A Lament for the State of Radio Broadcasting in America

I dove headfirst into Last.fm a few weeks back, while procrastinating on writing my article. Since then, it has helped make my cubicle so much more bearable — I listen all day at work. Now that I’ve listened to a fair mass of music, it’s getting better at knowing what I like, and my “Neighbour Radio” station is a thing of beauty. It knows that I want to hear Ella Fitzgerald, Nine Inch Nails, Kanye West, Alison Krauss, and Elliott Smith, all in quick succession! How wonderful! And it’s introduced me to Bright Eyes and the Donnas, and revealed to me that Skunk Anansie (my favorite band) once covered Björk’s “Army of Me” (my favorite Björk song), among many other small and random facts.

As I think more and more about it though, it’s starting to bother me more that my Last.fm experience is leashed to my internet connection, and thus, for me, to my computer. To me, the quirky, odd “stations” the site serves up are a perfect example of what could be streaming across regular broadcast stations (and into my iPod radio remote) if those stations weren’t all owned by the same six or seven multinational corporations. Stations could cater to the tastes of their communities rather than the economic exigencies of the recording and advertising industries…think of it…

It wasn’t so long ago that that was the case, after all. I remember loving the radio when I was a kid. And there are still a few solid independent options out there, at least in some markets (my hometown’s WORT 89.9 FM comes to mind). But they are so few and far between, and they’ve gotten bought out in droves since the 1996 Telecom Act.

The array of issues this touches — the allocation of broadcast spectrum, satellite radio, deregulation, etc. — are mostly things about which I don’t know as much as I’d like (though I’ve been learning more at my internship this summer). But it makes me sad. I want to take my Last.fm stations out into the world. Or I want such a thing to be possible for someone, somewhere, who doesn’t work for Viacom or Disney.

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