New Media 101

The following appeared in Radio-info.com’s New Media column, an article by Jim Kerr called “The Future Is Now.” In it, Jim describes his experiences with his young teenage daughter, an experience mirroring that of a teenage son — who, however, could care less about radio in general in favor of his iPod and the computer. Both experiences, however, call into question once again the wisdom of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s chucking $50 million of taxpayer shekels at public radio stations to bolster the startup of HD radio, a monopoly enterprise that promises the sun and delivers drizzle. The madcap dash to ensnare the young’uns today appears totally misdirected, landing our public stations pell-mell in a morass of expenditures without hope of return on investment — at the expense of any kind of local control.

My daughter is a huge fan of Kiss FM in Dallas. One reason is that she interned there and has a personal connection with the staff. She feels emotionally connected to the station. This is powerful, and thus it is not surprising that she often asks me to put Kiss FM on in the car or I hear her listening to it in her room. But a strange thing started happening — I stopped hearing her playing music in her room.

Recently I went into her room and saw her working on some homework on her computer. Her being a 14 year old, she was also listening to something on her iPhone. When I asked her what, she said she was listening to Kiss FM on the I Heart Radio app. I looked at her desk. Within arm’s reach was a nice stereo with big speakers. It includes an FM radio. But she wasn’t listening to Kiss FM on that. Also connected to the stereo is her computer, which also gave her the ability to listen to Kiss FM via a stream and those nice speakers. But she wasn’t listening to that, either. She was listening to mobile streaming on her phone. I asked her why.

“Well, I’m texting with my friends, and if I listen to music on my stereo I’m afraid I’ll miss hearing the beep of an incoming text. So I’m listening on my phone because it will interrupt the music with a sound if I get a text.”

Let that sink in for a moment. My daughter, a huge fan of Kiss FM, has access to better sound quality on her stereo but ignored it. Why? Because texting is so important to her that she wanted to use the music feature that worked with her texting, not got in the way of it.

This is how habits change. Radio that works within the lifestyle of consumers today will become ascendant, and those that don’t will fail. This is the tipping point that is reached when technology, new models, and the consumer all merge. As I said, radio is moving this way and consumers are driving it.

So look at radio today. What are the growing consumer expectations and what are the forces at play? Are FM or AM radio able to be in the path of these things? The answer to that question tells us whether radio via towers or radio via streaming is the future.

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