By Spencer Seymour
No matter what generation you are a part of, one of the things that almost all of us can relate to is that virtually every single one of us has developed some form of connection with a character we see on our screens or hear through our speakers. For some, it may be personalities who can capture the imagination with just their powerful, unmistakable voice. People like Howard Stern or Bob McCown, who helped revolutionize the radio industry. Or maybe, for you, it’s the personalities who come through your television screen, either as a hardline journalists making a career in the 24/7 news cycle, or sitcoms that shape a whole generation of people’s sense of humour or rattle their emotional cages, or maybe even iconic cartoons which quickly become real to its entire audience. Or perhaps the silver screen is more up your alley, the ever-improving CGI and special effects that help tug on heartstrings or create larger than life superheroes.
However, for the majority of people, radio, television, and film are all aspects of the broadcasting industry which can almost seem like a different planet. Iconic movies involving stormtroopers and superhero superteams take place on other planets and even some in other galaxies. The television broadcasters in their intricately designed sets or carefully crafted studios shine through as authoritative and visually striking.
However, the third broadcasting medium I have mentioned, radio, is a little bit different. While the stories of people moving to Hollywood with nothing more than a dream and a beat-up old car are endless, there is a reason there are not nearly as many of those kinds of stories when it comes to the audio-only platform. It’s because radio, very simply, has no limit as to how many can participate, and asks not how many box office records you’ve shattered, but instead asks “what’s on your mind?”
Make no mistake about it, training and experience help you in every industry. I can attest to the fact that having gone to Humber College in Toronto for their radio broadcasting course, it made me more likely to end up being a very good broadcaster. However, the unique thing about radio and audio-only productions, in general, is that it allows pros and newcomers to get their feet wet. Anyone with something of value to say could start a podcast with the snap of their fingers through their phone and could end up making money off of it.
But the best part of radio’s accessibility and where it really pulls away from television and film is the fact that you don’t need a professional studio before you hit record. For myself and many of my colleagues, a common occurrence is to record out of our closets. In between your dress pants and your graphic tees hanging all around you, there you can sit and pump out hours upon hours of incredibly engaging content.
Jessica Wernick, a former colleague of mine, talked about how she would record “projects, newscasts and demos” from her closet with nothing but her laptop and a recorder. Where is she now? Hosting the morning show in Kapuskasing and Hearst. She also estimated that “less than 10% of professional podcasts” are actually recorded and put together in professional, state-of-the-art radio studios because audio production affords you the opportunity to record from the comfort of your home and actually end up with a good quality finished product.
And as Alexander Pater, another former colleague of mine and current morning show host in Peace River, Alberta, pointed out so eloquently, that the power of sound is far greater than the power of visual stimulation. “[Do] you ever watch a show while hanging out in your kitchen or just being occupied with something else? [The power of audio] opens the door for imagination and mystery.”
Building off of what Pater said, one of my professors in college shared an experience when they worked at a faltering radio station. They asked listeners why they listened to radio over visual mediums and a young boy said he enjoyed listening to radio over television or film because the pictures are better. Why he said that is because the pictures are your own when it comes to radio. Done right, radio allows the listener to paint the picture in their own head.
But what’s truly great about radio and audio-only media is that it connects what I consider to be the best form of storytelling with the most equal platform available. Given that anyone can start broadcasting audio-only media with their digital device for free, it means that there truly is no barrier to entry. You don’t need to CGI a destructive supervillain or a beloved superhero; the voices and emotion tell the story and you can make virtually any sound effect you would ever need within your home. However, most importantly, it doesn’t matter who you are, what you do for a living, or how much experience you have; radio welcomes all.