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EDITORIAL COMMENT
December 2001
Our end of year wish list

What we'd like for 2002

Rather than comment on how things are or even how we think they may be, the end of the year seems a good time to dream a little on what we'd like to see or have in the world of radio. So here goes.

More choice, better quality!

These both seem simple concepts but a moment's second thought makes them more complicated. To a heavy metal fan, the desired extra choice in music would be different from that desired by a Jazz fan. So what do we mean by the terms? By choice, we mean as wide a range as possible of different formats as opposed to a proliferation in the safe middle ground or more popular areas. Indeed, we'd go so far as to say, that in some ways a multiplicity of formats in a limited area goes against the very grain of broadcasting as opposed to what we'd prefer to call narrowcasting.

By quality, we mean a whole raft of things from the technical, which is reasonably easily measurable, to the less easily defined "quality" of a programme. So how do we get the best combination?

Choice - Technical quality


Here technology proved the easy answer if the aim is for an audio signal clear of extraneous noise; digital audio broadcasting technology is well enough advanced to be clearly superior to FM, never mind AM. So the obvious wish here has to be for the availability of digital radio at an affordable price, be the signal terrestrial or satellite.

In the UK, the former is well advanced whereas in the US the latter is now available. But in every part of the world, receivers remain far too expensive; baring in mind that a reasonable quality portable FM can be had for 50USD or less and how computer prices have fallen, it really ought not to be too much to expect a digital receiver for 100USD in the near future.

So there's the first wish - digital receivers for the home or automobile at a starting price of less than 100 USD.

Choice in programmes

The more difficult problem by far is the maintenance of programme choice and quality in the wider sense against the pressures of investors whose primary aim is to maximise profits.

Ironically just as the technology makes it possible to deliver hundreds of channels of good technical quality it also makes it possible to fill the airwaves more cheaply by automating systems to deliver what is essentially the same product but make it seem different and local when in fact a single individual may be hosting from one location shows that are being aired in a dozen or more.

Add the lack of regulation in the US, and much of the diversity disappears since a station owner seemingly need accept almost no responsibilities beyond maximising profit. Obviously many of the changes that have happened were inevitable because of wider changes in taste and habits, although it still appears to us that the passing of the days of, say, the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Toscanini and a whole era of mass drama and comedy on US radio is something to be regretted rather than celebrated.

On the plus side, on the other hand, XM is already offering extra choice in the US, albeit it needs significant capital spending on top of its subscription and, despite the gloomy prognostications about the US economy, a successful Sirius would offer even more.

So our second wish is for the success of both XM and Sirius, with the hope that there's then a knock-on effect that puts real pressure on the radio programmers who cram as many adverts as they can into a bland product. Al third wish is in a sense tied to the same motivation for choice and quality: this time its for a flowering of DAB in the UK and Europe, both for terrestrial channels and also for those that have arranged satellite audio delivery, even if its on the back of TV channels as is OneWord the UK-based comedy, literature and talk channel that is also on the Internet. (www.Oneword.co.uk).

And the postscript: Well the Internet could yet promise a channel for the delivery of a multiplicity of channels although it seems to be set for a much more limited future as the big music companies sew up things for online delivery of music and many hoped-for revenue streams dry up or at least prove a trickle rather than a flood.

In the end we'd say far better spend the money the music companies want to charge for their products in a subscription to something like XM or Sirius.


Any views? Please comment on the above. For that matter, if you can put the time aside, we'd like your "Guest comment" pages this year to stimulate more feedback and dialogue.

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