Desire Paths: When Best Laid Plans Go Astray

Architects and planners regularly apply sound design principles to help pedestrians navigate public spaces. Despite their acumen and expertise, people also have their own ideas and like to blaze new trails.

While this can be maddening to some in the urban planning community, others find it fascinating and embrace it.

It’s been described as “collective disobedience.” It also reflects our innate desire to find the shortest distance between two points.

The response to these paths usually takes one of two forms.

The authoritarian approach typically involves “blocking it off with some type of obstacle – a fence, a bush, a pile of brush, a sharply (if, in this case, politely) worded sign” (as pictured above).

Meanwhile, the democratic approach is to observe and learn as people vote with their feet. It’s an approach typically found on college campuses, where new paths are made permanent with pavement. For example, places like The Oval at The Ohio State University shown below.

This democratic approach is certainly more iterative and collaborative, but it stops well short of blindly formalizing every whim of the crowd, which can lead to a chopped up and “manic accumulation of concrete.”

As it turns out though, adopting a democratic approach to urban design rather than fighting to maintain an old school authoritarian model will more effectively meet the conditions and realities of planning public spaces and communities in an emerging Climate Responsible world.

Relevance to Radio

All of this presents an interesting analogy to the ongoing evolution of media consumption. Long gone are the days of the authoritarian delivery model as exemplified by Walter Cronkite’s famous closing line on the CBS Evening News, “That’s the way it is.”

When it comes to music consumption, waiting to hear your favorite song has given way to on-demand access to an entire library that’s available on your phone or smart speaker. As a result, the best programmers, like innovative urban designers, continue to evolve.

Just as paving every foot path is not good planning or design, neither is blindly championing user driven content as we continue to see on social media along with brand safety concerns among advertisers.

The professional curation of great content delivered by trusted personalities who inform and entertain is incredibly important and powerful. In addition, while radio is sometimes criticized for being too corporate and authoritarian, flipping a format, launching a morning show, and spotlighting new music are all examples of a democratic approach to programming.

Whether it’s public spaces or listening to the radio, people vote with their feet. Ratings also help ensure a democratic approach to programming. Are people utilizing the available audio sidewalks or do programmers need to pave new ones? In the case of ESPN Deportes, the sidewalk is being removed altogether.

For our part, we’ve been encouraging listeners to create their own path with station contest times. Dating back to the days of faxed-in contest entries, mailed-in reply cards and continuing today with mobile activations, we invite listeners to customize their contest times on a listening grid.

These heavy listeners get the very real benefit of maximizing their chances of winning, while specifically thinking about where they can fit more occasions with the station into their work day and commute.

Concrete paths aren’t permanent and neither are station formats. By adapting to changes in listening behavior over time, radio remains the 800 pound gorilla of audio and the best place for advertisers to reach the employed consumers with money to spend.

On behalf of Catherine Jung, Doug Smith and everyone at DMR/Interactive, thank you for reading and working to drive radio forward.

Andrew Curran, President and COO

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