Friday, June 6, 2008

The Plight of Radio in a Broadband Era

I was telemarketed by a polling company the other night, one of those occasional attempts to figure out what adults listen to on the radio these days. Given my profile the questions were rather quaint. What New York music station do I listen to? (None.) How often do I listen to the radio? (Basically for traffic, occasional news and the ball game.) Do you listen to online music (oh yeah, that and the cable music stations). Mercifully they didn't make me go through a list of artists who I don't listen to anyway, but it was interesting to see that even in the face of more than a decade of online music radio station marketers are asking the same old questions so that they can tweak the same old radio formats again and again.

I think of this in particular in light of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's plans to auction off a portion of the radio spectrum for a free nationwide broadband Internet service. While the plan is experiencing a few snags at the moment, it appears that the free broadband network, which will be supported by advertising fees of which the feds will take a proposed cut, is likely to become a reality in the next few years. At that point there will be a fairly universal "ether" out there that will be available for any Web-enabled content for people - and autos - on the go. With that in mind, one wonders why the questions in these phone polls aren't already going:

"If you had a choice as to what content you'd like to hear come over a traditional radio station that coordinated with online services. what would it be?"

"If our digital sideband data services could allow you to purchase music that you're listening to on the radio with one click of a button into your Bluetooth-enabled music player while you're driving via a free broadband network installed in your car radio or mobile device, would that be of interest to you?"

"If our music programming could be tuned automatically to the most favorite music in a category from the Pandora online music service, would you listen to it?"

My apologies to questionnaire designers everywhere, but somehow these are the types of questions that radio executives should be asking their audiences - and themselves.
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