The Past and Future of Radio

It’s so odd to look at the list of radio station ratings for Raleigh-Durham. When I left in ’85 I was out of radio, but still deeply into it, and I could tell you something about every signal you could pick up there. Now I know squat. So many of the stations have changed owners, call letters, cities of license, transmitter locations and formats that the dial (another thing that no longer exists, really) there is all but unrecognizable to me.

Yet that change is nothing compared to the move of everything on radio and TV to the Net.

Most of my radio listening today is on computers and phones. Even in my car, driving around Boston, I’m listening to KCLU from Santa Barbara, WUNC from Chapel Hill, High Plains Public Radio, WWOZ from New Orleans, KGSR from Austin, Radio Paradise, Radio Deliro…

The “system” isn’t one. It’s all very ad hoc and not very reliable. Nobody yet has the right formula to reconcile their own costs and programming with the barely-known users and usages out there. How many streams should they support? Should they stream at 128kb and be audible only over ethernet and good “broadband” land connecitons? Should they stream in lo-fi at 24kb or 32kb so they stay audible on iPhones over 3G connections after those go away and the connection drops down to GPRS? (That’s my recommendation, generally.) Should they have multiple streams? (I also recommend that.) For radio on the Net (which also includes podcasting and on-demand), there isn’t enough common usage yet, much less common wisdom about how to serve it on the supply side. It’s like AM radio in 1924. The difference is that much more of it is outside regulatory control. The rules that matter are copyright more than engineering. Ever notice how little popular (or even known) music is on podcast? Thank the DMCA for that one.

In other words, it’s late for radio as we knew it, and early for radio as we’ll know it.

2 comments

  1. Francis Drake’s avatar

    “Should they stream at 128kb and be audible only over ethernet and good “broadband” land connecitons? Should they stream in lo-fi at 24kb or 32kb so they stay audible on iPhones over 3G connections after those go away and the connection drops down to GPRS?” etc.

    I don’t have a smartphone so I’m not gonna vote on *that* but… (Disclaimer: a recovering audiophile, I’m 65 and my ears are no younger than the rest of me ergo young blood who can still commune with the bats may hear stuff I don’t) I’m generally tuned (another longer applicable term?) to Radio Paradise’s 128K AAC stream & to me the quality’s at least equal to RP’s 192K mp3 stream. That’s if, like me, quality’s not the main but the *only* thing… Cheers.

  2. rjh’s avatar

    I’ve noticed that radio theater has returned. Lower production costs and niche targeted podcasts mean that new productions of radio theater by new artists are sustainable. Tips and sponsorship can cover the much lower costs. The high cost and low revenues of broadcast radio theater killed it about 50 years ago.

    The 1920′s dream of public education through lectures, etc. may also become a reality. Again, the much lower production costs mean that lectures and seminars at educational and non-profit organizations can be distributed by podcast. The national educational network was always limited by funding. Now it falls within the acceptable overhead costs of the non-profits and schools.

    This took low cost audio production tools in addition to the Internet. Professional quality audio tools are now affordable by amateurs. This was also necessary before these niche interests could be feasible, even with the much lower cost of Internet distribution.

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