WHAT IÕVE LEARNED FROM TEACHING RADIO
ŅFighting to stay freeÓ #178...October 2013
And now, ladies and gentlemenÉ
ÉI know IÕm not the first person to say teaching is a learning experience. I donÕt mean that just literally Š as in I had to learn a lot about the subject matter before presenting it confidently to a roomful of students whose parentsÕ money went to send them to school, and to classes like mine Š although that would still be true.
What I do mean Š and what I imagine other first-time teachers mean when theyÕve said that Š is that we learn from delving deeper into the subject matter, from the experience of teaching, and from the students themselves. While itÕs been only eight weeks since I began adjunct-professor-ing ŅIntroduction to RadioÓ at a local college, I feel as if it may as well have been my introduction to the medium, so I thought IÕd share a few things IÕve learned during these first two months in academia. Cue the projector!
I get the sense kids listen to radio today either for music they know or music they donÕt know. IÕve seen just one example of listening for a particular host, and that host was on the BBC, so then also music-driven. IÕve played a few air checks of Ōpersonality jocksÕ on music stations, but I canÕt tell whether theyÕve made any impression. For the short paper I assigned profiling anyone in radioÕs history, the only pre-Stern personality written about was Wolfman Jack, whose ŌshockÕ ties to Stern were referenced in that studentÕs paper.
This should be obvious, but itÕs easy to forget while youÕre up there talking about WABC, Drake, payola, FM rock or the beginnings of radio formats taken for granted now, that all this happened on our watches. ItÕs not that it makes one feels old so much as it challenges a professor to look at every radio milestone from the point of view of kids who were born after Nirvana, Garth and gangsta rap. And who were in diapers when the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed.
This should be regarded as good news. At least kids who want to learn about radio donÕt believe itÕs dead or dying. But they do believe radio takes whatever form they want it to, whether that means itÕs live top 40, shock talk or jockless Internet. This suggests thereÕs room for all players, and everything in between.
Another Ōstand back and survey the roomÕ moment. When the great Pat St. John came in to guest-lecture, and we reviewed the legacy of album-based rock formats (and of Pat, for that matter), thatÕs when it hit me that we really were teaching history, as in something the era of which has passed. The current-based rock formats that exist today sound (and owe) next to nothing to KMPX or WNEW-FM.
When I asked students to tell the class about their short paper subjects, I was amazed as how few chose on-air personalities, opting instead for the guys in the back like Marconi, Tesla, FM pioneer Edwin Armstrong and even Alexander Graham Bell. I couldnÕt help thinking who the 19-year-old me would have gone with (probably Imus or Ingram, both of whom were at the top of their games when I was a freshman in college). Wondering whether this reflects the decline in influence of the radio host - and at the same time the revenge of the nerd, given the power of the Internet and all itÕs produced Š among a generation who havenÕt lived a day without a computer in the house.
ItÕs all very interesting, but letÕs remember, IÕm only at the halfway mark in ŅIntro to Radio.Ó IÕve got a whole lot more to learn.
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