Radio programmers who feature old-time music occupy a peculiar place in the continuum of broadcast entertainment: the music they play has been recorded and promoted on early radio, yet its origins predate mass communication.
Today we find ourselves inundated by music. Everywhere we go-elevators, dentists' offices, stores, our workplaces, our showers, our cars- there's probably music there. This wasn't always the case of course. Before the invention of radio and sound recording, if you wanted music you had to either buy a ticket to see a musical performance, be a musician yourself, or know one, or (if you were wealthy enough) hire musicians to play for you.
At that time, the experience of music was rare and precious. It was seldom a solitary experience. Even if you had hired a musician to play for you alone, the musician himself was there. Far more likely, you would hear music at a gathering: a concert, a dance, a party. The performers were there; your connection with the music, performers and fellow audience members was immediate and direct.
With the coming of the phonograph and radio this experience changed. The musicians were no longer there but became voices and sounds emanating from new machines. The visual aspects of their appearance and performance had to be imagined by the listener. Even when a photo of the artist was reproduced somewhere, it in itself acted as a filter, an intermediary between artist and listener.
Over time, this distance from the performer produced a general ignorance of what the musician actually did, and it disenfranchised listeners from producing their own music either individually or communally. Whistling, humming, singing, or chanting while you worked had given way to recorded music. Music had become much more accessible, but it was at a cost of immediacy and an erosion of community. There was less need to commingle with others in order to enjoy music since it could be savored in the comfort of one's own home.
Whereas people in this society once exchanged energies with performers and others in their communities-dancing, singing together, clapping, shouting, strengthening the social ties between themselves and their neighbors-they have now become consumers of musical product. In a very real sense, despite the ubiquity of music in our lives we've had our own music taken away from us. Singing for yourself has become so rare that, when witnessed in public, it's often regarded by others as a sign of mental disturbance. While music can now give comfort to many who are isolated, in its current form it also enables the self-isolation of millions.
Old-time music programmers need to recognize their complicity in this process and actively work to help restore the music to listeners by promoting an active involvement with the music. By announcing upcoming musical events, workshops and dances, programmers can help bring isolated fans into physical proximity with each other and the performers. Workshops and dances are actively participatory, which restores the music to the participants in a direct and personal way.
Radio and recordings have preserved and maintained the music, but to some extent have also taken the music away. By promoting an active involvement with the music, Old-time radio can help to bring back more community to the music.