"IP Is The New FM"


Tom Webster has some wise words at The Infinite Dial on the future of radio in the Internet age:

This is an alt-text!

Here is a station in a major market. It features a morning show from Chicago; a drive-time show from Nashville. There are no local shows. This, in the very short term, is a compelling option for some broadcasters today. With such low overhead (i.e., no "talent.") it may even be throwing off some cash with a modest amount of local advertising.

Some stations are genuine entertainment sources, others merely provide "services." This particular station provides a service of convenience–rebroadcasting some national shows into the market–but that service is no longer unique in a world where "repeaters" are irrelevant. IP is the new FM. Very, very soon, every iota of programming on this station will be available everywhere, either live or on demand, from sources other than this particular station, wherever mainstream Americans want to hear it. If I have a relationship with Mancow, or Phil Hendrie, then the advertising power of that relationship rests with them, and not with the utility that happens to rebroadcast them in my local market….

When the service provided by stations like this becomes irrelevant, they are probably just going to go away. This is not radio's strength. Radio's strength has always been about shared experience, local community….Stations that master local relationships will survive. Stations that own unique, strong music positions with passionate communities will survive (that playlist, after all, is also unique content–and most stations don't do enough to capitalize on that online). 10 years ago, stations that did neither would change formats until they did. When IP is the new FM, those stations might just go dark. The market is already making that decision, for some.

Some of us have been sounding similar alarms for a long time. Meanwhile, to see some of the ways that short-sighted, risk-averse stations are ignoring actual popular music that ordinary listeners demonstrably want to hear, check out this Infinite Dial post from Larry Rosin.

NEXT: Newspapers Already Receive Subsidies

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  1. This is true. However, provided that it’s done in a free market without getting government to preserve their monopoly (hah, I know), there’s nothing necessarily wrong with people taking the short-term profits that are there.

    Sure, “when IP is the new FM,” those stations will be in trouble. But IP isn’t FM yet, and perhaps those stations wouldn’t be able to stay in business right now if they converted to a local format and increased their overhead.

    People should be aware that they’re in a dying market (or that they’re allowing themselves to be commoditized), but in the short run that may be better than going out of business. When IP is the new FM, those broadcast towers will be useless, so why not take advantage of them while they still mean something?

  2. Jesse,

    Didn’t the DMCA pretty much kill grass roots internet radio?

    1. Sort of. The DMCA in 1998 established that the Copyright Royalty Board applies to internet radio. Even so, it was partially affordable until the Copyright Royalty Board announced that Internet radio rates would be massively raised in 2007 (IIRC).

    2. It fucked it over but it didn’t snuff it out.

      1. It was a classic case of the music industry being short sighted and greedy. The music industry by supporting the conglomerization of the radio industry, has made destroyed radio as a way to break new bands. Go back to the 60s and 70s and pretty much any band that made it big will say “we made when DJ X in City Y started playing our record”. That doesn’t happen anymore. Basically four or five people determine what is played on every radio station in America. If you can’t get those guys to play your record, you are screwed. That is why the music industry has had to resort to getting songs played on commercials, movies and TV shows to get new bands into the public eye. Thirty years ago Yael Na?m wouldn’t have ever thought to put her song in an Apple commercial. She just would have gotten a DJ somewhere to play it.

        It is more than a bit of cosmic justice. In their efforts to squeeze a few bucks out of people playing music over the internet, the music business has made it much harder to market their product and the radio industry has made itself increasingly irrelvent to the music industry.

        1. Let”s not leave out the culpability of the FCC, whose frighteningly outdated scarcity model has made these FM frequencies so gotdamn valuable as real estate goes and the NAB, whose knee-jerk response to any technology challenging conventional radio was to release their hoards of lobbyists and lawyers to maintain the media oligarchy’s headlock on that business.

          I say again: fuck ’em. You reap what you sow. They can’t go under fast enough for me.

          1. Yeah. The United States has some of the worst radio and newspapers in the world. Yet, we are all supposed to feel bad and chip in because they are gowing broke.

  3. This should not surprising, since most newspapers are “repeaters” for the overwhelming majority of their content, as well. They take content produced nationally and internationally by providers other than themselves and print and distribute it in a particular city. And the need for that has disappeared. But the newspapers don’t acknowledge that they are “repeaters”; they insist that they are content creators, because of the 5 or 10 pages of independent content they splice between the AP and Reuters stuff and the syndicated stuff. And so they whine about how the internet is hurting “creators”, because they are lying to themselves and to us about their status as “creators”.

    1. Most local “reporters” do nothing more than rework press releases.

  4. Uh huh. Yes. Uh huh. Yes.

  5. Wow, I would have to agree dude that makes perfectr sense to me!


  6. Why can’t the DCMA kill Anonymity Bot?

  7. there is digital radio, aka HD radio, but that is still over FM and not many people have HD radio sets. more people have sets that can read the artist and song information that is sent over a sideband. there is also FMeXtra which is kind of a hybrid between analog and digital using subcarriers for the digital signal but again its not very popular. satellite XM/Sirius radio, internet radio, and WIFI radio are the future.

  8. Why can’t the DCMA kill Anonymity Bot?

    Or at least bend him in half for a few hours?

  9. I’ve already voted with my feet as far as radio goes. Clear Channel, et al. stopped providing me with a usable product years ago. So, fuck ’em. Radio hasn’t been a community service in many years.

    I can get Slacker radio and Pandora on my Blackberry, I subscribe to Sirius/XM in both cars and I have my Zune for my music. I suspect that even satellite radio will be dead within 5 years with the mobile IP services displacing that niche. And that’s just in the car or on foot. At home, I have too many entertainment sources to choose from. Radio loses before it’s even out of the gate.

    Here in DC, I’ll listen to WTMD out of Towsen or WRNR out of Annapolis, if I can pick them up. Both are alternatives to the usual fare, but they aren’t powerful signals. I’ll listen to talk radio on WBAL in Balmer on AM, but that’s about it.

  10. Clear Channel, et al. stopped providing me with a usable product years ago.

    Radio died when you could drive across the country and listen to the exact same playlist from ClearChannel from coast-to-coast.

    Talk radio will survive because much of the content is local. Local is the only thing that will save newspapers and radio, but the suits running both are too dumb to realize it.

  11. So… any bets on how long before radio stations ask for subsidies?

  12. Am I the only one who doesn’t know what “IP” stands for here?

    1. Internet Protocol, I think you get how they’re using it.

    2. IP= Internet Protocol, which is used as a transport for almost all modern computer network communication.

  13. Or at least bend him in half for a few hours?

    That’s Warty’s job.

  14. so the future is college radio? 🙂

    that’s not so bad.

    1. Hmmm, I’m guessing you never listened to my college station: WMUDeadair. we were lucky if people showed up for their shifts every week, let alone not steal every fucking record we had in the library.

      Just bring back the old WHFS from the 80’s. That was leaps and bounds better than college radio.

  15. I like the Jack model. Jack is really the only station I listen to anymore (in Seattle); I’ll turn on The End if I want to hear new music, but generally shut it off after just a few minutes of their inane bullshit.

    The Jack model: No DJs. No staff at all, as far as I can tell. The playlist is totally random; it’s like listening to someone else’s iPod on ‘shuffle’. The music is all hits… from years ago, so the cost to the station is kept minimal.

    So I hear a lot of 80s and 90s music I like, never have to tolerate a morning DJ, and the only breaks in the music are the commercials, which are brief.

    I think commercial radio is dying, but I’m happy to have Jack as one of the harbingers of its death.

    1. Click on the “sounding similar alarms” link for my take on the Jack format.

  16. I’ve gotten into livestreaming radio and pandora at work, I’ll usually listen to the ‘Kevin & Bean Show’ on KROQ out of LA in the morning and then switch to Pandora or my iPod in the afternoon.

  17. While Radio is being displaced, there are a lot of old recievers out there in cars and it will take a long time to die. I use Pandora at home, but I don’t think I’ll upgrade my car in the next 5 years.

    Newspapers haven’t died yet, and since their editorializing ususally detracts from the underlying wire-service content you would think they would die first as radio stations aren’t actually “in the way”.

  18. # Hacha Cha|10.22.09 @ 11:47AM|#

    # there is digital radio, aka HD radio,
    # but that is still over FM

    Actually, there is an AM version of HD also, which was developed in tandem with, and introduced at the same time as, the FM version. Because the AM channel bandwidth is more limited, AM stations can’t include multiple program subchannels, but they can deliver stereo programming with reasonable (pre-digital FM-stereo-like) fidelity. I think both AM-band and FM-band digital methods allow for a subchannel of digital data (song names and artists, etc.).

  19. I like Jack FM as well; unfortunately the affiliate here has a really weak signal for some reason, so I can’t always get it to come in reliably.

  20. Since the game plan of HD radio is to eventually replace the traditional analog signal with a totally digital signal in the old channel-space, it won’t make much sense for there to be separate “broadcast bands” at all. At the point where all broadcasters now operating in the AM and FM bands abandon their analog signals, they might as well switch over to being internet carriers. What we now think of as an “independent radio station” would become a “content provider” in streaming internet-land (as many already have become), with the transmitters turned over to broad-area WiFi schemes and the like.

  21. I noticed that the signals of many of the regional AM stations in Central and northern California started sounding noticeably weaker — to the point of being objectionably susceptible to interference or even becoming altogether unlistenable — after those stations converted to HD. I don’t think it was the same phenomenon as loss of coverage area during the DTV transition, because many of the latter stations had to operate at reduced power during the transition phase, whereas the radio broadcasters had no such power restrictions, as far as I know.

  22. None of this is accurate. People listen to the radio mainly in four areas:

    1. At home.
    2. At work.
    3. In the car.
    4. On foot (IE, using a walkman).

    Now, records/8-tracks/tapes/CDs/MP3s have always competed with radio in area #1 and since 1975 or so in #2, #3, and #4.

    Satellite radio competes in #1, #2, and #3 (mainly #3, though). Internet radio only competes in #1 and #2. It will never compete in #3 and #4.

    Plus, traditional radio survives in all of the above areas. It’s simple and cheap to use.

    Traditional radio will never die. I also doubt there ever will be a full conversion from analog to HD radio either.

    1. It will never compete in #3 and #4.

      That’s absolutely not true. Ever hear of an iPhone? It constitutes about 75% of my radio listening in the car.

      Certainly an iphone is considered somewhat high end at the moment, but that will come down.

    2. In addition to what Dead Elvis said, I’ll point out that as more and more syndicated shows are available as podcasts, you won’t even need an iPhone to listen to them as you walk, drive, or work out at the gym.

    3. Internet radio only competes in #1 and #2. It will never compete in #3 and #4.

      I couldn’t disagree more. Internet radio is already showing up on mobile devices such as the iPhone, Android phones and Blackberries and unlimited data plans are becoming the norm.

      As an somewhat early adopter of XM, I will be saddened by the passing of satellite radio, but I don’t see it existing 5 years from today. It’s just too expensive to operate compared to an Internet alternative, such as Pandora.

      It already has one foot in the grave. It won’t take too much a shove to put the other foot in.

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