The future of broadcast radio

Last week iRadio was released for the masses of music thirsty listeners to partake in. iRadio is Apple’s contribution to the already booming market of internet radio. Check out a post I did on the top internet radio services. With an internet full of on demand, genre and artist-based stations, what does that mean for the future of good ol’ broadcast radio?

As of now people are still tuning in to broadcast radio, primarily while driving. The blend of music, talk shows, weather and current events still create a nice service that people want to utilize. Is that blend enough, though?

My mind wants to think that broadcast radio is petering out. That, in a few years, it will be a fun thing to talk about, like we do with SEGA Genesis and VCRs. I may be completely off the mark, though. There are arguments for why broadcast radio is only looking up. After all, FM radio still boasts, “the largest share of the pie,” when it comes to reach and listeners, according to Entercom’s David Field. Millions of people drive to work or school every day. The most readily available source of media is that radio knob a foot to the right of the steering wheel. Along similar lines, in one of  Don Cole’s “Media Realism” blog posts, he quotes a radio sales executive saying, “I believe that as long as people drive to work in vehicles with radios, and traffic continually worsens, radio will have a future.”

As a student with a car in a college town, I do not see any lack of driving or traffic in the foreseeable future. So assuming car travels and traffic equate to increased radio use, there is most certainly a future. “Assuming” is a big word though. Just because people are in cars a lot doesn’t mean there aren’t increasingly more attractive ways of listening to music. For the past four years or so I’ve relied on my Belkin auxiliary adapter to provide me with music by transmitting my iPod through the radio. Recently, I’ve been using that same accessory to listen to Spotify through my phone. Internet radio services like Pandora, Spotify and now iRadio have a lot of distinctive appeal to them.

While listening to FM radio, if that song that gets played 20 times a day comes on, you have three immediate options: 1) Grit your teeth and deal with it. 2) Find a different radio station. 3) Turn off the FM radio.

With alternative listening sources you can easily skip or down vote a song that you don’t feel like listening to. It can get to the point, after so long of down voting and up voting songs, that internet radio seems like it is in your conscience and it knows what you want to hear. This is sadly not the case with broadcast radio.

As mentioned before, I think the main thing broadcast radio has going for it is the integration of different components of broadcasting, all lumped together on one station. I can listen to WKKW (a local top 40 station) and hear the new Taylor Swift song, the weather update, breaking news and some back and forth banter from talk show hosts all while never having to lift a finger.

This multifaceted form of listening gives broadcast a slight advantage over its competitors. That doesn’t stop some people from trying to predict the gloom and doom of radio, though. Joanne Ostrow from Denver Post says, “People are still tuning in — Denver’s stations together pull a whopping 2.1 million listeners each week — but they are listening for shorter periods of time. And radio is making a lot less money.”

It seems like for broadcast radio to stand strong something new is going to have to be introduced. The good news is, maybe it has.

HD radio is everything that was good about FM radio, except better. Better audio quality, flashier, more interactive interfaces, and a plethora of stations to choose from are a few features of this new form of broadcast. It’s still in the early stages, but an article from Radio World stated that around 50% of new cars will be equipped with HD radio receivers and technology by 2015. I see this as something to rival built-in Pandora systems in cars.

What the HD radio interface could look like. Courtesy of hdradio.com

What the HD radio interface could look like. Courtesy of hdradio.com

Naysayers beware, it appears that HD radio may just be the haymaker needed by broadcast to stay in the game. Even analysts at marketingcharts.com are projecting a comeback of the airwaves.

Just as it is with other forms of journalism, the future of broadcast looks different than what we’re used to. Different doesn’t mean dim, though. If anything, HD radio is flying under the radar and will surely surprise the market when it becomes a fully integrated competitor.

I’ll admit, when I first started writing and researching this, I assumed the worst for radio. I thought I was going to read sobbing articles by radio personalities about the morbid future of their beloved profession. My assumption was as accurate as a drunk man in a game of darts. While the impact and success of future broadcast radio is a little more than speculative right now, it shines hope and potential for the world of radio lovers.

Thanks for reading.

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