What is "Radio"


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As I was reminded recently, the name of this publication is “Radio.” In this day and age, what exactly IS “Radio”?

For many years, it seemed everyone knew what it was—the term was defined very clearly in most people’s minds as AM and FM broadcast service. With the constantly increasing adoption of mobile devices and streaming services, however, the lines have become blurred. In the strictest sense, “Radio” can be defined as anything that utilizes Radio Frequency as a means of communication.

Many consumers, however, have now come to see any service where they can listen to a curated program source with little or no interaction as “Radio.” Most streaming services will allow users to customize the content they are hearing without requiring them to build playlists manually as is necessary in most cases with personal music collections. The end user experience with these services is remarkably similar to traditional broadcast radio—Pick a “channel” and listen while you go about your day. If you want to listen to something else, change the “channel.”

I was in a room recently where a presenter was conducting an instructional session on smartphones and apps. He pointed to the Pandora icon on the screen and asked if people knew what it was. The majority of those in the room responded “Radio.”

It is futile for broadcasters to buck this trend and keep doing things exactly the same way they have been doing for decades—broadcasters must instead embrace, adapt, and adopt new technologies as appropriate in order to survive. This is the reality of today’s marketplace.

The trend of moving from being defined as “broadcasters” to “content providers” has been happening over at least the past 5–10 years. The biggest difference now is that the number of listening options has increased dramatically. The actual content delivery platform is rapidly becoming irrelevant.

Most stations now stream their signals, and have mobile apps available, but it takes far more than that to continue capturing the audience. It is up to broadcasters to provide content that consumers actually find compelling enough to seek out, and to make it available on whatever platforms they want to access it on. What makes content compelling? That is a question that has many answers, but in the case of most listeners, I suspect it would be something uniquely local and engaging that “connects” them to their community and to those around them.

I believe that there will always be some method of one-to-many content distribution that mimics what broadcasters have been doing since the dawn of radio. It will almost certainly be digital, carry numerous channels of content over a wide geographical area, and it may even come through a service provider rather than remaining free over-the-air. Satellite, cellular, and Internet based platforms fit many of these criteria to a point, but lack any sort of local connection for the most part.

Whether it comes via AM, FM, analog, digital, satellite, cellular, Internet, or something completely different yet to be invented; the real magic is in the message, not in the method. Exactly what this method will look like in another 10–15 years is anybody’s guess, but at its heart (as long as wireless devices exist) it will always be “Radio.”



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