So where do we start? Well rather than a world
where the telegraph wire was followed by the wireless telegraph
and then wireless (later to become radio) as a form of entertainment,
then TV, then Internet audio and vision, suppose we were magically
transported into a world where the latter existed with wireless
Internet universally available but there was no broadcasting
Would it then make any sense to develop broadcasting as we
know it? The concept is in some ways analogous to the telephone
system in many parts of the world where the copper wire phone
system is, to be polite, decrepit, and mobile phones have
become the preferred option.
Would we now develop
So -assuming content was available from
somewhere on this wireless internet - would we bother developing
a system to broadcast it on a one-to-many basis as well?
We would argue that it would indeed make sense albeit other
factors - such as music royalty charges - could mean that
content was somewhat limited compared to nowadays: The position,
of course would then be similar to that currently faced by
broadcasters who can't provide podcasts of music itself from
shows they have aired but can provide the DJs and talk since
the cost of the music could be greater than the cost of providing
Such content cost caveats aside, however,
there seem to us to be some very strong arguments in favour
of broadcast radio (and to a lesser degree TV).
Firstly the distribution system is very cheap - transmission
is not particularly expensive compared to the cost of Internet
infrastructure (albeit this is buried because of other uses).
Secondly the reception system is (well the analogue one is:
Digital is less robust, more power hungry, and anything but
universal) - robust, already nigh universal and also cheap
as well as having the advantage of being able to operate on
battery power or indeed as a wind-up device.
Receivers are also already owned by people in most of the
Thirdly the medium is still the only one that makes sense,
unless there is massive investment in wireless broadband and
a reliable reception thereof over a wide area using battery-powered
equipment, the only one that can reasonably deliver changing
information such as news, sport and weather and traffic warnings
to people on the move or in remote places.
The above, you will notice, does not highlight music, the
main foundation for many commercial stations and we regard
music as a secondary benefit of the system for the well-off
who can afford portable players although still most valuable
as a convenient means of listening in many cases and still
the main source for those who are too poor to afford the purchase
of recordings and playing devices.
The problem here, therefore, is not so much one of demand
but of whether the demand will finance the supply using current
advertising-funded broadcasts. Alternatively, of course, if
commercial companies cannot make a go of frequencies they
can be offered to other groups - as has happened to a limited
degree in the UK where at least one frequency handed back
by a commercial owner went into the pool for community use.
In summary therefore, as a system for wide distribution of
emergency warnings that may well be needed when power supplies
are affected, radio remains supreme. It also remains supreme
when it comes to an economical way of distributing the same
information to many listeners.
What of the commercial
When it comes to commercial radio, however,
things may not be as rosy. Other media are not only competing
for listeners' attention but also for the advertising income
that sustains commercial stations.
We therefore expect the balance for radio to tilt more in
favour of public broadcasting and community-type stations
rather than the big conglomerates. The process is likely to
take a considerable time and the station owners have a tremendous
base from which to work to take their existing listeners to
their web site or to garner income from them in other ways
such as paid-for downloads.
What we are concerned about is the possibility that pressure
from existing commercial broadcasters as they come under increasing
financial constraints will be devoted to pulling down public
broadcasting rather than being positive about what they can
do and also in some areas that the pressure will be on to
dump analogue in favour of digital since it favours the interests
of the radio companies rather than of the listeners.
We can only hope that were the latter to happen - and it is
after all a development that would shift massive costs of
replacement equipment to listeners for the benefit of the
commercial companies - public pressures would force the politicians
to take measures to ensure that community broadcasters, many
of whom are financially strapped, can continue on air.