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EDITORIAL COMMENT
January 2000
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Radio - a look ahead

Forecasting the future is a rather foolhardy occupation but human nature hasn't changed enough to outdate Shakespeare and the human ear has evolved much less than technology, so there's at least the comforting thought that human beings in the future will probably have very similar audio responses to ourselves. The question therefore is what they'll want to listen to and how they'll be able to do so.
A delivery revolution
Just as technology in the early days of radio massively improved the technical possibilities and quality of audio production and reception, FM later allowed many more channels to be crammed onto the airwaves. The advent of digital broadcasting has increased this further and the internet virtually removes limits to the channels that can exist. Cheap and remarkably good equipment also means that anyone with very portable recording equipment and a mid-level PC can produce work at home that equal to or better than was possible for skilled professionals with all their resources fifty years ago. But we've not moved on that much since the cassette recorder became a mass-production device although we have a potentially much more varied medium. .
Broadcasts by whom?
By whom can be be almost anyone in the prosperous world and a fair number elsewhere is we can consider the Internet as a broadcasting medium. It can also be effective as narrower-cast where there's a worldwide group of people of shared interests and language. So we do see the combination of the Internet and small-to-air-stations made possible by digital technology as opening tremendus new horizons.
But they could be narrowed if sources are predominantly the giant conglomerates who seem to be gobbling up much of today's media; if that were to happen we think the word 'shame' should be applied. That's one reason we think it a good idea to draw attention to good work from smaller outlets and do our best to provide some kind of shop window for new talent.
Broadcasts for whom?
Following our line of thought, this can be much wider than in the past. The vastly greater number of channels possible with modern technology and the ease of production could mean opportunities for a tremendous range of special interests and smaller communities, just as has been made possible in print media by DTP. The question is one of political will -- which to us means the will to push for opening opportunity up to newcomers and minimizing restrictions where, as with the Internet, there's no real need to licence or limit channels.
None of this means that the old models need be killed off and we at RNW see virtues in both the public broadcast model (especially for programming where advertisements are intrusive) and the commercial ones where there is a strength from having to grab the audience. It does mean to us that where we see the big interests gobbling up the smaller, there's a virtue in action ( with a non-radio hat on, we're fully on the side of artists etoy.com against retailer etoys.com, thankful that action hit the retailer and pretty contemptuous of the California Superior Court ruling).
Broadcasts to whom?
Pretty well anyone we think. Radio (audio really, on the basis that radio is, strictly speaking, wireless) is a tremendous medium. Unlike TV, it can go anywhere with you, it still has value when other things are demanding your attention so that you couldn't look at a screen, and at its best is worth just listening to in a darkened room so you can really concentrate on the aural and imaginative faculties. It's always 'on' --with TV you may well miss pictures by not concentrating but audio draws your attention!
The Internet Future?
And new possibilities are opening. It won't be long before your mobile phone can receive radio but interrupt when there's a call or before your car system can pick up not only terrestrial radio but also satellite radio and maybe, if the phone company charges make it viable, also log-in to an Internet station. Even now you can set your Pc to download good quality audio from the net and if pressures make on-demand programming available not just music, you can pick up a disc to put in the car if you've missed something.
Or, just to stick where we are now. If you've a consuming interest in something, and are on the' Net, you can put up your own "station" pretty cheaply and link with like-minded people round the world. We'd like to hear from those of you who've done this already and encourage more ( See November 1999 Comment )
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