Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ignorance of History

Surrounding the death of the founder of our newsletter, we have spent a couple of weeks drenched in nostalgia and apparent longing for the good old days, I would imagine that our younger readers are a bit confused. What good old days?

Even someone who entered our industry in the year of our founding, say at the age of 23, would be 50 today—hardly a younger reader.

Working the other way, a 30-year-old radio person with ten years under his or her belt signed up in the year 2000. By then, the seismic shifts caused by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 were pretty much behind us. That radio person’s world has always consisted of mega-groups, market managers and regional DOSs. The concept of “seven and seven” is as foreign to him or her as, well, Foreigner.

But really, why is it important that anyone remember “Inner Sanctum”? Or “Make Believe Ballroom”? Or any of the great radio personalities down through the ages—whether Arthur Godfrey, Jean Shepherd, George Michael, Dan Ingram or—and he’d hate me for including him in this list—Rick Dees? (A certain consultant wrote a great piece listing all the accessories any old jock can relate to, like Ampex 350s, carts and 77DXs. . .but he’s notoriously protective of his work, so it will never appear in these pages.)

What about Newton Minnow? Reid Hundt? Miles David? Eddie Fritts? (Or David Rehr, for that matter?) Gary Fries?—and he will hate me for including him.

One of my favorite quotes—and I’m a huge quotes guy—is from early-Twentieth Century Spanish philosopher George Santanyana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

So, whippersnappers of the radio world, why should we take seriously Santanyana and something he wrote 107 years ago? Why is any of this important?

In truth, most of it isn’t. Most radio ramblings can be chalked up to the fact that each of us has a time of life that is most comfortable to recall. (Ask any Oldies programmer.) Each of these eras is the best for those who cherish them, but one isn’t inherently, historically better than another.

I think there are two aspects of history—radio’s, America’s, the world’s—that we disregard at our peril.

First are the lessons that, if well learned, will keep us from making the same mistakes again. As one who has weathered more than one downturn in his career, I feel for the first-timers who assumed the boom would last forever. Learning a little history might have helped them to cope better.

Second are the people who have displayed inventiveness, integrity, intelligence and leadership in their lives and careers. If more of us studied those people and followed their lead, our business would be a better place.

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