Let us consider the audience first. In most
western countries we would argue that most people are fairly
tolerant but equally they tend not to be focussed so their
influence is limited unless there is a strong liking for a
station or equally a strong reaction against it.
In addition, when it comes to advertising-supported commercial
stations, the numbers are weighted in favour of those the
advertisers wish to attract thus giving advertisers greater
influence than is the case with the subscription-funded satellite
radio services and public broadcasters.
So the audience may rule, but they o so only within limits
and subject to great constraints.
What about the owners then? Well they
have the power to change a station's format and programming
in the US albeit elsewhere changes are more constrained under
the terms of licences. But change as they may, they can't
compel people to listen, which means that they have to either
attract an audience advertisers want or sufficiently large
numbers of subscribers.
They thus again can foul up or succeed but only within constraints
set by others.
Important in attracting the audience
but limited in the power or influence they can bring to bear
when it conflicts with focus groups and surveys.
This means that there is an ever-present pressure to pull
in the right numbers of the wanted demographics, which means
that if advertisers want a young demographic and that demographic
is poorly educated and primarily in search of ever-changing
stimulation, the chances of putting over anything very complex
is severely restricted in the commercial radio world.
They can break a station but they can't
make it so the best that can be hoped for - hope against hope
- is for a reasonably broad perspective and imaginative choice
of who to support rather than just sticking with the currently
successful: In other words to be a little pro-active in encouraging
change rather than always running behind it.
And what about technology? Well that's
quiet important since if there are other ways to listen to
what people think they want - and the Internet certainly provides
the material nowadays and portable players add the means to
carry it with you - it makes it more difficult for radio to
hold onto the audience for as long although we suspect that,
even if time spent listening to radio goes down as time spent
with other media goes up, we don't think the effect on listening
numbers to be that large with current technology.
Even if things change and cell phone operators expand offerings
of audio services (at a charge of course!) or wireless networks
become much more widespread allowing listening on the mover,
we thin it will be a long time before any other medium can
offer so efficient a delivery system to a mass audience in
terms of spectrum used or the cost per listener of the whole
chain - from studio to transmitter to receiving set.
To that, as for so many issues, there's
no simple answer. Nor indeed is there any complex answer.
Instead there are many combinations of changing answers, some
simple and some complex, which makes it all the more remarkable
that anyone can stay ahead of the pack for a long time.
It also means that those who want an unchanging world or simplistic
answers can become very dangerous people indeed in that they
can be swayed into unreasoned and unreasonable action, sometime
violent, into defence of their beliefs by those who do promise
the simple answer.
It may be much harder work to look outside the cocoon but
it's very valuable so if nothing else we'd recommend that
those who like classical listen every so often to the "music"
- in quotations since they might well argue that is not what
it is - they think they most dislike and those who like urban
music try classical; that those who are conservatively inclined
try a medium with a different perspective and vice versa for
those who are more progressively inclined and that both then
do a little work on checking some facts; even that those who
favour one sport try another - there would be a significant
learning experience for example in a cricket fan watching
ice hockey and vice versa, one being fast and furious and
the other variable over days when it's test match.
At the end however experience would be broadened and knowledge
deepened, of itself a benefit to all involved. And it might
well lead to some upset apple carts for those providing programming
and opportunities for those trying to break in.
Most importantly is should lessen the appeal of those who
peddle the facile but attractive sounding yet don't build
on factual foundations be they of left or right or sports