Much debate is raging these days. No, I’m not talking about Repubs and Dems in Congress going at each other, nor Creationism vs. Evolution, nor the validity of Russell Crowe playing Noah, though these are topics sure to fire up strong opinions. I’m speaking of a great debate in the radio broadcast industry of terrestrial, that is, traditional radio with studio, transmitters, and tower, vs. internet radio i. e. broadcasting a ‘radio’ show or station exclusively over the internet via a computer, a microphone, and a reliable streaming platform/source. Ultimately, what is the future of radio?
If you question folks in either sector of the industry, you’ll get varied answers on where they think this is all going to wind up. Invariably, those with a foot in terrestrial radio say they are going nowhere any time soon and all of this talk of them being extinct in 5-10 years is simply bogus. By the same token, those who are fully invested in doing radio exclusively online will say they are going to send traditional radio the way of the horse and buggy. A former program director once told me that every monkey sees the jungle from the perspective of his own tree branch. How true. And for the record, I’ve done both types of radio.
Those in terrestrial radio must admit that many networks and broadcast companies have taken a beating in the last few years. With the advent of smartphones, I-Pods, and now automobile manufacturers offering satellite and wireless internet delivery systems in cars, it has created a sheer technology slugfest in the industry.
Perhaps ironically, most traditional radio broadcasters worth their station T-shirts, have an online stream or simulcast of their programming often directly from their websites. Like it or not, they recognize the need to build or maintain an internet presence in most markets to stay competitive. The reality is, the internet is here to stay.
Internet broadcasting? (At least not yet, but give the little pointy-headed bureaucrats time!) Ah, the adventure that is radio. Radio. That term…
It strikes me as both fascinating and funny how that word has become entrenched in our lexicon. There really is no such thing as internet radio, technically. ‘Real’ radio is its own technology. Yet, without being the least bit self-conscious about it, listeners and broadcasters alike freely use that term. Be it dialing up a station in the car, or logging on to an internet site or podcast, as far as the end user thought process is concerned, it’s all still radio! Let’s be honest here, when it’s said and done, it’s all simply theater of the mind. Both types of ‘radio’ still rely on a set of ears and a brain at the end of whichever technology is being utilized. That will probably never change.
The industry is no doubt in flux. I look at it this way: Terrestrial radio is the wise, stately grandfather who is lovable, but a little set in his ways. Internet radio is the energetic, enthusiastic adolescent that still needs to mature, yet holds much promise.