Fin d’une Époque (End of an Era)

Notre Dame on fireOn this Easter Sunday morning, I’m still processing the pictures etched into my brain of Notre Dame Cathedral, in flames. This 856 year old church, is the most visited structure in Paris, eclipsing the Eiffel Tower.

Like many people around the world, I sat in front of a video screen watching the efforts of 400 French firefighters trying to contain the inferno.

In a world that seems out-of-control, the raging flames destroying this icon seemed like a metaphor for our lives.

“Built in the Gothic era, destroyed in the social-media era.”

-Rachel Donadio, The Atlantic

This quote by Rachel resonated with me because it made me think of some similarities between the radio industry and the history of this great cathedral.

A Short History of Notre Dame

Notre Dame was a masterpiece of French Gothic architecture. It was built in the middle ages with the structure largely completed in 100-years. It would take another 100-years to see the cathedral take on more of the shape we had most recently known.

Over the centuries, Notre Dame would be badly damaged, first by the Huguenots, and then again during the French Revolution. Napoleon would order the church’s restoration and hold his coronation there as Emperor in 1804.

By the 19th Century, Notre Dame was again half-ruined inside and badly battered. It was even used as a warehouse, and there was talk of just tearing it down. A novel by Victor Hugo titled “Notre-Dame de Paris” (published in English as “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”) would bring the cathedral new attention, and in 1844 King Louis Phillippe ordered the church’s restoration.

Notre Dame would survive two world wars, but during the 20th Century the cathedral would be battling air pollution and a lack of interest in funding the maintenance of this aging structure.

In late 2010s, it was estimated that $113 million in renovations was needed to preserve the cathedral. Only late last year had work begun on the spire.

A Short History of Radio

Radio was a communications masterpiece. The spoken word and musical art forms of radio broadcasting would spread knowledge, culture and entertainment like the world had never seen.

Commercial radio born in 1920, would quickly become the must have device in every American household. It was the “Golden Age of Radio.”

Radio was first challenged by the birth of television in the 1950s and the migration of its talent and programs over to TV. Like Notre Dame, there were many who thought radio had come to an end and that television had replaced it. But radio broadcasters with vision, renovated radio broadcasting from its block programming and national broadcast networks into a variety of formats that would be curated by the radio personality, known as the Disc Jockey or more simply the “DJ.”

Radio was now in what would be called its second “Golden Age.”

Like the great cathedral of Notre Dame, radio would be challenged by its own particular battles over its life. Things like the 8-track tape, cassette tape, compact discs and the ubiquitous CB radios of the 1970s, all these challenged radio in a place it had long enjoyed dominance, the automobile.

As Rachel Donadio so prophetically observed, radio and Notre Dame were seeing their own type of destruction in a social-media 21st Century world.

Money for Disasters but Not for Maintenance

One of the things we have learned from the fire at Notre Dame is that while it was near impossible to find donors to fund needed maintenance and restoration of the cathedral, the disaster of April 15th has secured hundreds of millions of dollars for the full restoration of this great iconic church.

I’m sure that Notre Dame will be restored to a glory even greater than before the fire.

Radio & Cooking Frogs

On the other hand, radio isn’t going up in flames. There will be no live, continuous television coverage of radio’s destruction. Most people don’t even realize there’s a problem. 9 in 10 people still are counted as weekly radio listeners.

Radio’s situation is more akin to the way you cook a frog. Throw a frog into a pot of boiling water and it will immediately jump out, but put the frog in a pot of water and slowly raise the temperature and the frog will be cooked without realizing it.

Radio’s Restoration

My heart sinks as I read how important the radio personality is to the future success of the radio industry, and at the same time read about how decades long radio people are being eliminated with job reductions on almost a weekly basis.

If all radio stopped tomorrow, people would spring into action to save it, just like they are doing for Notre Dame.

Radio, like all local, independent media, plays a vital role in our lives, our democracy, and our future.

Can you feel the water getting hotter?


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

13 responses to “Fin d’une Époque (End of an Era)

  1. jeremy Lansman

    Amy Goodman was difficult to catch but is now very easy. I used to broadcast her show on my radio station. Now, with everyone having easy internet access running that and other shows seems like a waste of electricity.


  2. Tom Moore

    This was a fascinating read. I looked at it from the perspective of someone who believes radio is still a major media influence, mainly because it’s still the most portable media (try reading off a web page or watching video while you are driving). However, I’m also one of the news people who lost their jobs at iHeart two weeks ago, so I am part of that reality, as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. When audio was added to motion pictures, hundreds.. if not thousands of actors did not make the transisition to “Talking Pictures” When TV came on the scene radio adapted by cutting staff, no more live theater, multiple announcers, music librarians, etc. With the creation of the “Disc Jockey” and the 45, made more jobs obsolete. I can imagine how many in the 50’s said radio would die without actors, long form programming, etc. As a note most of that programming was piped in via network. The 80’s came along transmitters were more agile, and remote monitoring was made available and a full time engineer was no longer need. If you had a AM/FM combo most likely one station was on a automated reel system or satellite. If the stats prove true and 9 out of 10 people listen to radio now, how many people really listen now for personality, miss it or care. Like the days of 24 hour satellite networks some sounded great and others awful. The world of voicetracking is the same some good some bad. Radio will contiune will evolve, the business model will change. I pose this question to my fellow broadcaster. Will you be ready and adapt to the changes?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ricki Peters

    I agree with Damon Collins. I don’t see terrestrial radio going anywhere anytime soon. It will continue to adapt, it’s reason for being fluid with the times. That’s why it has survived and will for the foreseeable future.

    Those of us in radio will survive, if we want to.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. All advertiser-supported media is taking a hit and laying off state, from ESPN to Gannett (which recently had its own bloodbath) and beyond. We’re in an era where advertising dollars are spread thin and you’ve got people who can’t even be reached by advertising. If I were an owner, could you convince me that a guy sitting behind a board 24/7 speaking into a live mic actually allows me either to sign more advertisers (get more of the buy)or charge higher rates? I agree radio companies need content creators—they may not all be at the local station level, however.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “At every crossroad on the road that leads to the future, each progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand men appointed to guard the past.” – 1911 Nobel Prize laureate in Literature, Maurice Maeterlinck

    Radio’s problem is that those “opposed” have now dropped to just a few hundred, and they are facing a thousand progressive spirits.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reginald Glass

    Live, local radio by local broadcasters is the only savior for radio. Corporate ownership, with its high debt loads, has destroyed radio.


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