SXSW Interactive

The Future of Radio


The Future of Radio

Originally uploaded by podcastator.

Kevin Smokler selects a few relevant voices (check out the panel here) from both the traditional and online radio worlds to talk about what we all wonder about — is traditional radio dead? You might think Tim Westegren of Pandora doesn’t have to worry about that, because he represents the so-called future of a more flexible, customizable radio, but he has his own issues, such as the DMCA saying his service can only play three songs from one album every hour.

It seemed generally agreed upon by the panel that traditional radio provides a couple of powerful concepts that will need to be applied to online radio in order to make it sustainable, those being 1), it is even more imperative in the digital age to have “tastemakers” (be it radio stations, DJs, even peers) to sift through the increasingly massive catalog of music and audio productions out there and to recommend the good stuff to you, and 2), most people enjoy the “public” aspect of radio, in that you know other people are listening with you and you are, in a way, sharing something with your fellow listeners.

Celia Hirschman of Downtown Marketing says people expect a certain quality in their local radio station; it is their trusted tastemaker. And while traditional radio is ‘localized’ by nature, as service to a particular community, the new radio will need to find a way to make itself relevant to a broader geographic audience while still defining and accentuating its community, says Roman Mars of the Third Coast Audio Festival out of Chicago (which, by the way, just started podcasting their amazing original productions).

Regarding 2) above, an audience member suggested the following, which Tim really dug: a hybrid public/private radio service, where you have a DJ spinning songs for you and talking in-between, but if you hear a song you like you can go ‘private’ and listen to more songs by that artist. When you’ve heard enough in private, you go back to the DJ’s public show. Not bad. You can do this now using certain services, but it should be streamlined and made mainstream with more thinking and better software.

But what about the iPod culture, those with their heads down on the subway and the earbuds pumping out only the music their Pod has to offer? Tim offered this stat: the average mp3 player is filled to 5% of capacity and is never refreshed; the average buyer of an mp3 player listens to significantly less radio for four months after the purchase, and after which actually listens to more than he/she originally did. And, incidentally, Roman thinks it will help their Pod-friendly listeners turn a more discerning ear toward audio/production quality.

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