Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Binge Listening to the Beatles Channel on Sirius/XM

So, I realized I've been binge-listening to the Beatles Channel on Sirius/XM Radio since it went on the air in my car in May.

Listening to a lot of radio - whether all-news or rock 'n' roll or whatever is nothing new, and goes back to the origins of modern radio (during the advent of television) in the 1950s, and even before when radio was the only mass electronic medium in town.  But listening to one group, for minutes to hours, almost day after day, is something new, and bears some resemblances to binge-watching a television series.

Indeed, in McLuhan's terms, I'd say binge-listening to a single band is a "flip" of binge-watching a TV series.   The radio binge-listening involves both an older kind of medium than television (radio indeed is TV's direct predecessor), and entails something very new.  (See McLuhan in an Age of Social Media for more on McLuhan's notion of the "flip".)

What's most new about binge-listening to a single band on the radio, day after day, month after month, is that you're listening (in the case of the Beatles) to some 60 years of music.  The Beatles were together as a band for little more than a decade, but their members continue to produce new music to this very day, in the case of Paul McCartney.

In contrast, no single television dramatic series has lasted anywhere nearly that long.  Dr. Who goes back to the 1960s, as does Star Trek, and though there are connections between those original series and their successors, the change in actors puts them not in the same league as the Beatles Channel, where you can hear Paul McCartney in the Quarrymen in 1957 and Paul McCartney singing in 2017.

The Beatles are, of course, unique in their transformation of our culture, so a radio station devoted to another band or artist could not possibly have this kind of impact.  (The significance and reach of the Beatles should be obvious, but if you'd like a passionate and well-reasoned and researched explanation in text for why, I'd recommend Rob Sheffield's Dreaming the Beatles.)

McLuhan thought that acoustic media had a preeminence in human communication that visual media could never match.  It's gratifying to hear that insight proven right again in the case of the Beatles Channel.




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