Hurricanes and disasters: The case for Radio

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Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, moves westward towards Florida. Photo credit: NOAA
Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, moves westward towards Florida. Photo credit: NOAA

Hurricane Harvey has flooded Houston and devastated a large swath of Texas. On the horizon, hurricane Irma—the most powerful Atlantic storm in recorded history—has already started laying down a path of destruction. In the wake of these and other devastating natural catastrophes, I started to think about radio.

At one time, radio was ubiquitous. Cars, home stereos, clocks, table top devices, you name it.  They all had radios.  Today, things are different. Some AVR manufacturers are dropping AM radio, FM radio, or both from their product lineup. Most modern table-top devices favor Bluetooth. There’s no radio. Alarm clocks and the like, those too are dropping radio as a basic feature.

Why is this it the case? Consumers likely aren’t demanding it. Truth be told, I can’t remember the last time in the past year that I listened to the radio at home. Shame on me. And I’ll be the first to say it.

At one time, radio was a primary source of live entertainment. Pictured is the cast of Ma Perkins on NBC.
At one time, radio was a primary source of live entertainment. Pictured is the cast of Ma Perkins on NBC Radio.

One could argue that radio has just evolved. It’s now an app on a smart phone. You can stream it online. There’s no need for a hardware-based radio any more.

I disagree.

In times of disaster, a plain old radio is one of the few pieces of audio tech we can rely on. A battery powered radio—which can last for weeks—can serve as a key source of news and announcements, not to mention news, sports, music, and entertainment.  With so many subscription options out there, we’ve seemingly forgotten that before the advent of TV, families gathered around the radio. Radio always was, and still is, entertainment and education.

At one time, families would gather round the radio as a key source of entertainment.
At one time, families would gather round the radio as a key source of entertainment.

As great as a mobile device is, how useful is it without battery life and an Internet connection?

During a major storm some years ago, my dwelling lost power for almost a full week. What a wakeup call that was! Trying to find power for a cell phone was a challenge—especially when gas stations aren’t open. And using an iPad, which has far better battery life, still remained a challenge.

But it was in radio that I found solace. And the experience itself was quite different. No smart device, no streaming service, no fiddling around with an app-based remote. There was something just-so-right about that good old analog comforter. In many ways, it was like having a friend over for a visit.

To some degree, audiophiles and radio have never had a cozy relationship. Fidelity has been among the most obvious issues. And if your musical tastes were of a certain persuasion, then finding the right genre or artists certainly could be a challenge.

But, when it comes to music, radio served a few other roles too (at least for me). Radio introduced me to artists and music I never could have dreamed of. In some instances, it was new music and new artists. In other cases it was musicians and works that reached their zenith long before I was born.

The radio served as a common experience too. How many times have we heard the phrase, “I heard on the radio…” or some variant thereof.

By no means is radio perfect. But then again, nothing in life is. Through all of its wrinkles and imperfections, radio is to me like a friend that I’ve grown old with—whose presence and company I cherish when we are together.

That said, I hope we never relegate radio to some bygone memory; that we never remove it completely from our surroundings—or our products; and that all of us visit it from time to time—just like we would a parent or life-long friend.

Good old radio. We still need you, perhaps now more than ever.

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