Wired sees a new golden age of radio on the horizon, and it’s all about Steve Jones blasting assorted underground punk tunes into the Los Angeles smog, it’s also about the same technological innovations that is changing all media:
Ultimately, broadcasters will have the chance to spray multiple streams of bits into listeners’ dashboards and homes – as many as six streams per station, depending on the fidelity requirements of the programming. Because the 1s and 0s in HD radio are functionally identical to those sent across the Net, says Jim Griffin, founder of media consulting firm Cherry Lane Digital, “digital audio implies the ability to carry video, software, email, text messages, you name it.” Within a few years, he says, radios will have what he calls a buffer – a TiVo-like device that stores broadcast signals at the listeners’ command. “You program it to store All Things Considered for the drive home. Maybe on the show there’s an alert about a new virus. You punch a button and download an antivirus update into your buffer from NPR B, then take that into your house when you get home.” Or perhaps you hear a review that makes you want to get a movie or an album, which you download as you drive. Meanwhile, your radio, which taps into the automobile’s GPS unit, is constantly scanning for local traffic reports, and when a pertinent one appears, interrupts and then resumes the stored All Things Considered. “At the other side of the transition,” Griffin says, “digital radio isn’t necessarily radio in the way we think of radio, other than the fact that it uses transmitters. It’s all about pushing and pulling bits into the buffer.”
The future is on-demand and personalized across all media. And only by embracing digital can radio escape a death spiral. If radio broadcasters can’t narrowcast and provide timeshift options, they will simply fade away.