Our primary medium is sound. That’s what got us here.
Sound has at least two great advantages over other forms of communication:
- It is so portable it allows one to enjoy it while using their hands and eyes for other purposes. The ultimate multi-tasking tool!
- Being free of actual visual information, it produces a powerful personalized picture in the mind of the listener. Use with care!
Our medium is sound but our technical platform has been radio broadcasting. As more audio channels open, audiences are choosing to hear our sound via those new pathways.
Where possible, we’ll continue to take advantage of the unique strengths of broadcasting:
Live: Don’t underestimate the power and advantage of live transmission. It is the
ultimate in originality: Listeners do not know the outcome. It has its own energy, drama and risk.
Linear: While radio is restricted to real-time (linear) presentation, this is an advantage when broadcasting live, when telling sequential stories, and in providing a shared experience for many listeners.
Despite the changing technological landscape, terrestrial public radio remains a very viable institution for delivering news and serving community needs.
- Our technical infrastructure is robust.
- We have built vast capacity as a national system.
- We have established talent, proven practices and popular programs.
- We’ve grown deep community roots based on respect and loyalty.
These advantages may not hold up over time but they give public radio a head start in the “new media” landscape.
It should be noted that the current numbers of people served by our terrestrial radio transmitters far outstrip the numbers served via all other channels.
Also, significant interest and investment continue to flow into terrestrial transmitting. Companies pay millions of dollars for available local frequencies. Low power FM stations attract competition for licenses by local groups. And the next big thing is the expansion of HD radio on terrestrial transmitters.
The public radio system was built upon a local service model: programming delivered locally over the air by station transmitters to AM/FM receivers. To this day, this system is
- Reliable: Radio is well-established with incredible reliability; and
- Ubiquitous: Almost every car and truck has an AM/FM radio. Most homes have several.
These facts continue to support radio as a crucial medium at times of crisis.
The closest cousin to traditional AM and FM radios are the new “HD Radios” — taking advantage of the change in local transmitters from analog to digital signals. The apparent benefit to existing stations is the ability to offer additional program streams. As of 2014, consumers had been slow to buy the new radios required to hear those additional channels.
For more detail on digital radio, see Outside Help → Wikipedia: HD Radio
For the local news director, the question may be whether the newsroom that once fed a single channel of radio will now serve multiple channels? If so, what’s the effect on staff and on the content?
Meanwhile, from space, satellite radio continues to penetrate the radio marketplace, albeit slowly. Like HD Radio, satellite radio requires unique receivers to grasp the signal. Unlike HD Radio, it costs money to subscribe to it. Only one company, Sirius XM (formed by the merger of former competitors), offers the service. It consists of hundreds of channels delivered over a massive coverage area. Some of these channels have public radio formats. The lack of true localism on satellite radio makes it abhorrent to our ilk, but like cable television it can serve a lot of niche needs among a national audience.
internet radio is one of the fastest growing forms of radio. (Anyone can start a channel if they have the software and computer server that distributes streaming audio.) While internet streams are readily available on computers and mobile phones, there is also a growing consumer market for standalone internet radios. (They need a Wi-Fi connection to the internet, of course, but marketers boast of providing thousands of “stations” to choose from.)
All radio stations are wise to provide an internet stream. Not only because it is a simple and obvious alternative distribution channel for their on-air signal, but because they know the radio stream is the number one desired service from a radio station online.
Now your station can be local and global at the same time — but consider the competition! This is why many stations are hurrying to distinguish themselves through more localism in their format.
As we use the internet to deliver sound, many of us are adding “Podcasts” to the menu of options. It is a seemingly small step in making radio more convenient for listeners. As audio content makers, it’s almost a no-brainer to repackage air material in a digital audio file for simple downloading and playback. Podcasts are especially great for programs or reports amenable to time shifting. Podcasts also work well as a vehicle for continuing series.