Ottawa Citizen

RA­DIO CON­NEC­TIONS

De­spite hav­ing mu­sic at the click of a but­ton, ra­dio re­quests re­main a time-hon­oured tra­di­tion

- SAB­RINA MADDEAUX Music · Spotify · Apple Music · Apple Inc · Amazon · Youtube · University of Pittsburgh · Pittsburgh · Dolly Parton · SoundCloud · Tide · Radio One

Re­quest cul­ture alive and well

It’s 2020. The days of re­ly­ing on a ra­dio DJ to spin your favourite tunes are long gone. There are now myr­iad op­tions for lis­ten­ing to mu­sic on our own terms: Spo­tify, Ap­ple Mu­sic, Ama­zon, Sound­Cloud, Ti­dal, YouTube. Whether through stream­ing or in­ex­pen­sive dig­i­tal down­loads, con­sumers are more em­pow­ered than ever to con­trol their playlists. And yet, turn on just about any ra­dio sta­tion and you’ll still hear call­ers di­al­ing in to re­quest a song. At first this seems non­sen­si­cal. Why pick up the phone, wait on hold on to talk to a live hu­man, then wait for your song of choice to (maybe) play when you can sim­ply click a but­ton to achieve the same re­sult?

I’ll ad­mit to con­sid­er­ing this en­tire en­ter­prise a po­ten­tially vast ra­dio sta­tion call-in con­spir­acy. Were these paid call­ers? Friends of the DJs? Au­to­mated bots with freak­ishly re­al­is­tic voices de­signed to make sta­tions seem en­gag­ing? In re­al­ity, it’s none of the above. As it turns out, there are sound psy­cho­log­i­cal and cul­tural rea­sons to ex­plain why the age-old ra­dio re­quest still lives on.

The ra­dio re­quest’s big­gest al­lure has al­ways been about more than hear­ing a spe­cific song. It’s about mak­ing ev­ery­one else hear your re­quest and the mes­sage you at­tach to it. In an age that val­ues in­sta-fame and “be­ing rel­e­vant” more than ever, the prospect of hav­ing a mega­phone — how­ever brief, through what­ever plat­form — re­mains ap­peal­ing to many.

A ra­dio re­quest al­lows at­ten­tion-seek­ers to broad­cast a mes­sage to oth­ers (whether through ac­tual speech or song choice) with­out the has­sle of ac­cu­mu­lat­ing fol­low­ers, find­ing the per­fect fil­ter or track­ing likes.

More than mere nar­cis­sism, song re­quests can also foster a sense of com­mu­nity. Psy­chol­o­gists find mu­sic can pro­duce an ef­fect known as “emo­tional con­ta­gion.” This means that mu­sic can trig­ger psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­cesses that re­flect emo­tion, go­ing so far as to trig­ger the mus­cles re­spon­si­ble for smil­ing and af­fect­ing breath­ing rate. A re­quester feels like they’re shar­ing more than a song with oth­ers; they’re shar­ing a feel­ing.

While there are seem­ingly more ways than ever to con­nect with oth­ers, ac­cord­ing to the Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh’s Cen­ter for Re­search on Me­dia, Tech­nol­ogy and Health, “men­tal health prob­lems and so­cial iso­la­tion are at epidemic lev­els among young adults.” This is largely at­trib­uted to so­cial me­dia, which has the po­ten­tial to bring us closer to mil­lions of peo­ple, but of­ten lacks mean­ing­ful con­nec­tion.

Re­quest­ing a song, and shar­ing it with oth­ers, can feel like reach­ing out on a less su­per­fi­cial plane — and yet, it also of­fers the re­quester a sense of se­cu­rity that might not ex­ist in a one-on-one in­ter­ac­tion. One isn’t shar­ing a beauty cream or ar­ti­sanal latte, but an emo­tion.

BBC’s The Why Fac­tor pod­cast ex­plored the power of ra­dio re­quests in a 2016 episode. Paula, a DJ who hosts the Hello Uganda show on the coun­try’s Ra­dio One sta­tion re­vealed the re­quest she re­ceives the most is Dolly Par­ton’s Jo­lene.

She at­tributes the song’s pop­u­lar­ity to the emo­tional re­sponse and nos­tal­gia it in­vokes in Ugan­dans, say­ing it “re­minds them of where they’ve come from. When you talk of Dolly Par­ton, it re­minds them of go­ing through the poverty times where they worked so hard to where they are now. There’s a sim­plic­ity and con­nec­tion in her mu­sic that brings those bond­ing mo­ments to­gether.”

Mean­while, for ra­dio sta­tions, the drive to keep re­quest cul­ture strong is some­what ob­vi­ous. It’s one of the only ways sta­tions and DJs can in­ter­act and en­gage with their con­sumers. It’s part of the rea­son why most sta­tions now al­low re­quests via their web­site or apps.

De­vel­op­ing a two-way re­la­tion­ship with lis­ten­ers is key to loy­alty and longevity.

While the con­ve­nience and scale of the in­ter­net has laid waste to many beloved cul­tural prac­tices, it ap­pears the hum­ble ra­dio re­quest is one tra­di­tion that isn’t go­ing any­where.

De­vel­op­ing a two-way re­la­tion­ship with lis­ten­ers is key to loy­alty and longevity.

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 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? In an age of tech­nol­ogy that lets us hear the mu­sic we want ex­actly when we want it, re­quest­ing a song from the lo­cal ra­dio sta­tion can foster a sense of com­mu­nity.
GETTY IMAGES In an age of tech­nol­ogy that lets us hear the mu­sic we want ex­actly when we want it, re­quest­ing a song from the lo­cal ra­dio sta­tion can foster a sense of com­mu­nity.

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