Friday, April 06, 2007

Seeing the Obvious in Science and Radio

Philosophy of science is a pet passion of mine. I owe this to my doctoral advisor, Annie Lang.

I wish that I had more time to read more in this area. One of the tenets to which I cling is that you cannot see the world exactly as it is. Instead you see the world through a filter that is your experience. You cannot be blind to your own biases. If I we both had the time, I could spin a neural network based tale about why this might be.

At any rate, I am fascinated by our own perceptual limitations.

Today my parents are in town. At Texas Tech, we currently house Gordon McClendon's personal record collection. McClendon was instrumental in the growth of the Top 40 radio format, and my father, too, played a role in the early days of Top 40 radio.

Because of this link, my dad was eager to see the collection. Today we finally made it down to room 030, where the LPs are housed.

Sitting there, dad told some of the stories about the birth of Top 40 radio. If you are reading this, chances are that you know nothing but format radio. But five-plus decades ago, things were different. The major radio networks syndicated programs much like ABC and NBC do today.

That was just the way things were done. So local programming followed much the same idea.

Many times I have heard my dad say, "We invite you to join us for an interlude of transcribed music." And that was usually followed by 30 minutes of polka, which might be followed by 30 minutes of Hawaiian music. On the same station.

That's just the way things were done.

And it's damned hard to see past what you were taught.

From July 28, 1949, to April 1953, my dad worked at KCHS-AM radio in Truth or Consequences, N.M. (named Hot Springs when he arrived). During that time, he hosted an afternoon call-in request show named It's All Yours.

People called in and requested current hits. The same songs. It was not unlike TRL on MTV. And it was popular. And when it was over, they went back to programs segmented into 15, 30, or 60 minute blocks.

It was obvious, really. Just play the hits all of the time. If you had realized this in 1951 and had any cash to invest, you'd be a rich person today.

Todd Storz got the idea and implemented it at KOWH-AM in Omaha, Neb. He followed with WHB-AM in Kansas City, my hometown (and one-time employer of my mother).

Storz made a lot of money. He saw what others could not. It's hard to see what is so plainly in front of your face when it does not fit your picture of the world. It happens in science every day. It happened in radio for a long time. It is happening today. But we cannot see it. If you have that rare vision, you might very well soon be rich.

Texas promoter Gordon McLendon took that idea and ran with it. He, too, made a lot of money.

When Charles Darwin finally published his theory of natural selection, his friend and colleague Thomas Henry Huxley said “How extremely stupid of me not to have thought of that!”


See Wikipedia's history of Top 40.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home