Technology Killed the Radio Star
I recently installed a new radio in my truck that has an auxiliary port, so I can plug my iPod directly into my radio and listen to all of my favorite artists at the touch of a button. Being a music junkie, this is a welcomed addition to my truck. I now rarely listen to terrestrial radio. I occasionally tune in during the morning to check traffic, sports scores or weather, but that is usually the extent of it. It’s a nuisance having to flip from station to station trying to find a decent song (notice I didn’t say good song, because that is even more difficult). All too often I find nothing but commercials. The whole process has become too tedious for me. Apparently, many people are feeling the same way. Edison Research’s latest report “The Infinite Dial 2010” (find the report here) states that 24% of persons 12+ have listened to an mp3 device in the car.
So is terrestrial radio setting itself up to be the next media vehicle to become extinct once newspapers are gone? Newspapers’ demise has been well documented over the past decade, so there is no need to rehash it other than to say it has been slower death than many predicted. Nonetheless, its death continues and will continue for the foreseeable future. With radio, word of its demise hasn’t been quite so much talked about as whispered. Radio’s biggest attempt to stay relevant, HD radio, has yet to really gain traction. The same Edison Research report also stated that only 7% of adults are interested in learning about HD radio. While radio is still the #1 place people find out about new music, that number decreased dramatically from 63% to 39% from 2002 to 2010. Over the same time, the number of people hearing about new music on the internet increased from 9% to 31%.
A couple of interesting developments over the past few months point to radio losing more of its audience. In March, BMW, in partnership with RadioTime, became the first car manufacturer to offer a radio capable of pulling in both web and terrestrial radio stations. Pandora, a leader in internet radio, has been working on plans to get their product built into cars, so before long they will be in the auto space as well. Last year was a tough year for satellite radio, but this year seems more promising as first quarter numbers were surprisingly strong. While I think satellite radio will always be a niche market, it is another erosion point for terrestrial radio. There will certainly be more advances in technology that will continue to threaten radio’s existence beyond what I have mentioned.
No one can predict when and if terrestrial radio will disappear. Stations will try to stay relevant by adapting where possible, but technology is and will continue to work against them. Radio will never be able to compete in a world where I can plug my iPod into my car and listen to any song I want, while avoiding commercials. The best radio station in the world could not offer me that.