Breaking the Silence
July 26, 2013
Let me warn you at the outset: This week's column is all observation with no solution or conclusion. I'm just gonna make some trendspotting statements, throw out a few gross generalizations, and then get out of the way. DOES ANY OTHER COLUMNIST ADMIT THAT? I think not.
Anyway, there was a column on the BBC website the other day about the history of the telephone. No, wait, don't go, this will make sense in a moment, I promise. Anyway, in the column -- it's here, in case you have time to kill -- the columnist noted that offices have become "very quiet," remembering that the workplace used to be "filled with the sound of telephones and typewriters" and is now "almost silent." The reason, as you can guess, is technology. The air isn't buzzing with phones ringing and a hundred one-sided conversations going on. Nobody's talking.
But that's just part of the equation. We know that younger generations eschew telephone conversations, that they text and use social media in lieu of dialing and talking. The same, however, seems to be increasingly true for older folks, too. Phone conversations are fewer and farther between for everyone. People who still make calls seem more and more to be Luddites. Conversations take place online, not by voice. And you can go a whole day without a vocal interaction with anyone; there are days when, if not for my wife returning home from work, I wouldn't speak to anyone, nor would I hear anyone speak to me, not at the grocery (self checkout) or the bank (ATM) or anywhere. I wouldn't say a word out loud, and I'd hear no voice directed at me. The nature of human interaction has made a radical shift in only the last few years.
What does this mean for what we do for a living? See, I told you in the very beginning: no solution, gross generalization, that's it. Talk radio was, for many years, grounded in conversation -- we gave people a forum to speak out loud about whatever was going on. That conversation's in social media now. That's not to say that talk radio is dead because people aren't speaking to each other -- in fact, it might offer opportunity (and here, I'll point out that my definition of "talk radio" includes streaming and podcasting; the delivery system is beside the point unless you're a license holder). Companionship is a basic human desire (otherwise, loneliness wouldn't be such a problem for anyone). If people are not making phone calls, and they're not Skype-ing or FaceTiming, they still need to hear voices while tapping away on their keyboards at their otherwise silent cubicle. Hey, wait, I know where there are people talking....
But whether there's opportunity or not, this trend is hard to miss. And as the last of the diehard phone callers ages out of prime advertising demographics, it's a trend to keep in mind. The trick is to be the medium to break that silence.
Okay, so, where was I last week? All right, so, I was at Comic-Con and I had an overloaded schedule, limited internet access, and absolutely nothing radio-related about which to write. I could have given you a whole column about "Breaking Bad" or "Ender's Game" or "Doctor Who," but that's not the mission of this column (you can see the stuff I covered about that at the other site). But, somehow, albeit limited by time constraints, I managed to keep the material coming at All Access News-Talk-Sports' show prep column Talk Topics. Need something to talk about? See what's there by clicking here for the full column or going to Twitter at @talktopics, where you'll find every story linked to the appropriate item. News items, kicker stories, trend reports, sports, science, it's all there, and free, too. And read "10 Questions With..." Jim Villanucci, now at KXL/Portland after a long, successful run in Albuquerque; he has some interesting things to say about his past success and establishing himself in a new market.
Oh, and I did last week's edition of Larry Gifford and Deb Slater's fine Radio Stuff podcast, yammering about "Sharknado" or something. I don't remember. I do remember that I had to keep a little quiet because I was doing it from a hotel room in San Diego and I didn't want to disturb the neighbors. And I'd just driven two hours-plus and rushed up to the room and was a bit punchy from the experience. Those are my excuses. Anyway, the actual podcast is here or at iTunes, and there's an extra with the complete, unedited interview here, which has the frightening bonus of my picture (with my old glasses and usual nervous smirk) attached to it. Thanks to Larry and Deb for having me on.