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I Worry What AI Will Do to Talk Radio

What outrages (aka hallucinations) will it invent and foment?

“A radio station should not be just a hole in the universe for making money, or feeding an ego, or running the world. A radio station should be a live place for live people to sing and dance and talk … and know that they (and the rest of us) are not finally and irrevocably dead.” — Lorenzo W. Milam, Sex and Broadcasting

AI radio isn’t a new conversation. Still, AI appears to be coming on sooner and faster than at least I would have predicted. 

Because it’s code, it can replicate and spread at speeds physical things can’t. The only real barrier to the speed of adoption is maybe some brief reluctance over the impact on those of us who today make radio a living, and pondering the wider impacts on society.

AI doesn’t bring much to the already highly automated jukeboxes. Nor does it move the needle very far in improving transmission or other technical aspects of broadcasting. AI doesn’t change physics.

However, AI will make a huge difference to talk radio. 

It’s no secret — it’s audible to anyone with a scan button — that there’s a big broadcast business in making shows out of alternative facts. 

I often listened to Art Bell, and on occasion I talked with his Ham gang after the show on 80 meters. I miss him. But over time, I realized that, for a disturbing and fast-growing number of listeners to the genre, entertainment was becoming their alternative reality.

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Conspiracy radio is all about inventing or finding new outrages to feed the fears of the audience and keep them coming back for more. When the Fairness Doctrine went away, the Rush Limbaughs of the world screened their calls so only “ditto heads” who would feed the fire got on. That might have been OK; but soon, social media allowed talk radio to mine dark places populated by people who hitherto were without a voice. 

With 330 million people, there are going to be some crazy notions out there. We amplify the radicalized fringe for ratings.

As broadcasters, we think it’s good that AM radio — once destined to be replaced by FM — found new money with talk radio. Like dying movie theaters that once turned to adult entertainment, survival doesn’t always come with dignity. 

But we can only imagine what outrages (aka hallucinations) AI will invent, or how incredibly fast it will find new fuel and how assiduously responsive it will be to “the base.” I doubt this year will go by before we all see AI feeding the machine … and eventually becoming “virtual” hosts of the air. Reanimating Rush to pick up where he left off is no longer problematic.

Herb Fredericks is the pseudonym of a veteran broadcast contract engineer with experience in radio and television. He quotes George Orwell: “The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.” Radio World invites industry-oriented commentaries and responses. Send to Radio World.