It’s a predictable but important question, whenever you get a group of successful radio storytellers in a room. Will the medium survive? Or rather, do talented people still need the traditional institutions of radio to do good work?
Apparently this is the magic question that activates Angry Ira Glass.
At WFMU’s Radiovision Festival last Saturday, Ira Glass (This American Life), Marc Maron (WTF), and Tom Scharpling (The Best Show On WFMU) gathered for a panel discussion about, among other things, the future of the craft. Eventually, moderator Therese Mahler asked the magic question.
Glass replied, agitated: “For some reason radio seems to survive, and I believe it’s because as long as there are cars with radios and people are lazy, people will get into a car and turn on a radio.”
Later, he continued: “It’s disturbingly nostalgic. I mean, who cares if it survives? Who cares if radio survives? Like, something else will happen,” Glass said. When Maron pressed him for what, exactly, that might be, Glass struggled to come up with an answer.
It’s easy for Glass not to worry now, his stardom secured. But would an equally talented Ira Glass, starting his career today, in a noisy, fragmented, podcast-saturated world, without the support of terrestrial radio, find the same success?
I don’t think Glass is necessarily fatalistic or pessimistic about radio, however. He seems to think the craft of radio is just fine, whatever may happen to the medium.
You can listen to the (highly entertaining) five-minute exchange with the Radiovision panelists and read excerpts of Glass’s comments below.
For some reason radio seems to survive, and I believe it’s because as long as there are cars with radios and people are lazy, people will get into a car and turn on a radio. And thank God people are fucking lazy. And like radio sort of just is there. And then in addition, people who are on radio doing anything interesting can put it out as a podcast and get a second audience, and so it seems like the whole computer thing has just been actually good for radio and the style that we do it. And I think it’s going to be fine.
I don’t think we have to worry. If radio goes away, something else will happen, and who gives a fuck that it’s gone?
Special thanks to Benjamen Walker, Ken Freedman, Irene Trudel, and Therese Mahler for their help with this story. My terrible Photoshop job is based on an image by Eneas De Troya used under a Creative Commons license.