Re-birthing Radio

car radio

Radio’s 1.x era is coming to an end. Signs and portents abound. The rise and decline of AM radio just ran in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, hometown paper for KDKA, the granddaddy of AM radio in the U.S. In AM/FM Radio Is Already Over, And No One Will Miss ItAdam Singer writes,

Radio advertisements are an awful, intrusive experience and universally despised

Most passionate music fans have held disdain for radio since the advent of portable music. It’s not just a dated medium, it tries to prop up a legacy generation “winner take all” of the most banal / manufactured “hits” as opposed to the meatier middle and tail of music where the quality content is (and where artists take chances and push the envelope creatively).

AM / FM radio djs and personalities are really the only thing left, and they should abandon radio now because they would benefit greatly by setting up shop online. Whether their own blog / podcast, app, or even experimenting with video (which is still a chance to be a pioneer). Even if they aren’t totally ready to abandon it yet, they should start to funnel their audiences to a digital community of some sort where they can grow over time in a platform agnostic way. This way they’re prepared for a digital future.

The notion of terrestrial analog content via AM/FM is quaint in a digital society and has reached an inevitable end. The technology itself is done. The good news is the personalities and content can not just survive, but thrive in a much higher quality environment. Further, digital provides a better experience for  audiences and sheds legacy baggage / a model that pushes aside quality and creativity for profit. Advertisers and technology providers will benefit here too: the modern device landscape provides a much better experience from a measurement, content serving, customization, and brand perspective (and so much more).

No doubt in our lifetime AM/FM will completely go away, perhaps only existing as emergency frequency. But everyone: consumers, advertisers, artists and personalities win by embracing digital. You’re fighting the future to ignore this and that’s never a way to succeed.

Yet people still listen to streams of audio, which is all radio ever was. Most of that audio is now digital, and comes to us over the Internet, even if some of it also still streams out over analog airwaves. Naturally, it’s all merging together, with predictable combinations of hand-wringing and huzzahs.

In How Tesla Changes Radio, B. Eric Rhoads reports on both:

Most in our industry are responding like any industry that’s challenged: defending the status quo and finding all the reasons consumers won’t change. And it might even be true, in radio’s case. But how likely is that? The questions all radio broadcasters need to be asking themselves now is how they can develop listener loyalty and cement their brands so deeply that listeners will seek out their favorite stations even when they have a choice of 75,000 stations from all around the world. Though you’ll still be available on the local AM FM dial, you need to assume people embracing online radio may only seek out stations in an online environment.

And, speaking of the status quo, dig “Fixing” AM Radio Broadcasting, Parts I, II and III, by Old Curmudgeon of LBA Group. There you will find perhaps the only useful way to bring a 1920′s-vintage transmission system into the next millennium. And it may well work, even though the result will still suffer from a bug what was once a feature. I explain what I mean by that in a comment under Part III:

Last year, after failing to find a useful radio at Radio Shack, my teenage son asked me a question that spoke straight to the obsolescence of radio as we know it: “What is the point of ‘range’?” In other words, why is losing a signal while driving away from town a feature and not a bug? When I explained some of the legacy technical and regulatory issues behind ‘range’, he asked, “What will it take to save radio?”

I like your answers.

In this series you frame the problems well and pose a good solution that I think will work by providing a technical and regulatory bridge from analog to digital and from 1925 to 2015. I hope regulators and broadcasters both take your proposals seriously.

Meanwhile, both the radio industry and the FCC are in denial of what’s actually happening with the “millenial” generation to which my son belongs. These people are Net-based. They assume connectivity, and zero functional distance between themselves and everyone and everything else in the networked world. They are also remarkably unconcerned with threats to the Net and therefore that model, from phone and cable companies, and captive regulators.

Hollywood in particular has known since 1995 that all of broadcasting and content distribution is being absorbed by the Net. With phone and cable companies — with which Hollywood is increasingly integrated vertically — they are desperate to find ways to continue controlling that distribution — preferably on models just as old as AM radio. Billing especially is a key issue. Phone and cable companies are billing systems as well as communications ones. Terrestrial TV and radio are not, which is one reason they care little about saving them.

So, to me at least, the parallel challenge to saving AM (and FM) radio, is keeping incumbent giants and their captive regulators from from stuffing the Internet’s genie back in the bottles of Business as Usual.”

In You Must Be HD to Compete in the Dash, RadioINK interviews Bob Struble (@rjstruble), CEO of iBiquity, the company behind HD Radio, which I love because it cleans beat-up FM and AM signals, more than for its other virtues. An excerpt:

…take my new Sequoia as an example. It has one screen layout that is the same for all audio services — Sirius, Pandora, iHeart, iPod, and analog or digital AM/FM. The screen has all my presets, from any source, on one side, and the content screen on the other side. Like all the digital services, HD Radio technology allows a station to fill that screen. There is an album cover or station logo in the middle of the screen, there are indicators that there is an HD2, HD3, or HD4 station available, there is song and artist info, there is an iTunes Tagging button to store song info for later purchase. Overall, it looks and feels like an audio service should in the digital age.

Hmm: “audio service.” I think that’s Radio 2.0, which here I call the “holy grail.”

All this will be front & center at the Dash Conference next week in Detroit. I’ll be there in spirit while my butt is at IIW in Silicon Valley (which I co-organize). This means I’ll be watching Twitter and blogs for reports on progress. In other words, I’ll stay tuned.

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