When TV was just
getting established in the early fifties, many predicted that radio would
rapidly loose audiences and become a footnote in mass media history. While radio stations did begin to loose some
listeners, the industry changed focus from offering long-form dramas and
variety shows to music and news. The
stations also emphasized the portability of radio.
One of the most
significant driving forces in preserving radio’s viability was the auto
industry. Radio was a perfect companion
for the increasing number of commuters opting away from public transit to the
personal automobile. In fact, many analysts point to Detroit as the savior of
FM radio in the US. When FM and FM stereo radios became standard equipment in Detroit’s new lines, FM
radio stations went from second class operations to cash cows.
Jumping ahead 50
years, we may be seeing that the savior of broadcast radio, i.e. the auto
industry, may be its worst enemy. Major
changes in wireless internet technologies are making our cars as connected as
our homes and offices have already become.
If you listen
carefully to the most recent ads for new models from most all manufactures you
will hear words like “Pandora enabled” or “Spotify-ready” touted as features as
important as antilock brakes or leather heated seats. The internet connectivity in cars provides a
way to listen to most any music or program on demand regardless of
geography. Where traditional radio
stations have an average coverage area of about a 60 mile radius, there are no
restrictions if the programming is distributed via the internet. So if a station in Cincinnati chooses to stream live on the
internet, a driver on I-75 at the “cut-in-the-hill” can be listening along with
someone stuck in traffic on the Santa Monica Expressway.
How this will
change radio is still a question. For
sure it may change the advertising since the person stuck in LA will not be
stopping by Skyline Chili at the next exit.
There will still be a need for local only information. Reporting on weather, traffic, local politics
and sports will still be needed.
important aspect of over-the-air broadcast technology is the relatively simple
technical infrastructure that enables stations to continue to operate in times
of serious disaster. A radio broadcaster
needs only a single generator and transmitter to stay on the air. The consumer needs only to turn a few knobs
on the dashboard or use an inexpensive battery powered receiver to get programming. Internet delivered radio programming, be it
wired or wireless, relies on thousands of individual routers, fibers, wires,
towers and computers to remain operational.
Often after storms or other calamity one or more of these critical
systems fail bringing online to off line.
So is Radio on
the way in or on the way out? My advice
is to stay tuned.
Labels: Pandora, radio, spotify