(Spoiler Alert: It never was, starting with day 2) When I hang out on social media – or imagine this, have a real face-to-face conversation – with my radio contemporaries that grew up listening to radio in the 60s & 70s, the conversation invariably turns to “radio’s not like it used to be.”
From the moment of its birth, radio has been one long experiment.
It took hold when Marconi International Marine Communication Company, Limited began to make money with wireless over-the-air transmissions. Marconi was in it for the money. He really cared little how it all worked. He wanted to build more powerful transmitters and cover greater distances. He didn’t sell his technology but leased it. He also trained and employed the wireless operators who used his equipment.
So, imagine you’re a wireless operator on Christmas Eve 1906 and you’re at sea monitoring your dots & dashes – all that you’ve ever heard come through your headphones – when at 9 PM EST on Christmas Eve you suddenly hear a human voice coming through your headphones. Then singing. Then a violin playing. And finally a man speaks a Christmas greeting. What would you have thought to yourself?
The man who did this was Reginald Fessenden. In addition to being a brilliant scientist, he also sang and played the violin. From his transmitting station in Brant Rock, Massachusetts his first wireless transmissions of voice and music were heard up and down the Eastern seaboard. He would repeat this again on New Year’s Eve.
In the United States the final commercial Morse code transmission was sent on July 12, 1999. The last message sent was the very same as the first message sent by Samuel Morse in 1844, “What hath God wrought”, and the prosign “SK”.
What brought this all to mind was a news item that has been circulating recently about a survey by Morgan Stanley that was released by Quartz.
The survey is a positive for radio. In a survey of 2,016 American adults taken last November, AM/FM radio use was #1 with 86%. Number two was YouTube, number three was Pandora and number four were “TV music channels”.
The first four were all advertising supported and thus free to the user. The fifth on the list was also the first paid service; SiriusXM radio (tied with iHeartRadio).
So one thing that hasn’t changed is that most people would rather access free-with-ads entertainment versus paid-without-ads entertainment when given a choice.
However, this survey has spurred a lot of discussion in the radio world. Broadcasters are divided on what this survey is really telling us. Owners/operators are saying that it shows “radio ain’t dead.” Broadcasters that have been consolidated out of the industry are saying “not so fast.” And to some extent, they’re both right.
As Mark Ramsey pointed out on his blog, “86% of respondents saying its part of their usage routine” is what radio folks would call “reach” and does not really address frequency of usage or “time spent listening;” two key radio metrics.
Conspicuously missing from the Morgan Stanley list is a service I use and enjoy TuneIn radio. I wonder why?
So where does that leave us?
I think it’s a twist on one of Henry Ford’s most famous quotes:
Whether you think radio is or is not, you’re right.
Radio owners/operators have it within their power to create the future for the radio industry. So what’s it going to be?