Radio 2.0 – how the net is disrupting broadcasting

By Steve Hart
Corporate radio has turned its back on communities and its listeners. Today, we have cookie-cutter DJs playing more or less the same music and commercials as the next station on the dial.

Music is often selected by a computer program based on the time of day along with a few other parameters few outside the industry get to hear about.

Save to say, someone in marketing, with help from a ‘support partner’ in the music industry, picks the music broadcast by your ‘local’ corporate station.

The broadcaster will also have dozens of powerful and expensive transmitters, and pay hefty fees to licence each radio frequency it uses from the government (like they own them).

But are the days of wireless transmission slipping away?

Visit the website of your favourite corporate station and you’ll likely find an option to listen live online or download sections of the week’s shows for your future listening pleasure.

Play on demand (POD) has not only been adopted by TV broadcasters, it is quietly seeping across the radio industry too. Helped along by a demand from people who want to listen to what they want, when they want – a thirst for choice that’s quenched by faster, cheaper, broadband.

The traditional radio business model is being undermined by professional DJs and upstarts who are operating 100 per cent online using a mixture of automated and live broadcasts – often using some pretty basic equipment (not that you’d know by listening).

These internet-only stations don’t need a licence to broadcast, the expense of a transmitter, premises to locate it or people to maintain it. All they need is a computer, a selection of MP3 music files and to sign up with a firm that provides internet broadcast services.

The cost of entry can be as little as $10 a month. The prices these firms charge vary according to the quality of the audio and the number of audio players that can be active at any one time.

Unlike wireless radio, listening figures can be accurately measured – right down to how many people are listening at any given moment in time. Advertisers love this transparency.

While internet radio can be traced back to the early 1990s (Skip Pizzi / Digital Radio Basics), the medium has come along in leaps and bounds since around 2010. And today’s online (digital) broadcasters have the power to disrupt the established players in much the same way as the internet disrupted print media.

In a way, we are on the verge of a new ‘golden’ era of radio. Internet-based stations play music selected by the DJ (like it used to be) – listeners tune in to hear a particular DJ’s selection of music, or gravitate to online broadcasters that specialise in one particular style of music, be it non-stop trad jazz, 50’s doo wop, 60’s ballads, 70’s rock or 80’s club music.

About the only space digital broadcasters haven’t managed to fill is news. However, Democracy Now is one good example and I still take my hat off to the crew at Free Speech Radio News which closed down in 2017.

I digress…Most broadcasters have started their own online radio streaming services (iHeartRadio etc) and some are even making money selling ads for online only.

Studies show that people are increasingly listening to stations online – at work, in the car, at home and with their smartphones and smartspeakers etc.

For example, someone with a smartphone could be walking along Auckland’s Queen Street listening to a broadcaster based in London. Smartphones are the new portable radios.

The bottom line is that traditional corporate radio broadcasters the world over are on notice that a quiet revolution is undermining their business model – listener patterns will change and advertisers will go where the [niche] audiences are.

This feature was first written in 2010 and has been revised countless times since.

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