Science Friction



I heard a couple of powerful things on a train this week. Both of them relate to radio.

The first was a lady I overheard talking to her friend. She said, “I’m reading a book about the people who first split the atom. It’s getting boring now, it’s all about the science, not the people”.

I thought, wow, if only all radio programmers could hear that. I settled back into my seat, put my earbuds in and started listening to the excellent Brandwidth On Demand podcast by David Martin and Kipper McGee. They were paying tribute to Nick Michaels, the voice actor, writer, producer and narrator who passed away recently.

They played a clip from an interview they’d done with him. They asked, what separates a great radio station from a mediocre one? His answer was, “One word, humanity. How human is it?” He went on to point out that radio is rushing in the other direction, trying to automate and take every human out of the equation. Nick said, “It’s only the humanity of a radio station that makes people stick to it”.

Nick was right, great radio stations are programmed using a combination of art, craft and science. Why do so many radio stations sound like they’re programmed using science alone? The science of broadcasting is important but once you become totally obsessed with quarter hour maintenance, horizontal promotion, positioning and music research, you take all of the humanity out. I’ve worked for program directors whose approach is so clinical they should be wearing white coats.

Apart from talk stations, how many commercial music stations have callers on the air for anything other than contests? Where’s the interaction, the banter?

Just like the lady on the train said, if it’s all about the science not the people, it’s getting boring.

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