Wednesday, August 7

Bob Fass Beats Everyone In Social Media. Good Morning, 1963.

Ask any social media expert what he or she knows about Bob Fass and most will stare at you blankly, head bobbing but without recognition. They never heard the name before. He isn't "known" in social. He doesn't have a klout score.

And yet, he ought to be known in social media. His ground-breaking work in social media using radio as his medium started long before many social media experts were born. And frankly, he did it better than most people do today.

"But wait," you say. "Radio doesn't count. It's broadcast."

While that might be true for some shows and stations, it was never the case for Fass. Beginning in 1963, he became a pioneer of free form radio. Anyone who called in was given an opportunity to speak about any subject under the sun. There was no plan. There was no format. There was no automation. He didn't fake it.

He didn't even concern himself with a niche. He never worried about his identity. He never once thought of himself as an influencer. He never did anything to chase down listenership. He was merely human, looking to elevate the unsung heroes of New York City from midnight until the break of dawn.

As a result, anybody and everybody was allowed on his show, especially counterculture figures like Paul Krassner, Bob Dylan, Abbie Hoffman, Arlo Guthrie, Timothy Leary, and Allen Ginsberg (to name a few). Listeners were allowed to call in and talk to any of them. One even suggested Dylan sing better, a comment that gave everyone a good laugh. Nobody was hurt by it or needed counseling.

It was a scene where the freedom to think and hash things out made sense. And most of the time, people just called in because they wanted to have a good time. For a few hours every night, they weren't alone.


The scene mostly played out much the same beyond the station too. The so-called virtual community that Fass had created eventually spilled into the streets. He hosted a Fly-In at JFK airport. He organized a Sweep In to clean up city streets. He had a hand in Yip In at Grand Central Station. His listeners marched on the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, 1968. His measured results made history.

But even as they did, Fass never let it go to his head. He wanted to connect with real people. He invited two-way communication. He wanted people to experience life in real time. And he still broke convention at every opportunity. If he liked a song, he might play it once or all night long. His call.

Social media wants to be Radio Unnameable but can't reconcile the business side. 

There is a certain level of inauthenticity in most social media programs because, well, they are programs. At the end of the day, most want you to do something because they are commercial enterprises. There is nothing wrong with that, but sometimes people seen as leaders forget that.

What makes almost all of them fundamentally different from pre-social media mavericks like Fass is that Fass didn't necessarily have an agenda (certainly not a commercial agenda). Social media experts, whether purists or public relations practitioners, don't have the luxury anymore. Most can only pretend to be authentic as they are serving an agenda to capture more leads, listeners, exposure.

This isn't a criticism. It's an observation. Many social media enthusiasts that started five or ten years ago had to abandon their hands-on approaches in favor of scalability. So, almost without fail (there are exceptions), the solutions they turned to came from the same media they had once ridiculed — a mass media model built on number of messages, listeners, clicks, and shares — while rewriting history just to say they thought it up first.

So what is the alternative? And if there is an alternative, just short of open mic night, does encouraging it make any sense from a professional or commercial standpoint? My guess is probably not because the answer lies somewhere in the balance of those two opposing ideas. But what do you think? And by that, what you do you think about anything?

If this space was more like Radio Unnameable, what would we talk about? What you would like to talk about? I'm curious so feel free to suggest anything at all. I'm listening and I'm not alone. The comments are yours.
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