Those who had lengthy car rides to various destinations during the past week were likely provided with a reminder of one of many blessings for which to be thankful: the radio, now taken for granted in our television-saturated society.
In the past, radio played a vital role in the development of American culture. For much of the early 20th century, it was radio that dominated the entertainment and communication industries. Families gathered around radios, not televisions, for the nightly news and leisure programming.
It was voices and personalities, not faces and fashions, that caught the attention of national audiences, who used their own imaginations and reasoning skills to participate in broadcasts.
In addition to its entertainment role, radio also served as the primary method of communication for military personnel, particularly those in the Navy, and greatly enhanced their ability to coordinate efforts during two world wars and numerous other conflicts. Without question, radio has been a major force that has enriched the history of this country during its developmental years.
Today, radio remains an important element of our daily lives. Broadcasters like Rush Limbaugh and Don I must have earned the status of household names, and millions of listeners tune in regularly for their favorite music, news, or talk shows. The president, or now sometimes the first lady, still delivers a weekly radio address recapping recent events and outlining new policies.
Beyond our borders, the American Forces Radio still connects Americans in even the most isolated, remote parts of the world with information and quality programming from home — sometimes their only source for scores of the previous night’s football or baseball games. Despite all of our advancing technology, radio rightly retains a place among the most important communication media in modern society.
And, in the future, this trend will likely continue, with online broadcasts becoming more accessible with each passing day. Moreover, satellite radio promises to bring syndicated broadcasts from all parts of the country and the world to listeners wherever they may be.
Indeed, the contribution that radio makes today, and will make in the future, is no less than it ever was. But unfortunately radio no longer enjoys the ascendancy that it once did in the minds of American audiences. It is somewhat a shame that this dominance is now enjoyed instead by television, a medium that is obsessed with image instead of content, action instead of information.
The advantages of radio over television are numerous. While television viewers often watch programs mindlessly, absorbed by simplicity, colors, movements, and sights, the radio listener must remain engaged, using his or her mind to interpret, visualize, understand, and analyze what has just been said.
In this way, television is a more passive experience, radio a more active one. Though television also offers a wide range of educational opportunities, the very nature of radio exercises the mind. Certainly our country’s young people would benefit from spending more time actively engaged in a radio show than staring blankly at a television screen.
Moreover, good radio broadcasters are more inspiring and thought-provoking than their counterparts in television, and hence the quality of many radio programs tends to be remarkably high. Consider information provided by both sources.
On television, the challenge to a television anchor is, to some extend, merely to look good, while the challenge to a radio broadcaster centers entirely around his or her ability to communicate a well-reasoned argument with eloquence and good sense — without distractions from visual stimulants, gestures, or appearances.
In turn, this means that audiences are more focused on the more important element of the broadcast — the information — instead of being influenced by the irrelevant or superficial. A good example of this is the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debates, when radio listeners largely believed that the more experienced Nixon had won with insightful responses, while television viewers sided with the well-manicured Kennedy, whose youthful appearance nonsensically made his spoken remarks seem more impressive to those watching.
If we strive to have a society that is less obsessed with images and more interested in thoughts and less concerned with a person’s outward appearances and more focused on the intellectual merit of his or her beliefs, then there is certainly a good case for radio.
It has been and remains a crucial part of our nation’s history. During this time of year when we reflect on those blessings for which we are grateful, let us not forget radio — and maybe some of us will even turn it on instead of the television.
William Edwards is a senior in Pierson College. His columns appear on alternate Mondays.