Usually when I get to work I start digging through my email first thing. One of the emails I get every day is a rundown of the headlines on the radio industry website AllAccess.com. The top story on today’s email blast was about comments made by Vivian Schiller, who is the CEO of NPR (which is National Public Radio, though these days they seem to wish to disassociate themselves from radio, so it’s officially just NPR now; how very KFC of them.) The comments she made are yet another example of how radio is killing itself from within by being run by idiots who seem to have little idea of the power, beauty, and value of their current platform.
Boiled down to its essence, here is how radio works: Broadcasters send noise out of our transmitters. You turn on the radio, dial in the frequency of your choice, and hear it. That’s it. It couldn’t be simpler or more elegant. There aren’t any subscription fees. You can hear lots of different stations over large areas with various types of programs. You don’t get charged anything for the amount of bandwidth we’re using to deliver you the product. Most stations are advertiser supported, though some (like Ms. Schiller’s NPR) ask for listener donations. Even those that ask for money, though, can be heard by everyone, regardless of whether you donate.
Ms. Schiller appeared at the D8: All Things Digital conference. It was there that she said that radio towers “are going away in ten years” and that she expects Internet-delivered radio to replace broadcast in the next five to ten years. Why would anyone—much less anyone who works in the industry, for crying out loud—want this to happen, and speak about it as if it were a foregone conclusion?
Why is it that human nature seems to inexorably push us toward something new and different, even if that new and different thing is worse than what we already have? I keep hearing talk about getting Internet radio in cars, as if this is a good thing. I don’t know about you, maybe you have the greatest Internet connection ever, but it's not exactly unheard of to spend time watching my progress bar get hung up as sites are loading, having streaming audio and video buffer, and so forth, and this is on a desktop computer plugged into the internet, not on wi-fi or anything like that. Why do I want that when I want to listen to radio in the car? Right now, when I flip on the radio, I hear the radio. It doesn’t matter if ten kajillion people are listening along with me, that impacts my signal not at all. But that is not the case with Internet radio. Load too many people onto any website, and what happens? It crashes, that’s what happens. Why is that desirable?
The thing that really got my dander up was the fact that the story right below this one on AllAccess was “AT&T Drops Unlimited Mobile Data Plans.” Does anyone else see the irony here? You know what eats up data usage? Streaming audio and video, primarily. So, in this wonderful, modern, Internet world we live in, you’re going to get dinged extra by your phone company (or whoever ends up providing your new whizz-bang in-car Internet radio) when you listen to too much radio. How’s that for progress?! That’s far better than turning the thing on and listening for free, no doubt about it.
Radio is often an appliance, something to be used in the background while doing something else, whether cooking, driving, conversing with your neighbor, or a thousand other possibilities. Why do we want to live in a world where we have to worry about leaving the radio on while we chat with Mabel from next door because we’d be burning up our data plan? It’s just idiocy, and even people in this industry are touting it as if it’s the next great thing! Are we the dumbest generation in history?
I know the Internet is nifty. I love it myself. But it is not for every application. Radio is not a problem that needs fixing. You have tons of options for radio, none of which (unless you choose to pay money to satellite radio companies) cost you a dime other than whatever miniscule amount of electricity it takes to run a radio. Why do we want to change this? It’s one of the least complicated things in an ever more complicated world. Stop messing with it.