Media merry-go-round

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The F.C.C. has opened a four month comment period on proposed rules for handling traffic on the internet. The debate will be about media and power and access and whether there should be a fast lane on the freeway of ideas.

Ultimately it is all part of the struggle to capture a moment of your attention.

This is nothing new, of course. In the years just before there was an internet the contestants for a piece of your mind were the printed word, radio, television, and any real flesh-and-blood person who might be standing in front of you at the moment. In a head-to-head face-off, television always won, of course. Print was too flat, radio too thin, and real people were not as shiny or attractive as whatever was on the screen.

Though raiding parties were sometimes sent from one camp into another.

In my online wanderings this week I tripped over this ancient TV clip about a quirky St. Paul based radio show. What seemed odd back in 1979 still feels like a weird and somewhat academic examination of a vanquished form of media. And aside from the strange calming effect of seeing an exceedingly smart man with a truly wonderful beard talk quietly into a large microphone, I was struck by the complete inability of a television program to capture the essence of the thing being examined. But then, maybe they didn’t really want to capture it.

And then there was this brave attempt to profile a different radio program that, as I hear about it now, seems impossibly dull!

My recollection of the reason why this report even happened is that TV at the time was trying to become a morning habit for people who were accustomed to turning on the radio when they woke up. The strategy was to flatter a wide selection of radio hosts through a series of live visits, hoping the “we’re on TV” giddiness of the DJ’s would send their listeners scrambling to the tube for a glimpse of their previously unseen heroes, possibly never again to return to that humble box of wires once it hit them that television stations were doing morning shows too!

I think it worked – a little bit at least. Morning television certainly took off, but nothing has been as good as the internet when it comes to getting attention. Neutral or not, it is grabbing increasing numbers of ears and eyeballs while TV and radio are losing their audiences.

How bad is it? Pretty much everything is online now, including the only remaining evidence of what radio sounded like when it was filtered through the perceptions of TV people who thought they were stealing the whole game, just before they found out that the game had changed, entirely.

What captures your attention?