First 30-minute write

Prompt: There’s a radio station that only plays when I’m alone.


The radio station that only plays for me has hits from forever, sound bites from work, and lots and lots of static.

Because it only plays for me when I’m alone, I can continue to believe in the album, the waltz, and Firesign Theatre. I can combine radical poetry and Alice Cooper. And most importantly, I can time travel. I can even time travel to places where the radio played for far more people than me.

During the 1930s and 40s, the radio was everything. It was the connection to the outside world for many households, particularly in rural areas around the globe. Radio developed national tastes. It also made possible instantaneous news, better than the telegraph or telegram because it was broadcast, better than the newspaper because it could be heard. And for those who created radio programs, it could be a mouthpiece and tool of social control.

The radio could also surprise. There is, for example, the story about Orson Welles’ 1938 broadcast of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. People tuning in after the opening explanation and commercial are said to have believed that the Martians were attacking earth. There were stories in the papers of people doing crazy things, especially in Grovers Mill, New Jersey, where Orson Welles had re-set the story.

So this radio station played in other people’s heads, and those who went crazy thought they were caught up in something terrifying.

But it looks like the story of panic was highly exaggerated, made up by media outlets to sell papers and magazines. It made people look gullible and uninformed, the butt of a bad joke. The radio that played for everyone could be manipulated, and the story of that manipulation could also be manipulated. There were many arguments about the power of radio, the potential for broadcasters to control people. Even after the days of FDR and Father Coughlin, radio continued to sway minds. In Britain, and her colonies, the BBC World Service offered educational programs on radio, in an effort to counter communist propaganda.

As television, and later the internet, developed, however, radio became antiquated and quaint. Radio stations still play, but now one can create ones own station, that only plays for you. And I have to wonder — is this also an effort at social control?

We’ve always had the ability to filter the information that comes in to us, to hear only what we want to hear. Don’t like it? Change the channel. But ironically, a vast amount of content has appeared along with the technologies that can filter it most effectively. We can now join with others who hear the same radio station we do, even if that station starts in our heads with conspiracy theories, hatred, and alternatives to rationality.

In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, people take a drug called Soma, which keeps everyone calm and happy. There has long been discussion about which future we’re headed toward: the surveillance culture of George Orwell’s 1984, or the sedated complacency of Brave New World.

The new world of disaggregation, personalization, and customization offers a bit of both. It’s the radio everyone can hear, and it listens to us as we listen to it. The tables have been turned, as Orwell predicted. But in creating our own station, the one that only plays for us when we’re alone, we feel connected to the outside world. Because we’re only connected to the portion of the outside world we choose, we can live in Huxley’s Brave New World.

The radio that only plays for me when I’m alone soothes me when I need soothing, excites me when I want excitement, enrages me when I care to be enraged. In creating my own reality, I’m the DJ, the sponsors, and the publisher in the radio that only plays for me.