Hourly news and traffic reports and up to the minute information on the most important occurrences of the day. At its best, radio appears to provide a direct link to current affairs.
But in fact, the way to the next microphone is often longer and more complicated than one might think. Rules, regulations and programming structures dictate the content and form of what comes on the air.
Today, not only privately owned radio stations seek out the most dynamic moderators, the most important headlines, and, of course, the greatest hits. In the fight to win over listeners, all stations appear to agree on one point: you have got to be fast. Short and to the point. News programs are cut down to a loose series of brief segments. Short radio plays and feature programs are more popular than ever, and only the "highlights" of symphonies find play time. The luxury of speaking full sentences has become a rarity in the world of radio.
At the same time, the borders between program genres are melting away. The difference between a radio play and a feature program is no longer clearly defined, as clarity and accountability are weighed against entertainment value. However, as conventional radio in its role as a mass medium cannot afford to be the cause of misunderstandings, there is less and less room for experimentation and risk-taking. The panic caused by CBS's presentation of "War of the Worlds" in 1938 is unimaginable today. The New York Times reported the following day: "Telephone lines were tied up with calls from listeners or persons who had heard of the broadcasts. Many sought first to verify the reports. But large numbers, obviously in a state of terror, asked how they could follow the broadcast's advice and flee from the city, whether they would be safer in the "gas raid" in the cellar or on the roof (...)."
Of course, this should not be understood as a plea for panic. But the current trend in radio raises the question of how the contingencies of the medium affect the image of "reality" which radio conveys.