What radio really needs


The year was 2003, seven years ago, by my finger count or the usual time between finishing high school and earning  PHD status, when we set up a wire-card for a lap-top with audio- download-link to our car radio’s aux input and developed a virtual radio station with music on demand, stream linking to regional radio stations and a custom time-announcement between every few tune from our selected playlist, equipped with the usual auto-select 10 second monitoring of ‘other streaming radio stations’ during boring songs, or the urge to just check out the radio spectrum with a touch of any key-board member. It was the height of ‘the sky is falling’ and ‘the sat radio toy will destroy what radio’s programming and ownership control mechanism has thus far not laid seige’ period.

We watched as our broadcast budgets in the single digit years of 2000 were modified, more favorite streaming stations merged their content, news gathering departments, marketing teams and promotional budgets all combined into the digital parade of ones and zeros and the machinery of spin furthered the cause of the ‘gotta stop sat radio with our last round of artillery before our cities and towns fall to the evil empire and radio is dead for sure’.

Feed forward to today and the ‘new’ message to those still reeling after all those years from the key players tooling up for a new round of digital investments, further razing the broadcast spectrum noise floor by 4 times the current mystery science level is ‘better get your own mobile player format and get it fast because the radio station you operate is again under attack from still another portal unprotected- the mobile office in a box phone’.

Armed with this new warning shot over the bow of our sinking ship, walking this morning in the hood, I spotted my neighbor of many years to the word he’s been dismissed and his job removed from the department. We spoke of radio and TV in his household, including in-home sat radio and sat car, too. Said he was about to cancel the car radio sat service because of a 30 percent increase in yearly fees. You’d say that makes sense, given he was out of work. My question to him, “When did you quit listening to the former local’s Lex N Terry?” His reply, “They got so distant from Jacksonville years ago and there just was nothing left that made me feel like I was in touch with the city as I drove the 60 miles each day to Brunswick, Georgia to my office and back every afternoon!”

I explained the mobile phone application for local radio to him as we walked. His very solemn reply, “Why do you folks keep coming up with new ways to make your signal heard when there ain’t nothin’ that would make me want to turn your direction in the first place? I’ve got Direct TV in my house and spent a day trying to block out most of the crap so I could use my remote control just to watch a few things that got my attention, including the unwanted channels on my free satellite radio over the house music system!” He thinks I’m crazy for talking nice about radio’s potential and the idea locals can again seize and capture the hearts and minds of the locals with real radio. Strange, my neighbor says he still remembers the fun times of listening to radio, waking up in the morning and laughing about jokes from various morning shows and special promotions radio stations put on when his kids were running around his house. And he still visits places first heard advertised on the radio. My neighbor has a collection of songs from another generation or two that ‘don’t sound the same when played back to back with nobody saying nothin’. But that’s all old school, and without it, he could not be returning to college to get his new degree in Networking and Security Services so he can go back to his old workplace and help them as a consultant resolving firewall and other weak places in the digital fortress. Maybe he’ll learn how to ingest broadcast content and store it for future generations.

So as we get the next barrage of shots saying join the options bandwagon, on behalf of the new age of people metering and fundamental radio research questions to your barber, your neighbor and others regarding their listening and ex-listening habits (and that still small voice that whispers to the key players pulling the credit crunched strings of broadcasting funding asking ‘what in the h… are you doing all over again?), here is my gut-feeling question: When will the majority of the rest of us still holding a playable set of cards ask to see the dealer’s tools or request a fresh set of playing cards, maybe clear the table, clean house, or just enter into a butt-kickin bar-room brawl and see who’s still standing when the smoke and mirrors come tumbling down? Let’s return to core values and keep these tools as options in a war chest.

–Jerry Smith, Florida-based engineering consultant