The Radio Dial


Things change.

Before we listened to radio on our iPhones and iPods (and Zunes?), before we listened to our music on Pandora, internet radio, satellite radio, and genius playlists, before there were music stations on our cable and satellite television, there was radio.

You might not listen to radio except to catch the weather, traffic, news, talk, or a game now and then.

There’s little reason to listen to most radio stations any more because they all sound the same and the amount of local programming continues to shrink.

At one time there was a rule that you could only own a handful of AM, FM, and television stations. There weren’t these big chains that own a ton of stations nationwide and a block of stations in one market. In the old days it was a big deal if a company had both an AM and an FM station.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. What’s on the radio has changed, but one of the bigger changes has been in the devices we listen to it on.

In the old days there was a dial. You know like the theme song from the TV show “WKRP in Cincinnati” says “up and down the dial.”

You would tune into a station by rotating the dial until you got close and then slowly turning the dial until it sounded clearer while pointing the antenna in the right direction for better reception.

In those days, it was harder to flip between radio stations and that meant that radio stations were programmed differently. If I could get you to go to bed with our station then chances were you would wake up with us in the morning. So stations that ran baseball or basketball games at night knew that a big portion of their audience would wake up with the morning show. If I was a progressive rock station I might do commercial free complete album sides at ten so you’d wake up with my morning team.

The morning team would give you some reason between 7 and 7:40 to tune back in between 9 and 10 because if I could get you to tune in at the beginning of your work day then I might keep you all day at work.

For the restless who were spinning the dial every time there were ads or news, I wanted to be the first station back into music so as you rolled by my station we would reach out to you.

You know what changed everything?

Radio buttons.

Some stations adapted. Some stations stopped giving approximate dial locations like 101 and replaced them with the more digitally correct 100.7. These stations knew that listeners had buttons for them and for their closest competitor so the way they programmed changed.

The world is changing. Are you changing with it or are you still spinning dials in a push button world?