High Tech Hams
Satellite radio DJs and programmers offer perhaps the best example to artists and other creative types looking to take advantage of the new technologies of their respective media. Earlier this year I spent the day at XM Studios in Washington D.C on a magazine assignment. On one floor there is a hallway, about a football field in length with roughly a hundred studios on each side. Ironically, with the state of the art technology at their disposal, most DJ/programmers, act as one-person production units. The stripped-down approach and the removal of ratings as the ultimate barometer for success has freed them from the strictures of content and format that plague conventional radio. Each DJ/programmer can program more personal playlists and, as a result, connect more directly with their audience. Who could resist the appeal of Tom Petty or Bob Dylan just sitting down and spinning some of their favorite tunes? These guys are capturing the spirit of the old ham radio operators, only with better equipment. They are channeling radio in its purest form.
Filmmakers could take a page out of their book, looking for ways to use digital technology (and, to beat a dead horse, online distribution) to inspire us to see the form in a new way, to find new ways to tell stories. Or simply to allow us to tell more personal, intimate stories. There are moviemakers who have already done this, but few have taken as wholehearted a leap as the satellite radio folk. True, they work in a corporate structure that provides them the safety net with which to do so, but the way they have embraced technology as a surce of artistic liberation is a strong example for all of us.