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Hawaiian Crickets and the Death of New York Radio

People who know me know that I have very few possessions. I own two books, watch no television, and spend several hours each day meditating of practicing Yoga. When I have free time, I listen to the radio. One of the striking things about radio in New York City is that modern rock is almost absent from the scene. One can hear pop and hip hop on Z-100 and classic rock on 104.3, but K-Rock is now all talk. WPLJ is the only station where one has even the faintest chance of hearing Gwen or any of the other modern bands that I enjoy including Green Day, The Arcade Fire, and the Foo Fighters. This is great music -- with Gwen and No Doubt -- the greatest, of course, and people love it. The question is: where has it gone?

The answer in today's paper is suggested by the recent history of Hawaiian crickets. Male crickets on Kauai have a problem: their distinctive chirp can attract a parasitic fly. Their numbers declined throughout the 1990s, when this parasite first arrived on the scene. Recently, though, they have been surging and the reason is that the males have lost the protiberance that creates the clicking sound. This is a great illustration of something Professor Skinny taught me at Columbia: nature works fast. The crickets evolved in less than 20 generations.

Radio isn't so nimble. It takes time to change formats. And while DNA encourages (or dictates) that organisms take all kinds of chances -- because even if one fails it is of benefit to the group -- stations are more risk averse. There might very well be a market for an all-Gwen station -- I am quite sure there would be -- but the chance is too great. Given that talk radio is tried and true, the station managers are assured of a consistent if not overwhelming return without the risk of venturing into new territory. But they should learn a lesson from the crickets and stop rubbing their wings together or, more accurately, just trying anything that might work.