Small World

Radio Disney provides a safe haven for little ears, and guilty pleasures for the rest of us

"The thing about kids is they hold on to their favorite songs longer," Jones explains. "If a kid really loves [Smash Mouth's] 'All Star,' for example, they really love it for a long time. It's part of who they are. And if you study the psyche of a nine- to 11-year-old, you'll see that the whole familiarity thing is very important. It's that warm blanket: 'I know this record, I know the lyrics.' "

Radio Disney is also one of the few radio stations today that is genuinely request-driven. "If the kids still like it, we keep playing it," Jones says. "And if they don't, it's gone."

That kind of throwback quality to the classic days of screaming Top 40 radio in the '60s -- and the fact that the network can be found only on AM radio in most cities -- may be one reason older, perhaps even childless music fans are tuning in to Radio Disney now. Filled with the sound of hyper kids' voices on the call-in lines and possibly the best manufactured pop songs ever -- Mandy Moore's ethereal "Crush" has got to be how first love would sound if it had its own theme, and Dream Street's "It Happens Every Time" and "I Say Yeah" are quintessential bubblegum classics -- Radio Disney brings the older listener back to the days when pop radio was its own wacky, self-contained world, and somehow alters the future so that all the depressing, angry rock of the last three decades never happened.

In the end, it may be Radio Disney's preservation of that happy, peaceful universe that's really drawing people of all ages to the station now.

"My gut tells me that people are just looking for a positive place to kind of rejuvenate themselves -- particularly after 9/11," says Robin Jones. Radio Disney, after all, was the one station kids could tune in to on that fateful day and actually hear nothing whatsoever about the terrorist attacks. "We specifically told our phone ops to instruct kids to talk to their parents or teachers if they called in scared," Jones says. "But we didn't say anything about it on the air. We wanted it to be that safe haven."

In the perfect, positive world of Radio Disney, after all, those things the other stations claimed really happened on September 11 are simply unconscionable.

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