For 25-year-old Web developer Christopher Garcia, broadcast radio and the horse and buggy have something in common.
They're both obsolete.
"On the ride to work, it's Mp3s in the car," said the Bakersfield resident. At work he listens to personalized streaming audio on Pandora.com -- and at home he can choose from nearly 1,000 songs stored on his Mp3 player.
Radio is "already dead to me and all of my friends," he said.
Garcia represents a growing number of mostly younger listeners who rely heavily on digital technology like iPods, streaming audio and sometimes satellite radio to satisfy their thirst for the latest offerings in their musical solar systems.
But don't assume radio is dead to the rest of Bakersfield. On the contrary, tuning your radio to hear some Top 40 hits, Mexican regional music, country, classic rock or political talk is as common as driving.
According to a study of radio market trends conducted by Scarborough Research, nearly nine out of 10 adults in metro Bakersfield last year listened to the radio at least once over the course of an average week. During any given quarter-hour of programming, 14 percent of local adults were listening to a radio station.
"A tremendous number of people listen to radio in Bakersfield," said Rogers Brandon, president of American General Media in Bakersfield. "It still has a local quality to it that will always be important for our viability and relevance."
CHANGE and STABILITY
Radio in Bakersfield has always been an evolving landscape, but new trends, economic recession and technology may be accelerating changes.
Earlier this month, Roger Fessler, longtime general manager of American General Media, left his 20-year career in radio to take a job with Cal State Bakersfield's Athletic Department.
Fessler's move came on the heels of Mike Allen's departure from the local Spanish radio group after more than 30 years with the company. Allen is headed for a position at AGM.
Fessler said the radio industry has certainly felt the effects of the recession, with significant impacts to advertising revenues, but he said radio has survived past predictions of its imminent demise by reinventing itself -- and it will again.
"They said AM radio was dead 25 or 30 years ago," he said. "It reinvented itself as talk radio."
HISPANICS and DEMOGRAPHICS
KUZZ-FM, long the dominant station in local radio, is still a hot commodity in country music-loving Bakersfield. But there are some clouds on KUZZ's horizon.
Once owned by legendary country artist Buck Owens, KUZZ showed up in second place in the adult listener ratings for fall 2009 as measured by Scarborough. It also showed up in second in the age 12-plus ratings measured by Arbitron.
The growing influence of the Hispanic market is largely responsible for the success of Bakersfield's new leader, American General Media's Hot 94.1, which plays "rhythmic contemporary," including hip-hop and other Top-40 hits.
The Hispanic demographic is also driving the growth of Spanish language radio.
"Obviously Spanish language radio is very important in Bakersfield," said Greg Holcomb, general manager of Bakersfield's Spanish Radio Group.
"We have four outlets for Spanish speakers to listen to, and one English station," Holcomb said.
Radio listeners have long complained that there's not enough variety or enough stations in Bakersfield.
But Holcomb thinks Bakersfield has too many stations for the market.
"Look at some of the top-100 markets across the country," he said. "Tucson, Ariz. is bigger than we are, yet they have fewer stations than we do."
THE HUMAN ELEMENT
Doug DeRoo smiles and leans into the microphone at his newest on-air gig at Spanish Radio Group's 96.5 Max FM.
"Playing the music we all grew up with," the veteran DJ almost croons. "Here's a little motorin' music with ZZ Top!"
After 43 years in broadcasting, DeRoo is still a natural -- and he's seen it all. He remembers spinning vinyl records long before computers were introduced into the studio.
"Everyone decided they could plug a computer in and save a ton of money on payroll," DeRoo said.
And the changes keep coming.
More stations are going with syndicated programming, especially for that all-important morning show. Earlier this month, KRAB-FM dropped its long-running morning show hosted by three local personalities to make way for the syndicated Kevin & Bean show.
"Voice tracking," pre-recording a four-hour show in less than an hour, is becoming more common as well.
"You have a guy in Florida recording there and sending it here," DeRoo said. "It sounds like it's local."
Taking on the voice of a gruff radio boss, DeRoo grins, "It's silly to have people sitting around waiting for a song to end."
Does local content suffer as a result?
"The radio needs to surprise people," DeRoo said. "We can tell listeners there's a wreck on the freeway up ahead. And we can make 'em laugh.
"The human element is still important," he said. "If the industry is hurting, we did it to ourselves."
There's little doubt that competition from satellite radio, Mp3 players, including iPods, and computer playlists like Pandora.com and Lala.com have presented a new challenge for radio executives.
It's so common it's now almost a cliché to see parents in the front seat of the family car listening to the radio as their kids in the back are plugged into their digital devices.
But don't overestimate the power of the iPod, AGM's Brandon said.
Baby boomers look at the new technology as though it were some sort of gee-whiz Jetson's future, Brandon said.
"The kids just look at iPods as appliances," he said. "The radio is an appliance.
"Radio has made an error not programming to the youth -based market," Brandon said. Radio was a huge boomer phenomenon in the '60s and '70s and radio has been following the boomer generation ever since.
But the success of Hot 94 and other rhythmic and hip-hop mixes shows that young people will gravitate to radio, he added.
It's not a systemic issue, it's a programming issue. "Where do they find the music they like?" he said.
Play what they want and they will come.