Understanding More About New Media By Using It

A few years ago I had a conversation with a co-worker about the implications of Internet in cars. “Another distraction,” she said, thinking of the Internet only in the ways we’d already seen it used. She doesn’t feel that way anymore.

Thumbnail image for apple-iphone-3g.jpg“This American Life” the hard-to-describe (their description) NPR show is playing as I type this entry. It’s not on the radio. It’s not from a podcast. It’s playing on my iPhone.

Because the iPhone is part phone/part computer I can use the computer part to swoop onto the Internet and stream the show. And now the Internet is in my pocket, not just my house or where I work. This show–any show can follow me anywhere!

This is a concept I’d long understood. It didn’t have the impact it does when you’re holding a working example in your hand!

A few years ago I had a conversation with a co-worker about the implications of Internet in cars. “Another distraction,” she said, thinking of the Internet only in the ways we’d already seen it used. She doesn’t feel that way anymore.

The Internet will soon be everywhere we are. Think atmosphere. The Internet will be as ubiquitous as the atmosphere.

On my way to work I listen to NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.” It’s on a network of low powered stations none of which provides a dependable signal on my route. I have two buttons set so I can switch frequencies as one or the other gets ratty.

Starting later today I will try replacing those stations with what I expect to be crystal clear reception via my phone.

Is this technology the end of terrestrial radio as we know it? Commercial AM and FM are already in sad shape. How much more will it take to bankrupt the heavily leveraged companies that dominate station ownership today?

It’s not just radio. I’ve got bad news for me. I watched a fantasy football TV show produced by Yahoo! before making my roster moves today, The quality was excellent on my iPhone.

Will we compete with or embrace this technology? Is the inherent business structure of a TV station capable of even playing in this game? Who knows? It’s early.

The iPhone is such a game changer the real impact is difficult to grasp. And the iPhone is just the gateway drug–a proof of concept, if you will.

There are quantum leaps to come with fatter pipes and more robust devices for consumers. Eleven years ago there was no Google. What will there be eleven years from now?

Radio was worried it would be killed off by TV. Movies too. They thought TV was their death knell. They survived. In fact until recently they both thrived.

Will today’s media shift be similar, allowing older providers to adapt while adding new outlets, or is this new technology so radically different and more powerful that old school outfits just don’t stand a chance?

MTV At 25

Today is MTV’s 25th birthday. It has not been mentioned on MTV! More on that in a second. VH-1 Classic, a digital subchannel with vastly inferior reach, carried the flag with flashbacks to 1981.

By the time MTV came on, I was already in Buffalo, hosting PM Magazine. I was envious, to say the least. Alas, even by then, I was probably too old for MTV.

Today’s MTV isn’t anything like the MTV of 25 years ago. There’s little music on Music Television. Much of the day is spent in MTV’s version of reality.

This was all presaged. I’m sure this wasn’t the first time it was uttered, but Bob Pittman is on the record five years ago, on CNN, saying:

We made a decision not to grow old with our audience. It’s the Peter Pan network.

So, to today’s audience, the MTV of 25 years ago doesn’t exist… or if it does, it’s too closely related to their (unhip) parents to be mentioned. A 25th anniversary of anything isn’t very important when you’re 16.

I remember sitting home with Helaine, in Buffalo, waiting for the premiere of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. It was a simpler time.

Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly uneasy with the lifestyle portrayals on MTV’s reality shows. I’ve called it soft core porn for teens. Maybe that’s an exaggeration – though not much of one. Certainly I was uneasy when my daughter watched them through high school.

I’d say more, but I don’t want to sound like an old guy railing at youth.

There are no more VJs – no more Martha Quinn or Mark Goodman. I suspect MTV’s still a major incubator of talent. It always has been. It is amazing to look at who’s gone far after leaving MTV.

Meanwhile, if you’re wondering about the originals, here’s a quick rundown from NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

Martha Quinn

After leaving MTV in 1990, Quinn stayed in television, working as both actor and anchor. In 2005, she joined Sirius Satellite Radio, where she hosts a weekly show, Martha Quinn Presents: Gods of the Big ’80s.

J.J. Jackson

Jackson returned to radio in Los Angeles after his stint on MTV. He was host for a number of successful radio programs before he suffered a fatal heart attack in March 2004. He was 62.

Alan Hunter

Since his 1987 departure from MTV, Hunter formed a production company, Hunter Films, with his brother Hugh and co-founded the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in Birmingham. He is currently a host on Sirius Satellite Radio’s 80s music channel.

Nina Blackwood


Steve Martin on the Radio

As I left the house today, I turned on Talk of the Nation on NPR. It’s a show I listen to most days.

There seem to be two types of public radio – classical and other ‘non-mainstream’ music and non-confrontational talk (which separates it from Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and too many others to mention).

In this area, the ‘talking’ NPR is heard on two stations with very poor signals. One is on Long Island, far southeast of me. The other is very low powered though closer. I have buttons set for both and punch back and forth as the signals fade and distort.

On my way home from work I listen to BBC World Service news on these stations. Except for their Euro-centric sports coverage, I enjoy it and learn a lot about what’s going on in the world.

Back to this afternoon.

I turned on Talk of the Nation and heard a familiar voice speaking with the host, Neal Conan. I couldn’t place it. He was answering a question about how he describes himself and offered up his tax return (which he doesn’t personally prepare) probably says actor.

Who the heck was it?

The conversation continued and then I realized: Steve Martin. He was promoting the paperback release of his latest novella.

I find Steve Martin a very interesting person. His career has taken an unorthodox route to where it is now – yet at every point, I have found him incredibly entertaining. As he has gotten older (me too) I have found him to be intellectually interesting.

Today, on Talk of the Nation, Neal Conan played a few seconds of a cut from an earlier comedy album. I could feel Martin squirming in his seat – trying to get away from what was being played. It was the same when a caller asked when he would tour again. “Never.”

I understand how he feels. He is a different person from that “wild and crazy guy” He is not the banjo player who used to appear with an prank arrow through his head.

On the other hand, that is how we learned to like him. That is how we were originally attracted to his work. I know he’s changed. There’s no reason to run away from it.

A few years ago, in Las Vegas, we went to an exhibition of his art collection at the Bellagio Hotel. It didn’t take much to realize he’s well rounded and thoughtful.

I have seen a few of his movies. Helaine and I are both very big fans of “LA Story,” a movie which is to Los Angeles and Woody Allen’s Manhattan is to New York City. I guess after writing this, I should go out and get one of his novellas.

There’s one other part of Steve Martin that really impresses me, and I almost forgot to add it. Whenever he appears with Letterman, he prepares material. I’m not talking about re-hashing a stand-up routine, he writes absolutely fresh material. Sometimes it’s done live, sometimes it’s on tape, but it shows effort and a dedication to his craft. It’s always very funny – though that is secondary. I’m impressed with the effort, which shows a true respect for his audience and craft.

Today’s interview with Steve Martin is available on the Talk of the Nation website.