Transitioning Into A New Era Of Radio

Wednesday, Apr 20, 2016

“Video Killed the Radio Star” is a song by British band The Buggles. Originally performed in 1980, the song was the first music video ever played on MTV. The song has since become symbolic of new forms of media doing away with the old. While this is true, The Buggles got one thing wrong: It is not video that will kill the radio star, but podcasts.

Radio traditionally has three purposes: To broadcast news, music and talk shows. Twitter took care of providing news coverage, MP3 files and streaming sites like Spotify took care of music and podcasts are taking care of talk radio.

Podcasts have been around since the mid-2000s and are almost always in audio format, although some exceptions such as video podcasts exist. They, like all forms of digital media, have three main advantages over what they are replacing. Podcasts have horizontal production, can cater to niche interests and can be consumed at one’s convenience.

Horizontal production means a lack of using expensive production tools or licenses. With podcasts, consumers can become producers and vice versa.

In traditional radio, production is expensive. A person needed access to stations and broadcast towers in order to produce content. Radio funds itself through the use of advertisements, which gives a hint at how much it costs to keep a radio station going: The radio station WHOU 100.1 FM from Houlton, Maine states on its advertisements page a single ad played five times per day five days a week can cost more than $250—considering how much airtime on each radio station is spent airing ads every hour, this adds up to quite a bit of money.

This is not the case with podcasts. While radio talk show hosts undoubtedly do excellent jobs creating compelling content, the shows inherently lack variety due to relatively few people being content creators at studios. Since anyone can make a podcast, the variety is endless, and exciting new show ideas are able to be created more regularly.

Due to this variety, podcasts are also able to cater to niche interests, which is something traditional radio is usually unable to do. Since radio broadcasts have to appeal to as many people as possible, content is often limited to broad topics that would appeal to as much of the general public as possible. This often means content is watered down and over-generalized. For example, consider just how many similar political talk shows, sports broadcasts or relationship advice segments radio stations across the country air each week.

Podcasts have no such limitations. Since consumers can choose from such a wide variety, podcasts of even the most obscure subject matter can find their niche audiences and thrive with just a few listeners. Interested in how that annoying computer chip got on your credit card recently? Listen to Planet Money. Want an in depth retelling of an infamous crime? Then download Serial.

Convenience of consuming is the third advantage. With traditional radio, if one would like to hear a particular show or segment, one must be tuned in at the right time. If a person is busy or misses a key point of the show, then they’re simply out of luck. Podcast episodes are downloaded at the consumer’s convenience and can be rewound and listened to at any time, so content can be enjoyed multiple times anywhere in the world.

Media is always changing, and what is new often beats the old. The failing of radio is not a reflection on the people who worked hard for its success, but a reflection on the natural evolution of technology. Radio stars and novices alike should partake in the exciting world of podcasts.


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