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Yank Out the Car Radio

My family just had a bad experience involving radio.

My family just had a bad experience involving radio. In fact it may be time to yank out the car radio.

A decade ago, Radio World mentioned how diversified radio was in San Francisco. That appears to have changed. In fact, if you’re over 45, you apparently are no longer a citizen, no longer part of the “public” who own the airwaves.

On a recent Sunday ride, the one (1) FM station that normally plays “classic rock” (bean counters will tell you never to again utter the word “oldies”) had a ball game on. Tuning across the dial, we ran into dozens of stations with wall-to-wall commercials and at least three playing the same boring ’80s slow-paced soft rock songs, run by a computer.

Nothing older that 1980, period. And nothing live.

Ask yourself: Why is the Internet popular? Why is everybody going to the iPod? One word: Variety.

Imagine a hundred stores that only sell milk vs. a supermarket that stocks corn, milk, steak and cheese. Where are you gonna go?

Hide behind the bean counters and old media reports of Eddie Fritts telling everybody how great radio had become, but the result is the same: Once people throw out their radio, it’s over.

Our horror story came upon our departure. That’s when we remembered: “Hey! There’s an AM station that plays some pretty interesting stuff.” Sure enough, on our way back to Santa Rosa, we found one (1) station. In among 10 or so stations carrying the same damn talk show about “shadow people” was a music station. It did not, however, carry weather, news or traffic.

Little did we know, but some 20 miles up the freeway a fire had erupted and the Highway Patrol was blocking the road intermittently to escort fire trucks through. Result: What would normally be a one-hour commute lasted a monumental three hours, with bumper-to-bumper traffic for 20 miles — and no warning on the radio whatsoever.

So I figure: If half of the people in their cars were upset that none of their computerized music stations bothered to tell them about the traffic problem, that’s about 50,000 people who are going to consider getting an iPod. Maybe one that works in their car. Even in a bad economy.

After this fiasco, my family has concluded that there’s no reason to keep a car radio. Why suffer through marginal programming that none of us really cares about? More important: Why keep a radio if it doesn’t keep you informed of potential disasters?

I grew up with most music stations providing news, sports, traffic and weather. Usually this meant four to five minutes at the top of the hour and two minutes at the bottom. Nowadays, most stations have replaced this with four to five minutes of commercials every 15 minutes or so, none of which are alerting me of traffic dangers.

There are plenty of pimply-faced teenagers who would work for minimum wage. There are plenty of frustrated or former broadcasters who feel forced to broadcast without a license because no one will let them on. And there are plenty of young adults who would pay a station for access to their airwaves. Call it a broadcasting school.

We would have cheered if any one of these above-mentioned guys had been in a position to announce: “Hey, the freeway’s blocked for 20 miles. Use alternate routes.”

“Bro” Duke Evans
Santa Rosa, Calif.