New Media Killed the Radio Star
First came the ability to print in mass quantities. Outside of speaking in a public forum, this was the first time in communication where one could send a message to a mass audience. The problem, which still exists today, is the time and resources spent on printing. If only there were a way to send messages to mass audiences, across great distances, instantaneously without wasting resources? Voila, radio to the rescue! Radio changed the landscape of communication. The term “broadcast” earned new meaning. What once meant to cast or scatter abroad over an area, as in planting seeds, (Dictionary.Com) now included the idea of casting messages to a mass audience. It was the first of its kind in electric mass media, which lead the way for television and new media to follow.
In many ways, Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection can be applied to certain technologies and media forms. We see it constantly as in the death of the VCR. New technologies evolve, like the DVD in this case and replace the less efficient ones. To this point in history, the mainstay forms of mass communication, like print, radio, television and film have survived although new media technologies do threaten their existence. Mass Media send its messages using any combination of these three tools: Image, Sound and Text. Just happens to be the title of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s introduction to communications course. Radio is one of few media formats that only can use one of those tools. Unlike, television which at times uses all three and print forms which can use two at a time, radio can only communicate using sound. This puts radio at a disadvantage for many reasons. One of the biggest disadvantages is also one of it’s biggest advantages in radio’s competition for our attention. In the car or at work, people usually don’t have the option to watch TV or read, so they listen to something in the background. This is where radio had it’s captive audience. The disadvantage is at home a majority of people turn off the radio and turn their full attention to other media formats like TV or a magazine. But, in the car and at the office it was the radio that had your ear, you didn’t have a choice early on.
As time went on and technology developed, more choices became available on how people received their media content. Now mass media would compete with each other like corporations would for the people’s attention or business. Each time something newer and better was introduced, the older media format lost some of it’s audience. It is logical to think that print media would be the next to become extinct considering all of it’s new competition. With a more environmentally conscious society, it is no longer feasible to continue printing on paper, especially considering the options new media has introduced. Nearly all newspapers and magazines have a web and mobile presence. The convenience of having the transportable paper to carry around has been answered by smart phones and tablets. E-readers like the Kindle are taking the convenience of carrying a book around and making it an inconvenience because you can store multiple books digitally on one light weight device. Considering all that, will printing on paper every really become extinct? If so, what media format would be next? The next logical choice would have to be radio.
There is no telling what the future holds. So, is it prudent to predict the extinction of a media form? Probably not. Even with all the advances in technology, will there always be a practical need for paper printing? With all the reasons new media gives people not to waste paper, Multifunction Printers are some of the hottest selling electronics today. There was a time not too long ago when many said computer printers would be extinct. So it is impossible to predict the future, but it is possible to notice the trends. Print media is on the decline and right there with it is terrestrial radio.
We noticed the process of these older mass media technologies like radio and print media being phased out and we must accredit this to the increasing competition brought on by new media. The really interesting part is the evolutionary responses of these older forms, specifically how they adapt to survive. This process is known as remediation, the making of new media forms out of old (Bolter, and Gromala ). We see print media putting out a great effort to remediate the paper and ink methods of yesteryear in to new media technologies. As for radio, it seems as though competing companies are remediating the idea of radio and creating new options for the public using new media, while terrestrial radio was slow to react to the quickly changing media environment. Now just about every commercial radio station has a web stream and a smart phone application, but new media organizations like iTunes and Pandora have already established themselves as dependable and in many cases preferable alternatives.
Will terrestrial radio technology ever really go extinct? Probably not. Even though new media technologies have improved communication so much, there will always be a need for radio technology in communication. Why is that? Because it is reliable. Whenever a disaster happens, like the earthquakes in Japan and Chile, new media communication technologies inevitably fail, but radio always allows for communication to the affected area. For this reason alone, terrestrial radio will never completely die. However, terrestrial radio as a media business is on the decline just like print media. Radio stations, as we know them today must adapt to survive.
As mentioned early on radio only has the ability to compete for the public’s ear. This is a disadvantage in the sense that other media formats are more attractive to the public because they offer more stimulation to other senses. Let’s not forget a picture is worth a thousand words. The big advantage for radio is there are some places were people cannot devote the attention of their eyes and ears simultaneously, like in the car and at work. The problem for radio is when other media forms compete for your ear at those times. At first the process was slow moving, but now new media has introduced countless options that directly compete with terrestrial radio.
It is said the first car radio was introduced in the 1930s. This was a huge relief for travelers who now had something to listen to in the car. Car audio continued to develops as travelers were given more options. Early on people had the option to play 45 records while driving, while impractical it was the first competition for radio in the car. Then technologies developed that allowed drivers to listen to 8-Track and Cassette Tapes while driving. The last development before new media inundated travelers with audio options was the introduction to the CD player to the automobile. It’s arguable that the CD player can even be considered new media because it’s the first digital medium of it’s kind. Now the radio had direct competition for the public’s attention in the car and at work (Wikipedia).
Another one of radio’s disadvantages is it’s limited supply of content and the fact that the listener doesn’t have a choice, other than changing the station, in what they listen to. The radio stations determined their content and the listener had little say outside of the request line. Introducing new media formats to the car and office that gave the listener a direct choice in what they were hearing is the biggest competition factor for radio and other media formats battling for your ear. Now anyone could listen to anything they wanted right out of their own audio collection according to their own individual tastes, not the taste of their collective demographic. The problem for these media formats competing with radio is that it involved physically carrying what you wanted to listen to. Cars and offices would surely become littered with tapes and discs. And God forbid you lost one. So, even with all these new options, the radio was still convenient to listen to because it didn’t involve all of these other moving pieces.
With all the technological developments of the 20th century, radio still had it’s place and was safe amongst all the competition. However, as we transitioned into the new millennium new media would answer all the problems older media formats had in their competition for the public’s attention. In essence, it was the digitalization of our world that made it possible along with the almighty power of the internet.
New media has opened new doors in the realm of audio. As mentioned before, radio which was only competing with few alternatives now is competing with countless ones. As a result, many small radio stations around the country are going out of business. The radio stations that are left are a part of massive media organizations that are for the most part, are distributing much of the same music, talk and information across the country. New Media, more than anything has given people the choice and the voice. The choice to listen to whatever they want and the voice to let the world know. Terrestrial radio stations have no choice but to broadcast whatever gets them the most ratings.
Before new media it was easy to see which media formats were directly competing with each other. Radio stations for the most part competed with other radio stations. Now it is completely different. It is hard for some people to think that a terrestrial radio station is in direct competition with John Smith’s iPod, but it is. New Media has introduced so many options to the public that directly compete with terrestrial radio that it has threatened the existence of radio as we know it. The following will explore many of these new media options in detail and explain how exactly they are stealing radio’s audience.
The invention of the Sony Walkman in many ways can be likened to the invention of the transistor radio. Before both of these technologies you had to be next to a radio or record player to listen to music. Once the transistor radio came alone there was instant portability. Families could go to the beach or wherever and bring along their little transistor radio and have entertainment in a place where you were usually responsible for entertaining yourselves. The Walkman was exciting because it offered that same portability, with a choice in programming, but as mentioned earlier it included the hassle of carrying around cassette tapes or CDs. So, even though the Walkman was a popular and successful item, radio and specifically the transistor radio still had its place (Wikipedia).
The eventual stake in the heart of the transistor radio and Walkmen was the development of the MP3 (MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 Audio Layer III). It is an audio format for digital audio encoding. Now, it is not the first digital audio file ever created, remember because CDs had been around several years before the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) patented the MP3 circa 1993. If CDs have been around so long then why was the MP3 such a major phenomenon? The digital audio files used to make Compact Discs were called WAV (Wave) files. These were heavy duty, high quality audio files that took up a lot of memory, which is why you can only have so many tracks on a CD. At that point in time, during the early development of dialup internet, it would have taken a lifetime to download a complete WAV file. MP3s however, are compressed audio files designed to require significantly less data. The great thing was, to the untrained, non-superhuman ear, you couldn’t tell the difference and you had an audio file approximately 11 times smaller than you would on a CD put out by a record company. With this technology CD-Rs (Compact Disc-Recordable) started to replace cassette tapes as a way to create the popular “Mix Tape.” Still at this time radio wasn’t seeing the great effects this new technology would eventually have. The first industry to be hit hard was the music industry. However, radio would see the start of this new revolution in the not too distant future (Wikipedia).
As mentioned earlier, the Sony Walkman technology was kind of like the second coming of the transistor radio and we’ll see more and more that many new media technologies had that same effect. In 1996 the first portable Digital Audio Player (DAP) was introduced to the market. The term DAP never really caught on. Most people have refereed to these devices as MP3 Players even if the device supported other audio files like WAV or SDII. Now days, no matter what company makes the devices many people are inclined to call it an iPod much like other brands that have claimed the name of one of their products (Band-Aid, Q-Tip). These MP3 players were the eventual stake in the heart of radio, because it led to the iPod. Now people could store several CDs worth of music onto one device and carry it around with them wherever they go. The hassle of carrying around tapes, records, disc was alleviated. Even the hassle of burning CDs was solved by the invention of the Digital Audio Player (Wikipedia).
At the turn of the century, a two year phenomenon took place that would affect the future of radio and the entire music industry forever. The phenomenon that only lasted two years was Napster. It was an online community with an easily understandable interface that allowed users to share MP3 files for free. Now it all ties together. Assumably before Napster, it was more difficult to build up your MP3 collection for your MP3 player. Now nearly every piece of music, even rarities where available on Napster for download with absolutely no charge. No more buying CDs, no more listening to the radio. You are your own music director, you program your own radio station exactly to your tastes and you don’t have to deal with commercials, not mention your not spending a dime. Of course this was all illegal, which is why it only lasted from 1999 until 2001, but it opened up a Pandora's box for terrestrial radio and the music industry alike. New file sharing companies like Limewire and Kazaa started sprouting up and practically no one was buying music because it was too easy to get for free. Before MP3s and Napster, if someone wanted to hear new music they would listen to the radio. If they wanted to hear it again they would buy the record. The radio station and record companies were happy. They had a symbiotic relationship. Napster and MP3 threw a giant monkey wrench into the situation and change the culture forever (Wikipedia).
Earlier, MP3 and MP3 Player technology was referred to as the eventual stake in the heart of terrestrial radio. The true stake was crafted and administered by a man named Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Inc. In the late 1990s Apple was struggling. Their computers weren’t selling as well so they desperately needed a new product to stay afloat. In 2001 Apple introduced two major developments, the iPod and iTunes. It is safe to say these products saved Apple and launched them to their increased popularity and success today. The iPod was nothing new because the MP3 player had already been developed. The problem with most MP3 players were that they weren’t easy to operate. They usually had many buttons which made it a complicated device. The iPod had solved all the problems of earlier MP3 players. Just four buttons and a wheel, which seemed complicated considering all the iPod could do but it was extremely user friendly. Not to mention, the design was sharp. The thing looked cool and people wanted to have it. It also had the ability to store much more music than any other MP3 player before it. iPod users could digitally store up to 10gb of music on the original product. Along with the iPod came the development of iTunes and the iTunes store. It was in the wake of the Napster lawsuits and the eventual shutting down when iTunes came out in an effort to legitimize downloading music online. In a time where most people weren’t paying for music, Apple figured out a way to distribute music where record companies and consumers alike were happy. Today, iTunes is the industry standard. When measuring the success of a recording artist today no longer do we reference how many records sold, we reference how many downloads they had on iTunes. With the introduction of the iPod and iTunes, terrestrial radio was dealt a serious blow. Before MP3 players were there but never really took off until the iPod, which just made everything so convenient for users. Now people had a small, portable item that they could take with them anywhere that stored hours and hours of commercial free music (Wikipedia).
One thing that radio still had going for it was it’s information and talk programming. When it came to music, radio was losing the battle. Many people don’t enjoy endless commercials and music picked by someone they’ve never met. However, news, sports and talk programs still had their niche on radio. Yet, there is still problems. In order to listen to these programs you had to be near a radio for the live broadcast. Also, at this time the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was really coming down hard radio personalities. It got to the point where Howard Stern, regarded as one of the most popular broadcasters in history was fed up and left for Sirius Satellite Radio in 2006. More on Satellite radio to follow. In late 2004 Podcasts or webcasts became more and more prevalent. These were non-live shows that users could download and listen to at their leisure on their PC or iPod. They also weren’t regulated by the FCC. In 2005 Apple released iTunes 4 which supported podcast downloading, then it really took off. Podcasting included both video and audio programs, some were rebroadcasts and others were completely original (Wikipedia). The most popular podcast today is the Adam Carolla Podcast. It gets downloaded hundreds of thousands of times on a daily basis. This proves that a talk, news or sports show doesn’t need radio to be successful. What was once the niche that radio had is slowly turning toward new media as it’s vehicle (Lewin).
It is becoming more and more evident that Apple Inc and all of its new developments of late have much to do with the slow death of radio. However, before we get into more modern examples of how Apple is revolutionizing new media and in turn killing terrestrial radio and other older mass media formats, it is important to discuss satellite radio. Is satellite radio a part of new media or is it just a remediated form of old radio? The answer is a little bit of both. Many of the ideas behind satellite radio are adapted methods of terrestrial radio. For instance, there are many different stations to chose from each with their own individual format and the individual stations are programmed by a program director and/or music director (if a music station). So like radio, the programming is determined by someone else but the listener still has the choice to change the channel. The biggest difference is that it is a subscription service, which allows for commercial free music programming and no regulation from the FCC. However, the biggest reason Satellite radio should be considered new media is because it is completely digital. Not to mention, Sirius XM programing is available online and via smart phone applications. The smart phone applications for Sirius XM again is like a second coming of the transistor radio. Now satellite radio is available in all the places radio was most listened to; outside, in the office and especially in your car. Sirius XM has a deal with nearly all auto manufactures that make Sirius XM standard in all new cars with a free trial. For those people who do not want to be bothered by creating their own playlists and enjoyed other people providing programming, but hated commercials and censorship, satellite radio is for you. This was another huge blow for terrestrial radio. Not only did regular radio lose it’s most popular DJ to satellite, but all the reasons mentioned why one would stick with terrestrial radio have been bested by satellite radio. However, regular radio still had one thing going for it. It was free.
The last few examples deal strictly with the internet in some way, shape or form. Two companies particularly have really added to the battle for the public’s ear lately. These companies stream music to listeners using the internet. The first is Pandora. This unique service, like radio picks the music for you, but unlike radio selects musically specifically regarding your tastes. It uses one of the key staples of new media, artificial intelligence. Like radio this is a free service and yes you do have to deal with the occasional commercial, but the user is more in control. The second company is Grooveshark. It is amazing this service is still available because it allows you to stream virtually any song you want, whenever you want. Unlike Pandora, which choses the specific songs for you and must run ads to pay artist royalties, Grooveshark puts the user in total control and never interrupts with a commercial break. For both of these services the user is not able to download the songs only stream. These two services have put a considerable dent in regular radio’s audience because they are easy to use and very convenient for music lovers with wide tastes. However, it is not necessarily their websites that are having the great effect on terrestrial radio, but the smart phone applications. Again, reinventing the transistor radio (Wikipedia).
Back to Apple revolutionizing new media. The introduction of the iPhone and other smart phones that followed is truly the death of radio as we know it. New media and the internet have done a tremendous deed for humankind. Before, one had to go out to discover the world. New media and the internet bring the world to you. The development of smart phones and their applications not only bring the world to you, but now you can take the whole world with you wherever you go. The iPhone opened up a whole new world in communication. The technology has become almost common place now but the fact that the internet is available via 3G and 4G wireless services is truly incredible. These smart phones incorporate everything mentioned as competing factors to terrestrial radio and pretty much all earlier forms of mass media. They can store and play MP3s, they offer applications like Pandora and Grooveshark and they even can play regular radio through individual station’s own websites and applications. Again, new media technology has taken all the problems of terrestrial radio and solved them .
With all the advancements in new media technologies radio is still surviving. The biggest reason is because people like to listen to radio in the car. With iPods and smart phones you still needed headphones or you were forced to listen out of the weak built in speakers. Perhaps the biggest factor in radio demise is the increased amount of auxiliary inputs installed in new cars. The tiny hole next to the car’s center display that looks like a headphone jack is the auxiliary input. It is an 1/8” phono jack that takes audio from the headphone jack of your device and plays it through your car’s speakers. It was mentioned earlier that satellite radio is just about standard in all new cars. Now it seems as though the auxiliary input is also become standard. This technology has been around a long time but because of the increased use of iPods and MP3 player is now becoming more prevalent. Now radio must be worried. The one true place where they had a captive audience now has multiple options competing with the dial.
More improvements in new media and internet technology are threatening radio in the car. More cars are being developed with internet capabilities built in, so applications like Pandora and Grooveshark come directly though your sound system. It was an option for Howard Stern when recently negotiating his new contract with Sirius XM. Stern seriously considered leaving satellite for a new venture in this arena, but realized the technology is not there yet and resigned with Sirius XM at the end of 2010.
The fact of the matter is that this is where technology is taking the medium of sound. Society is becoming more global and radio technology is limited in that sense. New Media and the internet have the ability to reach across borders where terrestrial radio simply cannot. Will radio be gone soon? Probably not. Radio will still be around for a life time or two. There is simply too much money invested in it at the time. However, these new media technologies inevitably will become more available to the public and slowly phase out terrestrial radio technology as a way to transmit sound.
As mentioned earlier, the technology will still always have its place in society because it is so reliable, especially in cases of disaster. But, there’s the idea of radio, even with its problems that will be around for a long time to come. Yes, the technology may fade and be remediated into new technologies that will be used as the vehicle, but people will always need the medium of sound. As long as automobiles are operated by human beings, not automated systems, there will always be a need for the idea of radio. When drivers no longer need to keep their eye on the road than the idea of radio is in trouble, but the idea of preprogrammed material transmitted in someway whether through radio or new media technologies until then should have a place in the media.
Below are some cool links to some online videos that dive into the subject matter of my paper.
“The Future of Radio and Digital Music”
The Loop: Is Terrestrial Radio in Sirius Trouble?
XM and Sirius Satellite Radio Merger
Prometeus - The Media Revolution
Bolter, Jay David, and Diane Gromala. Windows and Mirrors Interaction Design, Digital Art, and the Myth of Transparency. 1st. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2003. Print.
Lewin, James. "Adam Carolla Podcast Makes Radio Irrelevant." Podcasting News. 01 Mar 2009. Web. 20 Apr 2011. <http:// www.podcastingnews.com/content/2009/03/ adam- carolla- podcast-makes-radio-irrelevant/>.
"Podcast." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 2011. Web. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podcast>.
"Pandora Radio." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 2011. Web. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandora_Radio>.
"Grooveshark." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 2011. Web. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grooveshark>.
"MP3." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 2011. Web. <http:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MP3>.
"Digital Audio Player." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 2011. Web. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Digital_Audio_Player>.
"IPOD." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 2011. Web. <http:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipod>.
"Itunes." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 2011. Web. <http:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itunes>.
"Walkman." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 2011. Web. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walkman>.
"Car Audio." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 2011. Web. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Car_Audio>.
Kerr, Jim. "Five Trends for the Future of Radio." Mediabeat. Venturebeat, 12 JAN 2011. Web. 22 Apr 2011. <http:// venturebeat.com/2011/01/12/future-of-radio/ >.
West , Joel. "The Uncertain Future of Radio." Seeking Alpha. 28 May 2009. Web. 20 Apr 2011. <http://seekingalpha.com/article/ 140094-the-uncertain-future-of-radio>.