Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Podcasting And The Future Of Traditional Radio

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Is podcasting going to "alter" traditional radio as we know it today?

Some even believe that radio is dying altogether because of the rapid and sweeping emergence of podcasting and satellite radio complemented by the very low-quality programming of US-like commercial radio stations.

Photo credit: Ronaldo Taveira

While I do not think this will happen, I am 100% positive that podcasting will indeed have a major influence on traditional radio as we know it today.

Early adopters on the user side and aggressive radio station managers on the other are already driving some of the changes that will characterize the future of FM radio, and although the long-term effects of this impact are not yet fully recognizable, the transformation is already happening.

If it is not happening at your radio station too, it is time to regroup and ask yourself some serious questions.

Why would your audience keep listening to your radio if all the music they want and like can be more easily accessed via other means, with greater audio quality and more user-control?

How can your FM radio signal match the audio quality and reliability of a portable MP3 player, media phone or notebook?

Why would listeners continue to give attention to long, obnoxious, interruptive and irrelevant ad breaks like many commercial radios provide?

But there are traits and features that are unique to FM radio, and just like for Television, unless traditional broadcasters learn how to open themselves to the inevitable convergence with new media and the Internet they are indeed doomed to a slow and painful death.

The first thing traditional radio should acknowledge is that the times for being essentially a music jukebox are soon gone.

The competition coming from new media technologies like P2P file sharing, online music clearinghouses like iTunes, portable MP3 players, other nifty audio devices such as smart- and media-phones, and the gigantic podcasting wave provide so much more for the user experience, that for radio intended as a "music jukebox" this is a loosing battle from the very start.

Any new kid born today will never select to listen to radio over accessing her own MP3 playlist or personalized streaming radio station on the net. There is just no comparison.

So, what should traditional radio stations do to safeguard their future?

  1. Embrace convergence is the answer.
  2. Focus on uniqueness and thematic content is the solution.
  3. Retain radio characterizing strengths while combining and enhancing them with the power of new media technologies is the strategy.

Radio as we know, has indeed some unique characteristics, and some of them, combined with the opportunities offered by the web and new media, can permit the creation of an altogether new form of radio, which spans the airwaves and the fiber while bringing into people media devices quality programming that can't be gotten anywhere else.

Photo credit: Rogerio Cunha

What are then the unique traits that traditional radio should strongly leverage?

What are some of the opportunities created by new media technologies and the web that traditional radios should integrate into their programming strategy?

Here are some starting points:

  • Radio key traditional strength when compared to new media alternatives available today is its ability to be truly "live". No recording, no streaming, no delay. Instant real-time broadcasting that can take place from nearly any place or location to report, chronicle or create "live" news and events. Here is the still much untapped potential of radio. Street reporting. Reality radio.
  • The media of the future is all about the user participating into the show and becoming the producer, host and DJ herself. Providing tools and programming space for users to create, edit and compile their own audio-based programming is a vital new strategy that reflects the revolution taking place in other media.
  • Interruptive ads are dead. Give them up. The radio of the future is what blue-button suited advertising executives would call a "new branding experience" for audible interactive media. Thematic radio channels become perfect vehicles for high-powered thematic branding and sponsorship. Unintrusive, friendly and discrete, the future of radio advertising is all about creating a user experience that mixes unique theme-based content programming with a very selected and limited set of sponsors. This means that to adapt, traditional radio needs to reflect more the type of focused content delivered today within podcastswhile dropping the nasty and interruptive advertising approach.
  • Podcasting draws further attention to the increasing value of niche entertainment and thematic content coverage, where very specific kinds of music, news or commentary are becoming clearly more important than typical generalized radio content that needs to appeal to as large as possible an audience. "New radio" needs to have a strong focus, theme and identity. This means that new emerging radio could take good lesson from blogs and highly focused independent news sites and take equivalently a similar programming slant. Music focus. News focus. Specific entertainment focus (only real-time karaoke by listeners) are the roads to take.
  • Given the opportunities that the convergence of radio with the Internet, P2P and Wi-Fi/Wi-Max can offer, it would be a natural step for most to think in terms of "global" and "international", when in reality it is a stronger focus on "local" (news, music, events, people, products, issues) coupled with a "global" access that provides the true winning combination.
  • Strong personality, strong content. New radio too must listen to the Cluetrain. Unless it retrieves and brings back the emotional power of direct, spontaneous reporting, jockeying, and live talking we are all better off with our new portable TiVos, MP3s and iPods. Like bloggers, many of the new successful independent radio stations of the future will be characterized by a strong, uniquely characterizing style. A recent article from the BBC reports how podcasting is already affecting radio in the way that its sister medium. The piece states podcasts are "putting the heart back into radio," because it "focuses attention much more on the content of a show."
  • The radio of the future must realize now that its destined new role is the one of becoming the official, unmediated army of independent clearinghouses for the indie music revolution already mounting. If you haven't heard about the Long Tail that is where you should be looking for answers and references that support the indie-revolution-in-the-making I am talking about.
  • Recording. Archiving. Allowing access to each and every show, interview or news item ever broadcast is part of the inevitable future of radio. Unless you wrap your imagination about the gazillion opportunities that this creates you are going to be missing out big time on what the future business of radio will be all about. Please, stop thinking ads.
  • The new, grassroots air+online radio stations of the near future are going to be valuable debut camps for new music, news and reporting talent. Many of them will in fact focus on this very theme itself becoming specialized new talent clearinghouses. Scouting and identifying new talent and sharing it at a unique distribution point is what some of the best bloggers, curators and talent scouts do in other parallel realities.
  • The live human voice, is a totally different experience than any other one. It is powerful, touching and engaging. Being able to listen to something that is happening at this very second in another place is something that most humans get fascinated by. But how much of today's radio leverages the huge potential of the live human voice besides the innumerable times we are told what time it is, or when we listen in to the chronicle of a live sport match. Not much more. But that is where future radio needs to look.
  • Radios will become search engines to specific content, music and programming on which they focus. Some radios will even build their total programming by mediating thematic content from an infinite number of external sources and contributors.
  • Future radio is all about listeners becoming the stars and the core contributors and producers of the content that a radio will air. Users will create shows, compilations, live entertainment. Users will become street reporters working better than police departments and reaching where few press reporters can. The radio of the future will provide free tools, facilities and access to content to allow individuals to search, edit and compile unique documentaries, investigative reports, artistic montages and focus-specific anthologies.
  • Radio will be multi-channel and multi-format. Each radio station will have the easy opportunity to subdivide and multiply its content into multiple channels with no major additional costs in infrastructure. Multi-format in that it will be accessible by a multitude of different media devices, as it is already clearly visible today.

These are just some pointers, ideas and food for thought for where I see the future of radio being headed. There are many more that should be added and that I am sure you have been thinking about.

Many of the above points can certainly be applied to television as well and many more are likely missing.

What is clearly evident is that the podcasting wave is changing radio in many of the same ways other new technologies have changed the role of traditional media: blogs undermining newspapers, DVRs allowing viewers to skip commercials and time-shift the viewing of their preferred shows, and P2P revolutionizing the way we access and consume the music we like.

All these changes point to a common trait which characterizes all of the media revolutions happening in front of us today: media becomes a participatory medium in which the traditional listener becomes herself an active participant, contributor, stockholder, marketer.

Tune in.

Readers' Comments    
2009-06-11 16:17:24


Great article!

I'm studying Journalism and I found myself deeply interested in radio.

This as been pleasure to read.
Thank you.

Best Regards.

2008-04-28 05:15:42

Robin Good

Yes Jessie,

I am available.

You can reach me via Skype as "robingood" - make sure you reference this interview and article so that I knw who you are :-)

2008-04-28 04:52:18


Maybe you are available yourself?

Email me on

2008-04-28 04:51:34


Hi I am doing an assignment on the future of Radio versus the IPOD and was wondering if there are any professionals out there who could do an interview with me?

Email me on

2008-03-14 22:47:29


The future of traditional radio should also state the quality of radio sound and hifi capability. There is HD radio now that has CD quality reception. MP3 and related sounds and music can loose about 25 of the tones and the real beat of music. I like CD and above quality. Once you know the difference one would prefer HIFI CD+ quality.

2005-11-07 15:14:21

Colin Donald

Hi Robin,

I completely agree that live performance is the crucial differentiator when recorded music becomes ubiquitous.

That’s why I launched a blog dedicated to live music webcast listings:

Live Net Music

And why I wrote a detailed response to an article in the UK's Guardian newspaper that incorrectly contrasted live performance and Internet distribution as opposing forces, rather than complementary ones:



posted by Robin Good on Thursday, November 3 2005, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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