.
“The most popular shows on radio now aren’t the shows that solely focus on music,” he says. “The personalities behind them are more important, and listener interaction is more important.”
But the changes in commercial radio management aren’t the only culprits. Wright says that today, most college stations lack the sense of opportunism that led to such popular and influential programming in the past.
“I remember when students used to sleep in the radio station … and the kind of programming was incredible,” he says. “The problem is, people are waiting for something to happen … Everybody’s wondering, ‘What happened to radio audiences? Why is radio declining?’ We ain’t got no act!”
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