Why Radio Still Matters, By NPR Music’s Bob Boilen

Written by October 13th, 2010 at 10:55 am

I’m sitting in my living room listening to the radio. Filling my personal airwaves is the music of Sigur Rós, and before that Paul Simon, trumpeter Bunny Berigan and Animal Collective. The mix is courtesy of All Songs Considered’s brand new 24/7 online channel that my computer is wirelessly transmitting to the base station hooked to my stereo. Wait — but, but — that’s not radio you might be thinking. You bet it is.

Here’s the thing. I have radios that pick up FM, AM and short wave signals, but I also have an IP, or internet radio, that picks up signals that are broadcast from various sources. So while I’m cooking in my suburban Maryland kitchen, I can listen to WFUV originating from the Bronx, or The Current from Minneapolis or KEXP in Seattle. These are traditional radio signals but they are no longer bound by geography. Before finishing the meal I whipped up, I could also potentially hear a homemade folk music show from Norway, some classical Hindi music, a tech show and so much more.

This unbounded radio access isn’t just limited to my home listening, though. On my way to work at NPR Music, I can boot up my WFMU New York iPhone app in my car for some eclectic listening or check out the local weather from a local news station app, or stream any NPR station from across the country with the NPR Music app.

So, despite the fact that there isn’t a music station based in Washington, D.C. that I would listen to, my radio experience is better than ever and I’ve got so very many choices.

Let’s get back to the heart of the matter, though. Why listen to the radio when there are blogs, friends, online music stores with samples, music subscription services and countless other ways to hear and find music? Here’s the key for me: radio is visceral in a way a blog just isn’t. I hear a song on the radio and — Bam! — it just hits me. It’s not an intellectual choice, it’s not because the lead singer looks awesome, or some writer tells me why it’s good, or a cool friend says I should like it. It’s simply a gut feeling and, I think, the best way to fall in love with recorded music.

This all brings me back to the launch of NPR Music’s All Songs Considered 24/7 music channel. We filled it with all 10 years of music from the show and very little of myself and co-host Robin Hilton talking. Sure, we’re the curator but, ultimately, you decide what songs rock your world. Click on over to the stream any day, any time to discover a favorite new song and revisit some old favorites, whichever the radio happens to serve up first.

Bob Boilen of NPR Music is the creator and co-host of NPR Music’s All Songs Considered. To celebrate their 10th anniversary, NPR has launched the All Songs 24/7 Music Channel, which offers a free non-stop mix of every song ever played on the show.

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