Uneasy Listening

Uneasy Listening

One of the things that corporate media owners count on from consumers is that people will watch or listen to whatever is put in front of them. How many workplaces have the same bland “oldies” or middle of the road pop station playing on the radio, with innocuous tunes sprinkled between incessant commercials & DJ’s pressured “blah blah blah”. How many homes have the television on in the background, almost 24/7? Five thousand channels and nothing on except distractions.

Media is not meant to be passively absorbed like the oxygen around us. Ideally, we need to use critical thinking skills when engaged with reading, radio, listening to music or watching the glowing screens of television or computers. One of the frustrations of shortwave listening for some people is that compared to what we’re used to in the technology age, it requires work and research – knowing what stations are broadcasting to North America, on what frequencies, and what times. It is a more active approach to radio listening than people are used to. Then there are the issues of reception, antenna placement, and signal propagation. Yet this effort is well worth the payoff – hearing stations that you will not hear elsewhere, some of which do not broadcast even on the internet.

The majority of radio stations in the US fall into one of the following categories: Commercial Rock, Country or Oldies, Commercial Talk Stations (mostly conservative politics) or Christian stations. Is this reflective of our country as a whole? Or simply corporate profit-driven formats? Intriguing how there are so many talk shows and so little dialogue or listening happening & how there are so many so-called Christian stations and few or no Judaic, Muslim, Pagan, or Atheist stations.

If your community is not well represented by any of the above formats, what to do? Listen to public radio? Public Radio is an improvement, yet much of it isn’t truly ‘public’ radio – it’s Public Funded Radio. Granted there are some fantastic programs available via Public Radio that are not broadcast elsewhere. If you’re very lucky, you might live within signal range of college radio stations, Low Power FM stations, non-commercial community supported radio stations or possibly unlicensed “pirate” stations. You’ll know the pirate stations because they may be playing music with a lot of swearing, or the DJ’s may be swearing, or they may never give an ID, or they may be playing programs and having discussions or spinning music that are intriguing and you’ve never heard anything like it before. Urban areas generally have many more listening opportunities and choice than rural areas. The key is to do some research and kind out what’s happening on your local radio dial. In some areas there are also low power or community stations on the AM bands as well. I suggest listening with a radio that has a decent antenna, and if your radio doesn’t, you can buy am or fm antennas cheap at electronics stores. A good antenna will pull in more distant stations, or those with weaker signals like Low Power stations.

Radio is meant to be interactive. So call stations, e-mail, write, communicate with them and give them feedback on what you’re hearing. If they are not serving your community appropriately, tell them! If they’re doing cool things, let them know! Don’t let some faceless corporate boss decide what you should listen to. Consider creating your own radio show where there are needs that aren’t being met for information, music or creative energy. Community and college stations are often very open to new volunteer DJs and program producers. Turn on your friends to good stuff you’ve heard on the airwaves. Turn off the TV or better yet, hook up an old antenna & find out if there are any UHF pirates broadcasting in your area – pirate television is also alive, though with fewer broadcasts.

So it’s no more easy listening for people who want to create change in their lives or in the community. Tune out the garbage and tune into the voices in your neighborhood or community. Explore the radio spectrum and all it has to offer, and if it’s not offering what you need or want, create it! Podcasts are great as well, but the magic of radio is that it reaches a potentially wider audience, and a computer or Ipod/mp3 player isn’t required.