Bring Back the Radio Hackers

We never called them that back in the early days of radio’s reinvention period after the birth of television in the 1950s, but that’s what they were.

Radio from the beginning basically was a medium that killed Vaudeville. Radio enticed the performers of Vaudeville to bring their acts to this new mass medium. The sales pitch went something like this: you won’t have to travel every day of the year, sleep on trains and eat your meals on the run. When you move your act to radio, you will be able to go home every night to your family and have a “normal” life. And you’ll make more money!

Not all performers would make this transition. The downside to moving their act to radio was that no longer could they have one act that they could perform night after night. On the radio, they needed a new act every performance. That’s a BIG CHANGE.

When television came along, the successful radio acts moved to TV and radio needed a new idea.

Enter the Hackers

 Alan Freed would hack the term Rock ‘N’ Roll and become the first famous disc jockey introducing a new venue for radio.

Todd Storz and Gordon McLendon aka “the Maverick of Radio” would hack the idea of Top 40 radio introducing a tighter playlist and higher repetition of the biggest hits. After observing teenagers playing the same songs over and over in a juke box.

Better Practices

 Today’s world is infested with the concept of “Best Practices.” It can be a stifling thing when it comes to creativity.

Today’s radio was born out of hackers that were constantly thinking up “Better Practices.” Ron Jacobs and Bill Drake certainly did at Boss Radio in Los Angeles with 93 KHJ. John Rook did it in Chicago with both WLS and WCFL. Rick Sklar did it in New York at Music Radio 77 WABC. Plus there were so many others in all size markets. Radio was different everywhere you listened because it was being hacked in so many wonderful ways. It was exciting to turn on your radio and hear what was going to come out next.


 The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. We have a lot of that kind of stinking thinking today and I’m sure you’ve heard all the reasons for why this is the path some of our biggest broadcasters are taking. As the radio business grew from a mom and pop business to the behemoths of today a ritual of “Best Practices” replaced hacking.

Today’s Economy is a Hacker Economy

 We live in a world where it seems everything has been turned upside down by the World Wide Web, the Internet and mobile Apps. The power is shifting from the big to the nimble; the hackers. Learn to hack or be attacked by those that hack.

Radio is not exempt from this shift. And it doesn’t have to lose.

Radio has what everyone else would love to own, a mass audience. Radio today is delivering the largest mass audience of all the mediums.

It’s why every entity trying to play in the audio medium calls itself “radio.” Pandora Radio, Spotify Radio, TuneIn Radio, RadioTunes, Beats 1 Radio etc. What radio folks have that these folks don’t have is a broadcast signal that is ubiquitous and a listening habit that has been cultivated over many years.

However, what those pure plays have that radio is missing are hackers.

Radio needs to stimulate agility, creativity and take risks.

Stop thinking about where you want to be in 5 years and start thinking about what problems you want to solve most right now. The winners will be those most able to adapt.


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio

18 responses to “Bring Back the Radio Hackers

  1. georgejohnsradio

    Well said Dick!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. ws1o

    I’m patiently waiting for the corporate broadcast conglomerates to get fed up with the fact that they are making less money by killing radio, and because they’re incapable of innovation and creativity, they’ll soon decide to give up and divest, and then small operators can buy back the stations at discount prices and start actually broadcasting something interesting again.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Bob S. Hale

    About WLS-Chicago…John Rook was an ever-so-Johnny-Come Lately at WLS in Chicago. Rook walked into an machine that was already in gear. WLS was on the move since 1960 when ABC came in a dragged a few new jocks to Chicago. WLS went from being the Prairie Farmer station to the powerhouse of the Midwest for quite sometime before the Rook era. Credit Ralph Boudin (GM) and Sam Holman (PD) for pumping new life into the 50,000watt sleeping giant.


    • Jeb Tolbert

      Agreeing with Bob Hale, with regard to John Rook and some of the other examples in this blog. Please name three new “better practices” that John Rook introduced in Chicago.


  4. This is why we see digital companies putting out iterations of product a few times each year; the mindset is to improve what they have, now. Radio web sites, its use of digital attributes, OTA programming, and modes of distribution sit as they are for years before upgrades are made.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I have no idea how many times I’d interviewed in radio, and the manager would ask me, where I wanted to be in 5 years. I always thought, what a stupid question. Finally, one day I told one them, I wanted to be in his seat in 5 years. Amazingly, I got the job. Radio is so stale these days. So sterile. I think radio needs to be fun again. Having fun does translate over the air. It really does. Randy McDaniels, TLC.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. spotmagicsolis

    “Learn to hack or be attacked by those that hack.” best line !!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. spotmagicsolis

    Radio was invented by hackers and only hacker can save it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. spotmagicsolis

    I got yer best practises…RIGHT HERE. Who is in the pic, Dick?


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