The Web’s Spiritual Grandfather: AM Radio (Washington Post)

(Reprinted from Mark Fisher’s Blog on washingtonpost.com earlier this month.)  raw fisher banner

The flat voice of a police officer reading off the blotter contrasts starkly with the smooth introduction from the professional announcer who precedes him on the air: “8:09 p.m., report of juveniles setting fire to a pile of papers behind an apartment complex; 3:14 p.m., Annapolis police respond to report of an argument. The man violently resisted efforts to place him in the police car.”

It’s the morning police report coming to you “from Radio Park” on Annapolis’s hometown station, WNAV (1430 AM), one of a dwindling number of intensely local voices of the sort that used to dominate the AM dial.

The digital revolution threatens to render irrelevant or unprofitable many of the most prominent old media, whether they be newspapers, books, magazines or television and radio stations. As each of those industries struggles to hold on to audiences or attract young consumers, the medium that has fallen farthest and fastest is probably AM radio.

AM is where radio was born, yet its static-plagued, low-fidelity stations seem to have lost an entire generation of listeners. Paradoxically, however, AM — from tiny small-town stations specializing in farm reports and high school sports coverage to booming big-city outlets that pioneered the concepts of all-news, sports talk and Top 40 pop hits — is where much of what’s popular on the Internet got its inspiration.

The swap shop call-in shows that once filled the midday airwaves on many local stations are the spiritual godfather of Craigslist and other online classified sites. The sports phone-in shows that have long been an AM staple spawned the fan message boards that have proven so popular on the Internet. And although the great American tradition of ranting — passionate political tirades, righteous religious preaching, get-rich-quick financial schemes — surely dates back to Colonial times, it was first propelled into a mass, coast-to-coast culture on AM radio, and has found a happy new home on the Web. 

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