The near-future of radio is in the rental car my wife and I picked up at the Jackson Hole Airport on Monday. I don’t mean the satellite radio, which I barely used. I did hear a few minutes of my friend Rodney Lee Conover talking with Jay Thomas as we drove away from the airport. I’m not sure if they gave me the service by mistake or not. The satellite had stopped working, except for one weather channel, when I tried it late Wednesday night and again on Thursday.
I also don’t mean the FM station that promised to “peruse the news and tickle your ribs on this new music Tuesday” or the other local station that spent upwards of half an hour discussing that date in history. No kidding. My wife said, “by the time they’re done, they’ll be talking about today.” As it turns out the joke was on us. We listened to their drivel on July 6. When I looked up that date on Wikipedia, I realized that the Wyoming radio hosts were mistakenly discussing the events of July 5.
The Hyundai Elantra that we rented has a port labeled “iPod USB” and another for auxiliary audio. I plugged my Walkman into the auxiliary input so we could listen to a lengthy audio book as we drove. The built-in system is far superior to the overly simple iTrip I have used in the past.
My friend Perry Simon has written extensively about how the delivery method of audio entertainment is changing. Listeners will stream their favorite radio shows or podcasts as they drive. It won’t matter whether the AM or FM transmitter is within range as long as the car’s Internet connection is working.
Turns out that content is our business. It’s content that people want, which leads to building audience, which leads to advertising sales or subscriptions or event marketing revenue. It may be a pain in the wallet to pay for bandwidth to stream, but you have to be available everywhere people want their entertainment and you have to serve it to them the way they want it. Put an FM tuner in every toaster, fridge, and weed whacker in America and it won’t increase listenership. People want streaming so they can hear whatever content they want on their phones, on their computers, and on their Internet-enabled clock radios. That costs money, but they’re accustomed to flat-rate unlimited data. They’re not paying for that bandwidth. You will. So it wasn’t in your business model. It is now.
Here’s an easy way to describe the future of radio. Think of all the hype for satellite radio from a few years ago. Now replace the word satellite with Internet and eliminate the subscription fee.