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Celebrating Radio's Past and Future

It was a pretty momentous occasion a few weeks back when San Francisco commercial radio station KCBS celebrated 100 years of broadcasting. Well, sort of. As Ben Fong-Torres pointed out in his Radio Waves column on Sunday, KCBS’s predecessor KQW broadcast its first voice transmission over the radio in San Jose in 1909:

It was there in 1909 that an engineer, Charles “Doc” Herrold, broadcast his first voice transmissions. He began regular broadcasts in 1912, and his station became KQW, which evolved into KCBS…

Herrold, said [San Jose State University Professor Mike] Adams, used a spark cap, and his audio was crude. He was a pioneer in broadcasting entertainment, said Adams, but he had no financial support and was bypassed by inventors of the superior vacuum tube. Herrold’s station lasted until the United States shut down radio stations during World War I. He obtained a license for station KQW in 1921, but lost control of the station, which relocated to San Francisco in 1934 and became KCBS in 1949. Oh. Well, then: Happy 60th Anniversary, KCBS!

Another way that radio honors its history is with groups like the National Radio Hall of Fame. Voting is now open for 2009 nominees, including radio pioneer Dr. Demento.

And, finally, an article on posits that services like Pandora (an Internet service that selects music for you based on music that you already like) may be the future of radio. The piece quotes Pandora co-founder Tim Westergren:

“There’s a huge frustration among listeners that radio doesn’t play music they like,” Westergren says. “Once you use personalized radio, why would you go back to a station that is programmed for you and half a million other people?”

Well, yes…you probably wouldn’t. But, if you listen to non-commercial stations with lengthy playlists and DJ-curated shows, you might be disappointed by a random, computer-generated DJ-less playlist. The article continues:

However, not everyone sees it that way. “Traditional radio forces you to listen to new things,” says Bob Lefsetz, author of the influential music industry blog the Lefsetz Letter. “Pandora’s recommendations are ridiculously tame.” The New Yorker’s pop music critic, Sasha Frere-Jones, agrees: “I wish it were more adventurous.”

Agreed. And the future of radio is still TBD…

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