Don't Look Back
January 10, 2014
On this week's episode of Leo Laporte's "This Week in Tech," panelist Brian Brushwood asked an interesting question: if you could be 20 years younger right now but in the bargain give up the past 20 years of technological development, would you do it? You'd be younger and ostensibly healthier, but... the Internet wasn't yet ubiquitous. The web was was still in nascent form, and the beginning of audio streaming was still a year off. No smartphones -- not even the StarTAC was out back then. Back to the way things were back in 1994. Would you make that trade?
Before I answer... oh, hell, I'll answer now. No, I wouldn't. (As someone said in the ensuing discussion, being 20 years younger and living without the newer technology? I've done that already.) But when I heard that question, it reminded me that if you were able to ask that of the radio industry as a whole, the answer would undoubtedly be a resounding yes, and why wouldn't it be? 20 years ago, radio was an idyllic place, profitable and about to enter a period of escalating values and revenues that only ended, well, a few years later (and before the rest of the economy collapsed). Pandora was decades away. Traditional media doing traditional things were all there was. The Good Old Days. And for a medium that's more obsessed with its past than others -- I stopped paying attention to Internet radio message boards years ago, when it seemed that it was just a bunch of people pining for WABC to return to playing music (and not current "junk" but "good music" like '60s oldies, before "the kids" ruined it all) -- there's no question that living in the past would be an attractive option.
Can't do that, though, unless your TARDIS is in working order (and even then, you won't be getting any younger, although you'd be centuries old and able to regenerate). You're here in the present, facing an uncertain future. And you radio people should be looking towards the future instead of longing for the past to magically reappear and whisk everyone into a paradise of Boss Jocks and reverb. It's one reason why more radio people should be paying attention to International CES, and I was pleased to see a few more radio folks at the show this week... but there were only a few more. Radio's still an awkward fit, still sort of a relic among the newer technologies on display. (Awkward doesn't begin to describe the reaction in the room when the FCC commissioners were asked a question on AM revitalization -- even Commissioner Ajit Pai, who's been behind the FCC's examination of the issue, said that he was surprised to hear anything about AM radio at CES.) The HD Radio booth was, as usual, pretty quiet (and when I stopped by, one of three visitors at the time, none of the people working there came up to talk to me or anyone else, busy talking to each other instead. iHeartRadio had a DJ at the Chrysler booth and some pillows with the logo on them, but I couldn't find anything explaining exactly what the app is and why I should care on display. Meanwhile, SiriusXM and TuneIn had shows coming live from auto makers' booths. ("Into Tomorrow with Dave Graveline" was on the floor and at all of the bunch-of-vendors-in-a-ballroom showcases, though.) Radio still, on the whole, seems to be on the sidelines.
But if it's any consolation, there's this: I still see no indication whatsoever that car makers have any intention of killing off AM and FM from the dashboard any time soon. iHeartRadio and TuneIn are pretty ubiquitous in the connected car. Radio stations as we know them are still going to be an option on the dash, one way or another, broadcast or streaming or both. Streaming in the car offers incredible opportunities for content providers -- radio, THAT'S YOU -- to create new product that people will want to hear, customizable or not. There is a future. Repeat that to yourself -- there is a future. And you can be part of it, or you can wish it was 1994.
And with that, we're off and running for another year of All Access News-Talk-Sports. (15th year, believe it or not. I know, I can't believe it, either.) Talk Topics is back, too, offering the usual selection of things to talk about on the radio (or on your podcast, or to your cat) right here. The Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics has every story individually linked to the appropriate item. It's all free. And there's a fresh "10 Questions With..." newly syndicated "Life As You Own It" host Craig Miller, who's using his mortgage expertise to offer advice to home buyers and renters on the radio at a time when that's a pretty major topic.
And follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon, and visit the other site I edit, Nerdist.com. Hey, I've started posting stuff at pmsimon.com again, so read that, too. (Total redesign for 2014, because why not.)
Hey, if there are any things about radio about which you want to hear my ill-considered opinions, or any questions you want answered here, feel free to send them to email@example.com. After 15 years, I can use some fresh input. See you here next week....