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Raised on radio

September 25, 2017


Photo: Robert Ashworth (CC)

What is radio?

If you had asked me growing up, it would’ve been a handful of local stations on AM and FM, with a few extra AM stations at night. Every house had multiple radios: portable ones, clock radios, giant stereos, factory models in cars, even pocket-size ones with optional earphone.

For a lucky few, listeners could pick up nearby pirate radio stations (I still love to watch “Pump Up the Volume,” a 1990 Christian Slater flick about a high schooler’s secret basement broadcasts). The 1990s gave rise to satellite radio, with Sirius and XM providing hundreds of channels of music by genre.

The early days of the World Wide Web provided a new DIY format: Internet radio. Listeners could use an app such as RealAudio or connect directly to streams from all over the globe. Nowadays, we can connect through our computers, phones, tablets, car wifi, smart personal assistants (Alexa, Google Home), smart watches and probably a few other devices I can’t remember.

Radio is also:

  • Recordings of broadcasts made with an app.
  • Podcasts by anyone.
  • Podcasts of radio broadcasts and shows.
  • TV shows of radio programs.
  • Streaming services (Pandora, Spotify).
  • YouTube streaming.

I ask about radio because it makes us think about how communication technology grows and evolves. Terrestrial radio may be the original, but many of us listen to music and talk throughout the day on formats never imagined in decades past.

What is television? What is texting/instant messaging? What is blogging? We’ve seen this newer channels transform into unexpected variations.

We may not be able to pin down a simple definition for radio, but we can adapt to the formats. We can come up with creative ways to monetize the formats, through advertising, sponsorship, membership and more.

As long as people have ears, they can tune in. Are we tuned in?

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