Radio has not been eclipsed by television or cable or the Internet. In fact, radio is as popular as it has ever been. On average, Americans over the age of eleven spend three hours and eighteen minutes of every weekday listening to it. I don't mention this to make the case that radio is “better” than other electronic media, but I will say that it is different, very different. In an era when there are so many other media available to us, media that can “do” so much more than radio ever could, radio still inspires a kind of loyalty that TV channels and Web sites cannot claim.
I had no real use for radio until after I graduated from college. When I started working as a reporter at a daily newspaper in the Mississippi Delta, my job often required me to drive great distances, usually on long, straight roads flanked by vast plantation fields. The Delta is a place that can almost drive you mad with its sameness and isolation. It was not at all unusual for me to travel many miles without seeing another car, a house, or even a road sign.
On such journeys I turned off my car's tape deck and started listening to its radio. The radio was the perfect antidote for the paralyzing remoteness of the Delta. It didn't matter anymore that I couldn't detect any evidence of humankind on a lonely stretch of the highway. I could always turn on the radio and hear a human voice. I heard local stations where the announcers spoke in a thick drawl about who had been born or died or gotten married or divorced. I began to realize that radio― this medium I had once considered so antiquated as to be nearly useless ―could do more than preserve my sanity and defeat my homesickness.
Unlike television, radio can't dazzle with visual spectacles; it has to capture and hold our attention aurally. That is, it has to speak to us, through either words or music. Many people feel that they are connecting with their radios one-on-one. Radio is more than just a medium; it is company. It is a reliable and tireless buffer between solitude and loneliness, and for this it is often regarded as an old and valued friend.