The pioneer and architect for the perfect talk radio personality in purveying an adroit mix of compelling and controversial content, while working within the stringent confines of Fortune 500 advertisers, Rush Limbaugh, who lost his fight with cancer, witnessed the bountiful heights and cumbersome lulls of an industry he helped define. As listeners from the entire political spectrum mourn the loss of a broadcast legend, the question lingers in the charged air of a nation facing a growing chasm between ideological differences, what is next chapter for the talk radio airwaves?
The chain of the slow and painful extinction events dooming the traditional mediums of newspaper, radio, and television, began with affordable and convenient access to the internet, and abruptly ended with the proliferation of arguably one of humanity’s greatest consumer tool innovations in the sleek and irresistible effervescence of smartphones unlocking a connection to something bigger and better. Not even the entertaining and “free” boundless resource of AM and FM radio programming magically beamed to receivers in vehicles, homes, or portable solid state technology for a fraction of pennies on the dollar, nor the presence legendary talking heads of Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Medved, Hannity, or even Stern, who saw the writing on the all and defected to satellite radio, could prevent the inevitable.
Rush separated himself from the greats with his timely humor and relevant social comedy interjected into the dry and stodgy arena of politics, an endearing trait that even transcended Stern’s relentless juvenile hijinks with a glaring expiration date somewhere amidst the average timeframe for a male to reach maturity, and in developing the full arsenal of critical thinking skills. Not taking oneself too seriously when discussing emotional issues is a skillset lost on the participation trophy world that encourages whining, and wastefulness. The legacy of subtlety and biting irony has gone by the wayside, only to be replaced by who can manage to post the fastest or scream the loudest. To the unrefined frontal lobe, more is less, and less applies to the least amount of effort required to be expended in experiencing life.
With the numerous electronic options conducive to cutting-edge devices and a seemingly infinite wealth of live and on-demand content just a touch of an App away, the plummeting radio audience numbers are simply a sign of the times, and Rush’s unfortunate passing only emphasizes the dinosaur metaphor of three vast entities counting the days on the wrong side of the mountain towards oblivion.
Of the trio of time-tested mediums, print is the most understandable for an exponential decline, and the strict scheduling constraints of TV obviously detracts from the customizable a la carte appetites spanning the generations, however, the uniquity and the esoteric thundering voices of the talk network figureheads, offers a listener experience that cannot be emulated through the technocratic wonderland of a pulsating and shimmering pixelated dreamworld, and certainly cannot be emulated by the tens of millions of podcaster DIY hobbyists. Driving and listening is still a much safer alternative than driving and texting or playing video games. With the Ben Shapiro’s and new kids on the block of the world and podcasters infusing the talk radio with at least a semblance of youthful relativity, the broadcast infrastructure can serve as a viable crossover tool, but in the current ranks of up and coming on the air talent, there is no one yet who can hold a candle to the multifaceted attributes of Rush.
Hope springs eternal in the face of a retreating optimism that the broadcast decision makers at a national and local level are able to formulate a rebranding effort that resonates with the younger generations, a daunting task that is only made exceedingly more difficult by Limbaugh’s premature departure, and the alarming stigma insinuating that the majority of talk radio listeners are of the conservative persuasion. There are an abundance of resources to accomplish a miraculous feat, but time is of the essence, with the evolution of AI infrastructure, and the ascendance of hardware transistor capacity nearing the threshold of Moore’s Law.
Intriguingly, the gulag collective prowess of the Silicon Valley small nation GDP individual prowess of selected tycoons unleashing the latest iteration of social media gadgetry onto the unquenchable technological lust of device and App enthusiasts in promoting live audio, furnishes an opportunity for talk radio to evolve and thrive. The constant push towards an upgrade in user experience provides the radio renaissance movement with the tiniest glimpse of light through the reinforced armor of a hydrogen bomb sanctuary disguised as a bank vault.
The Clubhouse electronic community, a viral audio social networking experience endorsed by A-list celebrities and societal dignitaries, cleared beta-testing protocol in late 2020, and is now at the center of an internet feeding frenzy in offering the creation and access to user accounts by invite only. The platform, which raised an unprecedented $100 million of venture capital based on pure speculation and the association with global icons, allows individuals to interact through actual spoken dialogue. Instead of posting and responding to posts through text, images, videos and memes, account holders are able to dictate the flow of dialogue through speaking.
The live threads allegedly promote real time productive conversation, a powerful feature that F***book and Twitter that have no answer for, as both prodigiously indifferent behemoths have been overrun by bots, rogue elements, divisive stagnation, and plagued by reprehensible lapses in the adoption of ineffectual policy, and the poor handling of basic secure data custodial measures. Though the disgusting aftertaste of giving a large and unrefined group of communicators an undeserved stage for a server warehouse magnitude of vapid and thoughtless dialogue, which F***book and Twitter coin “microblogging”, the process of once again interfacing audio with the blessing of pop culture will be less than pleasant.
Clubhouse will apparently provide the needed tonic for a digital environment that promotes extremism on both sides of the aisles in the absence of consequences, with accountability running for the hills in an expansive and untraceable wilderness. Investors are hoping that hearing a spoken voice, will deter the worst of the internet keyboard warriors from committing unsavory acts echoing the inquisition in the eloquent radicalization of the concise, and the manifestation of the grotesque. The key selling point for a streaming wall of enraged and babbling individuals escalating an unwinnable internet argument to the audio level of chaos, is the introduction of nuance to the conversation. One known quantity of the information age is the ineffective vehicle of simple text in conveying emotion or subtlety. The phrase, “You need to get here now!” insinuates an abrupt command, when in fact the sender could simply be attempting to frame the message in a jovial observation of a Pelican dropping fish on pedestrians near a wharf. In that sense, “You need to get here now!” demands being taken with a grain of salt. Thus, is the quandary of text conjoined with the imagination and emotional vulnerability of humanity.
While the drop-in audio social network does not post a speed limit, the human brain processes sound differently than the written word, and thus people will be at least forced to at least listen and render an understanding, before firing off a response. The beauty of talk radio is that audiences are held to the same constraint, and the delay mechanism dictated by socio-biological factors can make the difference between a heedless rant and introspective praise.
With the aggressive play by Clubhouse to join the lucrative information superhighway marketplace, talk radio now has a slim opening to climb out of the current abyss left in the aftermath of the artist Rush Limbaugh going to a better place, and the reality of the ratings, and key advertisers influenced by cancel culture. Even though social media is saturated by mediocre to unpalatable personal brands pouring out petabytes of junk and perpetually altering context to the point of mental fatigue, there exists a glaring need for adept and objective broadcasters at the top of the pyramid. The key radio networks are now on the clock in making the most of a rare window within the current technocratic nightmare, and the an APB goes out to Westwood One, Salem, Premiere, and the Big three to get this done, but it will not be easy.
The perception that the reliable radio medium is a veritable eyesore to anyone under 30 years of age, coupled with the confusion created by the numerous moving parts of AM or FM, frequency or call letters, and a basic understanding of principles of physics outside the realm of advanced metrics measuring digital popularity, is a huge issue that cannot be overcome through a sloppy engineering job based on good feelings. Radio melds with the multi-tasking collaborative approach of many modern business ventures and aligns with the modern axiom of “work smarter, not harder.”
As the population groups growing into adulthood are bored with the exhaustive applications of dynamic text, .GIFS, and memes accounting for the chunk of real-time interactions, the haphazard journey of two or more people engaged in a simple phone conversation, must pass through a few more hoops until the social norm consensus accepts the charges so to speak of a woefully archaic practice linked with the ancient musty past of Polaroid cameras, sedans the size of boats, and 30-foot coiled length of cables connecting the kitchen to the world, one caller at a time.
Talk radio can be that bridge to restoring sanctity and productive conversations by promoting the professionals against the relentless face of wasteful and repugnant tidal wave of reticulated selfishness, but only if innovation is strategically employed to a world that is defined by change. As for replacing a legend, forget about it.
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