Is Radio Dead?
Saturday 10/13/2012 11:45:20 (PT)  Print

LAS VEGAS -- At the recent International Consumer Electronics Show here, all kinds of out of this world gadgets were displayed. Many of them targeting the audio business, shaping the future of how consumers get their music and digital content. It would be safe to say within the halls of the convention center, were many whispers about the future of the radio business. Broadcasters are beginning to see their huge slice of the pie shrink incredibly fast, as new digital platforms threaten their once dominant medium. The last ten years have really been challenging, with new players on the seen such as the internet, satellite radio, mobile devices, WiFi, and the iPod.

Many staples of old media are beginning to crumble from these new threats, such as the newspaper business and music industry. Typical corporate mentality and greed kept a huge number of media powers behind the digital revolution, as things changed at the turn of the century. The radio business was one of those entities, who didn't quite understand the threat, until it was at their front door.

A little bit of a history lesson on broadcast radio, does show previous threats as being the final nail in their coffin. In the late 1940s with the birth of television, many predicted radio's demise - it never happened. Then came tape recorders, 8-track tapes, and CDs... and radio still survived.

Now to be quite honest, many of those new choices did tap into the huge audiences that radio enjoyed in its heyday, but no nail was found. When FM radio began turning the tide of listeners from AM, once again many predicted the death of AM radio. Today, some of the most listened to radio stations in the U.S. are on AM, such as WINS/New York, WGN/Chicago, or KGO/San Francisco.

Yes, it is also true that AM is no longer dominant, and listeners continue to go to other sources other than just FM. However, in times of recession, most folks will shift towards traditional free services such as broadcast TV and radio. So, even though the audience is shrinking, radio is still an important and reliable medium.

One of the recent challenges to take on the radio broadcast biz is none other than satellite radio. In the late 1990's, two new platforms were launched with Sirius Satellite Radio and rival XM Radio, bringing down digital broadcasts from the stars. Many in the mainstream radio industry shrugged off the threat at first, but as more car manufacturers began installing units, and top talent such as Howard Stern jumped ship, the threat was revealed.

Satellite radio did begin to take a bite out of broadcast radio as the new technical gadgets became a must for audio savvy users. Big name talent, sporting events, and commercial free channels also gave the services a new edge. However, tons of debt began to stack up as the two satellite rivals battled it out for new subscribers. With massive losses on both sides, a deal was cut for Sirius and XM to merge.

Meanwhile, the global economy shifted into a recession, with automobile sales down and consumers cutting their budgets, the luxury of satellite radio had lost its charm. However, in the shadows of the satellite radio revolution, broadcast radio was preparing to comeback on an even digital platform, with the arrival of HD Radio.

What is HD Radio? Your favorite local station remains in the same place on the radio dial, but when you have a new digital HD Radio receiver, your AM sounds like FM and FM sounds like CDs. In addition, the wireless data feature enables text information - titles, artists, local weather or local traffic alerts - to be broadcast directly to your receivers display screen.

Not only do the devices provide more local radio channels, but the additional services are provided by local broadcasters. HD Radio even gives consumers access to other media platforms, such as iTunes tagging, where you can download an on-air song to your iPod.

These units are also picking up steam as automobile makers are including them in new models, and standalone versions. This new concept takes a bite out of the satellite radio edge, and brings things back into the hands of local broadcasters.

As we move forward into the technologies of the 21st century, we must not over look the WiFi revolution, which has quietly spread across the globe. Providing wireless internet, mobile, and broadcasting to a whole new level.

New WiFi units are now providing thousands of online radio stations, which include broadcast and internet-only channels. These new products also offer hybrid technology which includes fully integrated iPod/MP3 functionality.

In the new landscape, you can listen to your local radio station on-air, via internet and mobile phone devices. However, the digital platform choices offer more than just the standard AM/FM delivery. Some new audio products don't even include broadcast radio choices, as they only have CD and MP3/iPod capability.

The challenges for radio broadcasters in the 21st century is beyond anything one industry could face head on so quickly. It is an exciting time to have so many choices, and the freedom of not being held down by one product or source for consumers.

Radio execs saw these forces heading their way, but as more corporations gobbled up properties across the U.S... greed took control! Local radio talent was replaced by mindless generic and syndicated formats. Every town had a Jack, Alice or Bob, mindlessly playing the same crap over and over again, followed by 10 minute commercial breaks!

Oh really? How long could this have gone on for? If listeners have a better choice, they will go for it! So now look where we are, broadcast radio is no longer the only game in town.

Bottom line, broadcast radio will not die, but will have to evolve and take its place next to other forms of media and audio choices. Local broadcasters will always be a factor, due to their delivery of customized information such as news, traffic, and weather for their communities, especially in rural areas.

Radio will have to get back to the basics to compete in today's digital environment, with more emphasis on the listeners needs, and less on just making a quick buck off of old 20th century technology.
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