Yesterday, NPR announced that I’ll be retiring at the end of this year, 41 years after reporting for work at KUSD in the small university town of Vermillion, South Dakota. It’s pretty scary how fast four decades go. In 1969, vacuum tube devices were still plentiful, AM was king in radio, cable TV was mainly a central off-air antenna for remote communities, PBS and NPR weren’t created until the following year, and Al Gore hadn’t yet invented the internet.
Actually, there were already signs of change in each of those areas. For example, in that year, the first internet-like physical network was built using federal funds and 50 kbps(!) circuits between four universities in California and Utah. FM was gaining ground on AM thanks to rock’s ascendance and a then-popular but now-dead format called “beautiful music.” The nascent cable industry was fighting restrictive FCC programming policies that were finally lifted in 1972 and changed everything.
The point is that things are always changing and success goes to those who respond to this and penalizes those who are in denial. The latter number is, unfortunately, almost always a much bigger than the former.
I’ve had many of influencers over my career, but I’ll single out only two. My first post-college boss, Martin Busch, was one of public broadcasting’s pioneers who, as he once put it, “raised me from a whelp.” He was himself influenced by Jack McBride, and together they provided ubiquitous services to the rural states of South Dak0ta and Nebraska, respectively. So I’ve always viewed state and regional networks as the most efficient way to serve rural populations, and I’ve built a couple of them myself. Secondly, I’ve been strongly influenced by Clayton Christensen’s arguments about disruption. The Harvard professor wasn’t the first one to bring up this notion (that may have been the economist Joseph Schumpeter, who I read in college), but he was certainly the most articulate. Reading his Innovator’s Dilemma was the proverbial whack on the side of the head and has influenced my interest in trying to ascertain the trend vectors in our industry going forward.
I’m not ready to say with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.” For one thing, I have a bit over six months left here at NPR and want to keep intellectually involved after retirement, primarily through this blog. More importantly, unlike his escaping dolphins, I’m not retiring because we’re about to be demolished to make room for the media equivalent of an intergalactic expressway.
Or maybe I’m in denial. Hold it, what are those orange flags staked out in the field? ;-)
I’ll keep up this blog as long as it has readers and look forward to being able to write without fear of appearing to speak for some organization. --Dennis