When it comes to the health of terrestrial radio in the United States these days, there’s a lot of conflicting data. On the one hand we find that radio is still listened to with great frequency in the car and at work, and that it’s still a driving force for new music discovery. On the other hand we find major players like iHeartRadio being overburdened with depth, and a young demographic increasingly being entertained elsewhere. Empirically speaking, I can tell you that when I hear several Public Service Announcement’s in a commercial pod during drive time on high-ranked Arbitron stations around the country, that indicates an industry in deep trouble.
The other day I was driving to a dinner appointment and stuck in dense Los Angeles traffic, so I had a chance to do a wide scan of both AM and FM radio. After a few minutes it occurred to me that terrestrial radio hasn’t been keeping up with technology like other entertainment delivery services. Now I’m not sure what’s technically possible and I don’t even want to go there at the moment, because I do know what I want as a consumer, especially when I’m listening in the car.
Content Presentation Quality Is Not The Issue
First of all, while some stations have made the transition to digital broadcast,it seems to have been done for the wrong reason. As a lifetime audio tech person it pains me to say this, but the average consumer doesn’t care about audio quality and in most cases can’t even tell the difference when it’s presented. I’m a wounded survivor of the DVD-Audio/SACD wars, and I can tell you with some certainty that entertainment consumers don’t consume primarily based on audio or picture quality of the content in most cases, as those now near-forgotten formats illustrate.
Consumers absolutely love the latest technology when it presents some means of convenience however, as vinyl records, cassettes and VHS tapes, CD/DVDs, downloads and streaming show. Make it easier to consume,and the people will come.
Info At A Glance
So I’m driving around the streets and freeways of the San Fernando Valley and I’m trying to dial in the Monday Night Football game (a chore in itself trying to find a station broadcasting the NFL). Okay, found it, now what’s the score? I had to wait 10 minutes until they went to commercial before the score was announced (Major League Baseball has this same problem as well). If announcers feel that they’re boring people by constantly relating the score, why not give us a “Fox Box” on the radio that provides the score and all the other pertinent info right there with a glance? In other words, give me more information in a graphical form.
But It Has To Be The Right Info
Next problem, incorrect or late information when it is there. I’m listening to the music on my favorite FM station that actually provides a display of the artist and song that’s supposed to be playing. That’s the problem though, I knew it was incorrect. It might have been the info from the song before I tuned in, but it was now displaying false info, which is as good as none at all. And that’s when a station actually bothers to supply that info, as most don’t or can’t. “Just use Shazam to find out the name of the song,” you might say. I’m driving so don’t make me fiddle with something that might cause an accident. Bottom line, even with music, I need more information.
Next situation. You’re driving along and the DJ announces the name of the song, but you didn’t catch it, or you’re listening to talk radio and someone in the interview says something that you’re not sure you heard. Or your navigation talks to you just as the interviewee was getting into a juicy answer. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a button that would take you back 10 seconds to replay the section of the show that you missed? This one actually is more on the radio manufacturers than the broadcasters, but it’s a feature that I long for a couple times a week at least.
The point is, we’re now used to having as much information as we want at our fingertips, and we’re not getting it from radio and that’s why it feels old. I realize that there’s a safety factor involved when it comes to information displays in the auto, but I’m not talking about reams of navigation here, just helpful info available at a glance. If radio wants to keep up, it has to catch up technology-wise and information-wise or it will continue its slow decline.