Money or Freedom?

Some of you already know this, but I’m a big fan of radio. I love the technology, the romance, the history of this medium. I collect old radios, and from time to time I’ll listen to old time radio programs from the “Golden Age” (1930’s-1950’s) of radio.  I picked up a book recently called “the Great American Broadcast” (it’s out of print, try bookcloseouts.com) by Leonard Maltin, better known for his movie reviews..

While I wish I could read “the Great Canadian broadcast”, it was still a fun read for me, and a look back at the days when radio was king of entertainment, advertising, and shaping of public opinion.

In that time, as now, sponsors were king – but it was different in that sponsors more often than not owned/controlled the entire show. The block of time was sold, and the sponsor filled it with content that (hopefully) drew the audience they wanted. Whatever creative forces were at work on the show, the final product had to be approved by the sponsor. While lucrative, this situation left many producers/writers frustrated at the limits imposed by this commercial agreement.

Radio networks couldn’t necessarily sell the entire broadcast day, so they would develop their own content, and try to sell little advertising slots (much as happens on TV/radio today), in hopes that at some point a major sponsor would come through and pay for the entire show. Often, these shows ran without ads – letting the creative team have (relatively) free reign over the content.

A well-known example of creativity allowed by these “sustaining programs” is the famous “War of the Worlds” broadcast from Orson Wells’ Mercury theatre. This program acting out HG Wells’ story about an alien invasion had people literally thinking real aliens were landing in New Jersey. Hard to believe today, but in 1938, it was surprisingly easy for people to buy into simulated reports about an invasion.  It worked precisely because they never had a voice-over guy break in to say “… And now, Pepsodent proudly presents: Tiny green men!”.  At the time though, I’m sure many advertising people were quite happy to have nothing to do with freaking the nation out in the way that this program did. It would have been hard to PR a way out of that one (“We thank you for your complaint, we take your jumping out a window very seriously…”)…

This brings me to the content you create (of course it does)…

I’m trying to draw a parallel between those old radio days and today’s “everyone is a creator” environment. To this day, many bloggers/podcasters/etc dream of the big sponsorship deal that lets them do their thing for money. It’s a great dream, but you need to decide from day one if your content is going to be a sustaining program or sponsored show. Neither is necessarily bad, but most often, they don’t overlap. If someone is paying your way, they get control, if not explicitly then at least implicitly…

Do you want money or freedom? Each has its cost..

Pic: Radio Radio, originally uploaded by Bob Goyetche.

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2 Comments

  1. Sage Tyrtle says:

    Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! (Well said, Bob.)

  2. Harold says:

    I hope this doesn’t seem way off topic but I wanted to post something but didn’t want to think too hard. Being a perfectionist has its rewards but it also keeps me from contributing when I know it’s going to take me a long time to post (what I perceive to be) a valuable comment.

    So rather than post something valuable and on-topic, I’ve got this: Yesterday I noticed a radio on clearance at my local Target and wondered if you knew anything about its quality: The Boston Acoustics Horizon Solo. Is Boston Acoustics considered to be a good manufacturer of radios? I rarely tune in to FM & AM radio broadcasts anymore but I’d still like to be able to; currently I only have a Walkman to do that with and the reception isn’t very good with it.

    BTW I did find your article interesting; my answer would be freedom. I once thought it was possible to get paid doing what you loved, but now my sense is that you do what you and love and then you do what you get paid to do.

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