| Radio the medium
as technology advances.
It's been more than a year now since we have commented on the way
radio as a medium is developing as various technological developments
have their impact on what is practicably rather than theoretically
possible and in that time a number of developments have moved into
the practicable and seem likely to have their impact in the near
Some of the changes relate merely to cost, others to practicality
but none that we have seen involve any revolutionary new concepts
although the ultimate effect of the combination may well be revolutionary.
The good news in some countries is that the medium is in robust
health and in the UK it has overtaken big brother TV in terms of
audience hours although the picture is less rosy in the U.S.
The basic strengths of
an aural medium.
Before considering radio as such, we feel it
sensible to note that if we include audio available through
the Internet we are considering an aural medium rather than
the more narrowly defined broadcast medium of radio.
The distinction is important in that many in the industry
think largely in terms of the traditional whilst others are
busy looking ahead to new kinds of service, some of which
will deliver what used to be "radio" not via traditional
receivers but by other means and others of which will add
additional features, text, stills and even video.
The last may yet be a significant feature when it comes to
the economics of some services - certainly Sirius seems to
think that delivering video on its satellite radio system
could be valuable both to increasing the numbers who subscribe
to its service and its income.
In our general consideration, however, we propose to concentrate
on the aural and the two tremendous strengths it has over
any visual medium, firstly that it can be appreciated whilst
doing other things in ways that the visual cannot; secondly
its advantage in terms of mobility, although that could decrease
over time; and thirdly the way it impacts on the imagination
and draws the listener into an intimacy that TV cannot match.
Ways of accessing that medium.
Not that long ago, radio receivers were large items, sometimes
masterly examples of the cabinet makers craft, using valves;
They were not portable and that situation was only changed
for the real mass market with the development of the transistor
and robust and reasonably-priced "trannies" that
could be carried almost anywhere. The transistor also made
the receiver a practicable proposition for the average automobile.
There was then little development - unless you count developments
such as the Walkman and competitors allowing recorded audio
to also be added to the mix - until digital came along and
allowed audio to be moved into a realm much less demanding
of information transfer. That made it practical to stream
audio on the Internet, and send much more information including
additional video and data services on terrestrial airwaves
It also made it practical to offer on-demand services, something
that extended the range of services significantly albeit this
is probably only of great value for a limited part of broadcast
It and the other changes, notably satellite radio, do not
mean that terrestrial radio will lose its supremacy but they
could dent it enough to have a significant effect on the profitability
of commercial stations. So what for commercial, as opposed
to public stations, are the strengths that remain with the
Radio's commercial advantages.
Although there are significant variations round the world, especially
in advert loads, radio is universally cost-effective as an advertising
medium and the UK experience shows that there can be a significant
"multiplier" effect when radio is used in conjunction
with other media meaning it makes sound effective sense to switch
around a tenth of the budget for a planned TV campaign to radio.
Interestingly the UK experience also shows creativity to be the
most important variable in the efficacy of a campaign: Maybe the
UK is different but we rather doubt it and would suggest that
an advert that is well produced - and suited to the programming
around it - is much more likely to succeed because it isn't perceived
as an annoying interruption in the way that a run of more pedestrian
adverts may be.
The other great advantage radio has is that it is a more intimate
medium and this can have significant advantages when it comes
to sponsorship and promotional income.
And of course for those on the move or doing other things, radio
leaves TV at the starting gate because it doesn't demand the same
forms of attention that TV does and it also ties in more effectively
with other activities, be it getting listeners to stop chatting
and text or call a station or just continue doing something on
the Internet while listening: Indeed as more time is spent on
the Internet, radio is the one other medium that stands to benefit
apart, we suppose, from those who are reading a newspaper or magazine.
Eventually the take up of broadband may mean
that TV from round the world is widely available, although
we suspect Hollywood will do its level best to restrict this
in the same way that the recording companies have and cost
factors also seem likely to affect the spread of Internet
Radio is already, however, an international as well as a national
and local medium.
Where short wave was once the international distribution form
of choice, increasingly satellite delivery and subsequent
local FM broadcasts plus Internet streaming are taking over
in this segment and the reach of powerful AMs has also become
of less value.
Tie the Internet in with cell phone technology - and the phones
themselves will soon probably become radio receivers as well
as phones, either through receiving digital terrestrial audio
or being able to tap into Internet streams - and yet another
avenue for listening opens.
Equally tie the Internet in with computer wireless technology
and the same is true both for people in the home - there are
already reasonably priced portable receivers that can be used
to listen to Internet radio in every room - or on the move
as wireless facilities are being provided in more and more
locations from airport lounges to coffee shops.
Where local or national stations are streaming their services
- and in some cases making programmes available on demand
- this is another area where listeners' involvement with and
appreciation of their stations is of increasing value.
It's already possible with BBC and NPR programming, for example,
to open up your laptop at many airports and listen to the
programme you missed while in flight and soon it may be possible
to listen while on the flight. Tag in the possibility of e-mail
or text to the station and you can even get on air feedback
at the same time.
And the concept that you can achieve this whilst doing something
else? We'd suggest it shows strengths that no other medium
is likely to possess.
The economics of this may still be problematical - and it's
no real surprise that the leaders in on-demand have so far
been public broadcasters - but what a strength and what a
medium that is available when you want, is local and international
at the same time, and can be enjoyed while doing other things.
What you think? Please E-mail