Radio needs to be a friend, not prey on the weak.

Here’s a question. Is there still a place for an anti-social medium in the age of social media?

I know it’s tragically unhip of me to say so, but I used to love ‘the’ radio. Growing up, it was usually always on in my house. The advent of the Walkman and headphones made it even more personal and each engagement gave you something special; cool music, news, advice, or information.

But technology did as technology does, and before you could say troglodyte all those things became available elsewhere and the ‘non-rusted on’ listeners were enticed away. So old-faithful began a slow, painful reinvention. Everything got a little bit meaner; first the ratings, then the shareholders, then the budgets, now the presenters.

The tragedy from the weekend should have a lot of people in radioland questioning what they’re doing and where this old train is going. If it hasn’t, then it’s possibly already too late. But while there’s a pulse, those with a vested interest in its ongoing success, and fans alike, should all be hoping they use this as an opportunity to reassess radio’s place in today’s society.

In the UK, the transformation to digital radio was meant to be the dawn of a new era. It wasn’t. It was the same old stuff coming out, only you could hear it better. Plus, one of the product’s biggest strengths became its greatest problem: more channels equaled more choice and loyal listeners sought greener pastures.

Unfortunately, Australia didn’t learn from the UK’s experience. We too introduced a product into a troubled marketplace that further fragmented a diminishing audience.

Instead of preying on the weak with mindless pranks, radio stations might do well to play to their strengths again. Be there, be immediate, be intimate and personal, be a friend. In a fragmented social media landscape, commercial radio has resorted to becoming things that not only don’t suit the medium, but don’t suit the zeitgeist.

Social media is the medium of transparency and honesty. You can’t hide from your critics and you can’t hide from the truth. Broadcasters can embrace this mantra and get back to using radio’s inherent intimacy for good. It’s not about cash giveaways and free tickets to One Direction. It’s about community, knowledge and progress.

Radio can be as live and current as Twitter. Yet more and more stations are opting for prerecorded content to save money. Radio can be as personal as your Facebook timeline. It can involve you in a conversation as well as any online forum can. Yet, more and more presenters are talking at the audience, not to them. The issue isn’t the medium, it’s the way it’s being used.

Surely the opportunity exists to seduce a whole new generation with radio. The generation who grew up with 32bit computer games and more channels on TV than you can poke a stick at. After all, everything old is new again, isn’t it? Radio lets you wear big headphones. Radio lets you play vinyl. You can talk to strangers about topics you control and block them if they’re annoying you. It’s like the new MySpace and Facebook rolled into one. Maybe programmers can’t see the forest for the trees?

Look at the big names in commercial radio and you get the feeling it has become the anti-heroes medium, where bullies can hide behind a golden microphone. Well, right now, radio needs heroes.

Radio can rise again, for no other reason that it is just too good to die. It just needs brains, trust, time and a big injection of passion. Do stations need to rethink the format? Maybe take a lead from what’s working elsewhere. Call it Pint-ear-est, Insta-phonogram, Hearddit, and remember that Hamish and Andy can’t solve everything. The answers won’t be easy to find. But the wider industry needs to start asking questions if it’s not already too late.

* This article first appeared in Mumbrella on 10/12/2012

My friends the idiots.

I have around 375 friends on Facebook. It’s not a huge number, but it’s manageable. Some are best mates I’ve known for years, some are mere acquaintances I’ve met less than a handful of times. And some of them are so stupid I’m beginning to wonder how they function in normal society on a daily basis.

Ok, so maybe that’s a bit harsh. What’s a more appropriate word…um, naïve? No. Reactionary? No, that’s not quite right either.

What the Facebook privacy scam revealed about Facebook users: theyre gullible idiots    Screen Shot 2012 11 28 at 11.41.35 AM 234x275

The Facebook warning spread by the temporarily stupid

But if I was a lawyer representing them in court, I’d plead guilty for them on the grounds of temporary stupidity. “I’m sorry, Your Honour, they received a post detailing a loophole in Facebook’s privacy settings. They simply had to post it to their wall without thinking for the good of the nation. I promise, this act of wanton imbecility is totally out of character.”

15 of my Facebook friends. Fifteen. One-five people, who are of at least above average intelligence re-posted that Facebook Privacy loophole statement to their wall on Monday. There were probably more, but I was saved their blushes by Facebook’s “yeah you probably don’t need to see that” matrix.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the need to be the first on your wall to share a seemingly vital piece of Internet gold. We’re all human and we’ve all got Klout scores to maintain. But have we seriously reached a point in out lives where the need to be ‘first’ with shared information overrides our need to be right?

Now, any one of my friends unlucky enough to find themselves stuck in the vortex of asinine ephemera that I smear onto my Facebook wall will attest to the fact that my standards are pretty low. But they do exist. I rarely get political, I rarely do causes other than to push my own barrow and I rarely, if ever, pass on third party legal statements that promise absolution from potential, imaginary, bad-court-thingies.

Ok, so maybe by now I’ve got a few less friends, but if I’m losing the kinds of weak links that lack the common sense to know that the page you had to like to watch that video of a “naughty schoolgirl being caught by her father doing something” is going to plaster itself all over your newsfeed, then I’m probably not losing much.

The same goes for those “1. Click the picture. 2. Type “I’m a moron” in the comments. 3. See what happens!” posts. You know what happens? All your friends slap their foreheads and second-guess whether to just hide your activity or straight up un-friend you.

These are all different kettles of fish, of course. But the thing that irked me so much about the Facebook Privacy Scam post was the way people were willing to freely share something they clearly knew so little about, yet trusted implicitly.

What made everyone believe this? Was it the relative trustworthiness of the person who first posted it to their wall? Was it the fact that it quoted some legal sounding thing and a law with a long, impressive looking number attached to it? Or was it simply the allure of the being the first to post within their wider friendship group that deactivated the safety switch that normally stops us replying to emails from Nigerian Princes to divulge our bank details and mother’s maiden name?

Or is it simply because we’ve all accepted that many terms and conditions and End User License Agreements without reading what we’re agreeing to that we’re all completely oblivious to our actual rights and responsibilities online? Are we so scared of the imagined consequences we ignored when we signed on that we’re willing to chuck in our credibility for a hoax?

It’s nothing new. In fact, it would appear my usually clever, brilliant, hilarious and lovely friends have simply fallen for the oldest sales trick in the book. Fear, Exclusivity, Greed, Guilt, Need for approval.

The social media landscape is littered with hoaxes. All designed to make us look fegg’n stupid. It seems some people are forgetting to tread carefully.

*This article first appeared in Mumbrella on 28/11/2012