BY Mike Gastineau 06:30AM 12/17/2012

GasMan: Radio’s top value still in spoken word

Upon further review, Mike Gastineau reflects after 21 years on KJR on the embrace by his audience, impact of social media on radio and the connection between speaker and listeners.

Rocker Duff McKagan, KJR’s Mike Gastineau, Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik and KJR’s Elise Woodward at Gastineau’s annual charity fundraiser. / Gastineau photo

My departure from KJR radio led to a flood of emotions and feelings from me as well as the listening community I was fortunate enough to speak with for all these years. It also led me to a few thoughts on the impact social media can have on us, as well as thoughts about the changing nature of the radio business.

For a few days I experienced, on a small scale, what it’s like to be engulfed in a wave of social media. The Tuesday midday announcement of my departure triggered close to 1,000 tweets and Facebook posts in the subsequent 72 hours. By Friday, things started to die down and by the end of the weekend the storm (rain shower?) was over.

I had two primary thoughts about my brief stay under social media’s hot lights. First, I was overwhelmed at the sheer volume. More than 99 percent were supportive and kind. It’s a very heady experience to read post after post filled with praise. Anyone who tells you that’s not fun is lying. I enjoyed it. Made me feel great.

Second, I considered the social media pile-ons that I have participated in after an athlete or celebrity screws up. I found out, in a small, mostly positive way, what it’s like to be the subject of a lot of kind words written by people I mostly didn’t know. I tried to imagine what it’s like to be a huge star after a big mistake. What’s it like to have strangers pointing out you screwed up, calling you an idiot?

In my case we’re talking about several hundred posts. In many other cases, it’s tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of posts from people who judge of someone they’ve never met.

I’m not trying to start a pity party. Celebrity, small or large, comes with benefits and pitfalls. I’m not going to get sanctimonious here, either. I imagine the next time something big and stupid happens in the world of sports, music or politics, I’ll feel the need to weigh in without much thought to any consequences of feeling for the person about whom I’m blathering.

I’ll just say that what I went through on a small scale opened my eyes to the still-new, impactful phenomenon of the entire world (or at least those with Twitter or Facebook) getting to play the role of instant Greek chorus.

Something else occurred to me in the wake of the comments and e-mails I received after my departure was announced.

The delivery systems for content generated by radio stations are obviously changing. A decade ago content was delivered almost exclusively via AM or FM receivers.  Now, thanks to streaming audio, online radio stations such as KJR can be picked up anywhere in the world via the Internet. ClearChannel’s “I Heart Radio” app allows for pick-up on phones, making it easy to listen no matter where you are.

AM and FM delivery should not be dismissed (yet), in my opinion, but there’s no denying the new ways an audience can experience what you’re doing and saying at a radio station. But even with this massive technical transformation, the gist of radio has not and will not change.

No matter how it’s delivered, radio’s strength is that it still celebrates a one-to-one connection between speaker and listener. I was reminded of the unique way in which radio connects with listeners (and does so now with the benefit of new technology) by some of the people who reached out to thank me.

Many were college students living in other parts of the country who told me KJR was their conduit to home; a friendly voice that helped them battle the faraway blues.

Others were transplants, people who used KJR to stay in touch with Seattle after work or life circumstances took them elsewhere.

Some remembered arriving in Seattle for work and being very lonely. The first few months in a new city can be tough. KJR became their first Seattle friend.

Most moving of all were the people who listened daily during the difficult times of life. Several people talked about fighting cancer. Others were caring for loved ones in their final days. Some were battling depression after the death of a loved one or perhaps a failed marriage.

All of these people were using radio for what it does best: Providing escape, companionship and information. Whether online with an app or the traditional method, they connected with the person on the other end who, in this case, was lucky enough to be me.

It was humorously ironic to me that the press release announcing my departure from KJR after 21 years pointedly mentioned that the entire last act could be heard digitally on the I Heart Radio platform and live on the KJR website. Didn’t mention that it would also be available on 950AM and 102.9FM.

That’s the direction we’re heading. But it’s exciting. Because no matter how it’s delivered, radio connects with people on a personal level that’s not likely to change.

(Due to an editing error, an earlier version of Gastineau’s column appeared with Art Thiel’s picture and byline. Hard to know who regrets it more: Mike or Art)


YourThoughts

  • steverudman

    I would like to take the occasion of Gas’s departure from KJR to say that I have listened to hundreds of “voices” during my 30 years in this market, starting with the likes of Wayne Cody, Pete Gross, Bruce King, Ray McMackin and even J Michael Kenyon (thank God I don’t remember Leo Lassen). In my opinion, Gas ranks among the most accomplished radio guys I’ve listened to, for his knowledge of his subject, his on-air delivery, his sense of humor and his ability to keep a show moving along in an entertaining and informative fashion. I will hate not listening to Gas on KJR, but respect his decision to seek other creative outlets. I’m sure he’ll find them and become just as successful in those as he was in drive-time radio. It’s not easy moving out of a comfort zone (I’ve evacuated several) but it represents and opportunity for growth and I’m certain Gas will take advantage of it. For now, thanks, Gas, for thousands of hours of info, entertainment and contributions to our sporting lore. Seattle is much, much the better for it.

  • denny wheeler

    Nicely written piece, Mike. I’m one of those thousands who listened to you regularly, but don’t tweet or do FB (security on FB is egregiously bad), nor just about any other social medium. Plain old ‘dumb’ phone which is almost always switched off.

    I’m a radio listener–and newspaper reader (my family were newspaper folk)–as far back as I can remember, and I remember the 1950s. You were billed as ‘The Voice of Reason’ and I never found occasion to dispute that monicker. Good luck in whatever you do next, and I hope you’ll be appearing here on SportspressNW now and again.

    -denny-