Internet did not kill the radio star! Twenty years after the birth of Internet Radio in 1995 seemed to predict radio broadcasting’s demise, yet it is more widely used than ever. We listen to it in the car, on our phones and mobile devices, at work, in the gym – despite Television and the Internet, radio is extensively used.
The technology of radio has changed a lot in 100 years, but even by the 1920s it was a household medium, at first on the AM band, then on the FM. More recently, radio is transmitted digitally in some countries, and sometimes it is available with adjuncts like electronic screens (illustrated radio) and online reception. Radio is timeless but it is an ever developing technology, always rising to the challenges brought by a rapidly evolving information and communication technology (ICT) sector.
Internet and Radio can complement each other, but there are important distinctions. There is a place and a need for them both, separately and together.
Radio broadcasting exists in what may be called a ‘public space’. When we listen to the radio, we share an experience with others. There is no limit at all to the number of radio sets than can receive the programme; the capacity of radio broadcasting capacity is ‘inexhaustible’. Listening to radio makes us ‘happier’ individuals and surveys show that radio is the medium we trust most – it is a friend talking to us, and we believe him or her. These are characteristics of radio broadcasting that ensure it will always be popular.
Internet is a tremendous medium that exists in what may be called a ‘virtual space’. Internet Radio can be great, and surely has a place in our world, as indeed the multimedia that the Internet provides can be a valuable adjunct to radio. But if the programme is not live, rather radio-on-demand, we are losing the shared experience of broadcast radio. Internet radio has not supplanted broadcast radio, nor will it – it will be its partner in the media world. Internet itself is not an ‘inexhaustible’ technology, and each new user takes a slice of the capacity. It can only work within the limits of congestion. Having said that, it is tremendously important tool that will enlarge the creative horizons for radio.
Radio is a primary medium for information distribution during a national or local disaster, providing vital early warning and emergency support, and it is especially important for remote communities, where radio serves as a vital lifeline. Local radio has a social job – it can rally local support for improving public services, enhance food security through the distribution of agricultural information and campaign for human rights by disseminating information.
Radio is certainly our past and present, but it is also our future. We must continue to innovate radio with new capabilities, keeping it attractive for users in their various environments. The Internet will play a role in this – new data and multimedia applications which support a seamless link between radio and the Internet will enable access to more individual information. Moreover, radio technology is vital to navigation devices, where real-time traffic information can be enhanced with further development.
In order to access these improved services we need to ensure resource allocation and management of radio spectrum are undertaken efficiently and effectively. We also need to ensure that future smart devices include radio capability. The ITU World Radio Communication Conferences and the Study Groups ensure that spectrum and technology is available worldwide for this ever-changing medium. This is vital so radio remains fun, easy to use, personal, and offers the companionship we all need.
David Wood is EBU Consultant, Technology and Innovation, at the EBU Headquarters in Geneva Switzerland. David is a former Chair of the World Broadcasting Unions Technical Committee, and he has represented the world broadcasting unions and EBU in international forums. He currently Chairs ITU-R Working Party 6C, and several groups of the DVB Project.