Medium As Message Maker

credit: The Onion

Wow! Does it seem to you it’s hard to get through a day without confronting tragedy? The morning mayhem, the afternoon upheaval, the evening disaster. The chaos keeps coming. What to make of it all?

The well regulated militia continues to slaughter innocents, big business jacks up prices because it can, rents are unaffordable, homeless litter the sidewalks, industrial agriculture is our biggest polluter, climate change wreaks havoc world-wide, the pandemic just keeps rolling along, wars pop up relentlessly for no discernible reason, old white men and a token few others offer feeble solutions from their elected offices, and somewhere high above it all, Rupert Murdoch is smiling because it’s all so profitable. (HERE)

That’s the message, it seems. Whoever said most of us lead lives of quiet desperation may not have foreseen the time when all that anguish would be broadcast far and wide so that each of us can share in every disquiet. Not a thread is broken anywhere that we don’t get to watch in all its drama the fabric slowly fray and suddenly rend.

Sometimes it’s overwhelming to take it in. Perhaps it’s always been this way, life seemingly on edge and tipping, but in my lifetime the sense of impending doom that hangs over us seems to have become thematic to an ever greater degree.

Yes, the sky always has been falling, but in the past only the occasional chicken here and there was telling us so. Now it’s a chorus of reminders, a Gregorian chant without pretense of harmony, a cacophony that rumbles from the airwaves through town and country. Now every rooster crows relentlessly and the hens lay less in their disturbance.

We are reminded the medium is the message. It alters the way we perceive the world. So said Marshall McLuhan and nothing since has proven him wrong. What has changed is that far fewer people control those media. Control of the media and the message has been increasingly concentrated among a handful of corporate titans.

Although they are public airwaves, there is no evidence whatsoever they are being used for the public interest. They are used to print money and pitch propoganda. That is our message.

Bill Ashford at KFML                                                   credit: Richard Beatty

We have written here frequently about freeform radio, those underground stations that spawned the classic era of rock music we still celebrate today. There are any number of reasons that brief, brilliant time in broadcasting is historically important, not the least of which is that is was the last gasp of freedom to be creative on the airwaves. It paid great dividends aesthetically if not financially.

In discussing that time with people who were there, those that made it happen and those who listened to it, one theme that surfaces repeatedly is the community freeform radio created, the role it played in being both the voice and the ears of that community, and the loyalty it engendered. It was the connective tissue that bound together the listening audience and all of us who supported the effort, whatever our individual contribution.

Another theme is the diversity that naturally arises from freedom. The creativity that is the hallmark of freeform radio produced communities that were unique in their diversity. One station was not a carbon copy of the others. Travel from one place to another across the country back then and you heard individuals on the air, people who were expressing themselves, music that they liked, news they believed was important, commercials about local businesses they believed in and supported. (HERE)

Radio now is tightly controlled and it all sounds alike. You might be in Los Angeles, or Salt Lake City, or Cincinnati, or Bangor, Maine. Nothing about the radio stations you might tune in to will give you the slightest clue. iHeart is iHeart no matter where you hear it. The same algorithm is picking out what is played.

There is no sense of place any longer. We all are of the global community, and how intimate and comfortable a place do you find it? There was a time when our great novels could describe the landscape, the vistas, the stores along Main Street, the mood of the town, and from it we could intuit the nature of the people who lived there. 

America now is Amazon, McDonalds, Holiday Inn, and Facebook. It’s iHeart radio and Fox News. How do we know where we are, what is ours, which terrors and tragedies we need to come to terms with, which joys and beauty we can own?

Do not turn on your radio in hopes of finding your community. It resides on the top floors of a skyscraper in New York City. Do not turn on your television either because it too is housed up there in the stratosphere high above the rabble it preaches to where orders from a crusty old man from Australia are received. (HERE)

Rupert Murdoch                                                       credit:










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