Updated February 20th 2003

Broadcasting to the world
So, you're tuning into your local radio station today. Or are you? Let's think about this. You can tune your radio dial through a band from 88FM to 107FM. Chances are you'll find nothing but bland formatted radio, a bit like takeaway food. Every station tries so desperately to be individual but it's all the same stuff differentiated only by the sauce that's thrown on top. In Sydney Australia you have four major commercial stations - 2DayFM, TripleM, Mix106, and the new Nova 96.9. Okay, you decide you like Nova because it has more dance music but after about 10 minutes you realise you have been cheated, because it is no different from the rest. The format actually takes over the content. Two songs in a row, followed by a link with what's to come, then over a minute of ads. and the cycle starts again.

Well folks, don't worry.
Things are a-changin'. With the advent of new ways of getting music from any point on earth to your ears, your choice is going to be enormous. Already you can listen to a local station on your mobile phone. Already it's possible to listen to radio anywhere in the world from your computer. But that's kinda high maintenance. Connections can be slow, broadcasts broken by bandwith problems, so it's not going to compete with FM. But let's take it further. What happens when everyone's on cable networks - that is, you don't need your phone line to connect to the net - you are getting downloads of 500 KB per second. Now we're talking. You are CONSTANTLY linked to the internet. Your TV, Radio, and mobile phone are all inextricably connected so you can get high quality sound not only in your home, but everywhere you go.

You'll wake up one morning and think "I really liked that jazz station in San Francisco", so you take the bus to work, tune your mobile into your home network
(your mobile is connected to the web through your home network), put on your headphones, and listen in crystal clear stereo to some dude playing jazz on the other side of the planet.

Okay, so you're not going to get an accurate traffic report, or the local news. But why would you want to? Your handheld device shows you a grid of traffic problems in your city and tells you your local weather and news for the day. As a past broadcaster I used to wonder why people wanted to know about traffic, news and weather. It occurs to me now that people don't WANT to know this stuff, they NEED to know it. Unfortunately it's all piled up into one medium - your local radio station. Not anymore. You can sit on that bus, or drive your car, listening "live" to great jazz music from San Fran, while you surf your PDA (or mobile) and get your information separate from the pleasure of listening to a great radio station.

So, what does this do for formatted commercial radio? How are they going to compete? Well, they'll have to stop condescending upon their audiences for a start. Secondly they'll have to cut down on the mass of interfering advertising they are allowed to push into your ears.
Okay, okay, I know that's how they make their money. This is not a moral argument. It is fact. Commercial radio is going to have to change its colours, or die. I come from a commercial radio environment. The ads paid for me to be there, reading news. I am all too aware of the necessity of ads. But it's all going to change. With the mass of communication tools available now and in the next ten years, the whole culture will change - there will be no geographics where radio is concerned.It's already changing.

For instance, I live in Sydney. I listen to a plethora of radio stations, but none of them are located in Australia. I listen to a great station in Kenya in the mornings, I abuse my ears with 98fm or fm104 in Dublin just to see if anything changes (which nothing ever does) but my favourite station happens to be in San Francisco, a great jazz station. Okay, so I am still getting riddled with ads about products being pushed by local restaurants who want me to visit and get all I want to eat for a set price- in downtown San Francisco. But as this media evolves, the ads will either disappear, or just be global ads, Coca Cola and McDonalds. I'm thinking the latter.

When you go shopping, do you go to the corner store for your week's supplies? I doubt it. You go to Woolworths or equivalent, a multinational company.The same will happen with radio. It will be globalised. You may not like it, but as the world becomes globalised, the more you are not going to get individual attention. Advertising will always be there, but they're gonna have to be real smart to stop you changing that dial.

George Long
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