The Death of Radio? An Essay in Radio Philosophy for the Digital Age - Alan Beck - online book - published by Sound Journal 2002

 

INTRODUCTION - Digital - coming soon to a radio near you

Introduction 1

Initial challenges for a 'new' (?) radio studies

The remark that 'Internet radio is NOT radio' sparked off a lively e-mail debate on the UK academics' radio-studies list about radio's future and the radio curriculum. Is the Internet both a form of radio and a rival to radio? Of course, Internet streaming (real-time bitstream) radio was just part of the topic. There are now four systems (in 2002) for delivering digital radio signals - satellite, cable, DAB (digital audio broadcasting) and the Internet. Radio can be carried equally on such communication pipelines as fibre-optic cables and satellite. A key question is: In what ways are features of terrestrial radio missing or modified in the new technologies?

The 'Death of Radio?' has been chosen as a title for the monograph because in this digital age, radio may lose its very name (in certain areas of broadcasting) and become digital audio or similar. 'Automation' stations, paid for by subscription, are on the rise where the DJ, idents and commercials are not heard. Even in the industrial press, there are headlines like 'Will Radio Live to See 2010?' (Williams, Roy H., 2001, ‘Will Radio Live to See 2010?’, Radio Ink, 14 May, 10). MP3 Players are used for audio files downloaded from the Internet. Our present, pre-digital, understanding of radio is challenged, as is the very field of radio studies.

Others have talked of the 'death' of film. The 'field of film studies is in a state of flux, or even crisis or impasse' and 'in the opinion of many, will ultimately be swallowed by the emergent and broader fields of media and cultural studies' (Allen and Smith, 1997, 1). See also the enterprising and radical collection edited by Christine Gledhill and Linda Williams, Reinventing Film Studies (Gledhill and Williams 2000). Martin Barker has just published From Antz to Titanic. Reinventing Film Analysis (Barker 2000), evidencing a major changes. A 'reinvention' and 're-configuration' of radio-audio studies may also be needed.

This monograph is also an 'essay', or attempt, in radio-philosophy, seeking possibly coherent ways to address some methodologies and foundationalist issues. That is, I ask radio studies to think of itself in new ways, and to address its customary questions, and to seek out some new ones. Allen and Smith describe film philosophy as 'the approach associated with the tradition of analytic philosophy' (ib.), avoiding dogmatism and uncritical pluralism, and analysing concepts and their interrelations. (I make no claim at all to match the extensive philosophical survey in their Introduction but I benefit from their lead. To repeat, I follow far behind. See also in 2.2.) Here is another instructive quote from Allen and Smith:

The aim of analytic film theory is not to block the pursuit or defence of any particular intuition or doctrine, but to improve the rigour with which such defences are made. Its purpose is not to put certain positions out of bounds, but to ensure that any position taken is argued for in such a way that it can clearly be argued with.

(Allen and Smith, 1997, 30)

The 'Death of Radio?' emphasises the attached question mark because it is not suggested that radio will die, but that there may be some surprising rebirths in the digital future. Do we need a 'new' radio studies?

 

Introduction 2

The 'Death of Radio?' has eight sections and a conclusion. The Introduction explores the 'reinvention' of radio studies and lays the groundwork - five identity conditions for radio and a sort of rezoning of radio studies of the future into 'hard' radio studies (which is most of what it pursues now) and 'soft' (Introduction 11). There also are the approaches which I exclude in my work here, for the purposes of this monograph.

Section One, defining the digital, surveys some present industrial views on the four digital radio formats, and includes some useful exchanges on the subject of digital radio, posted on the academics' radio-studies list. Analysis is given of the 'radio-like' (Internet radio) and the 'un-radio-like'. There are two case studies of the 'un-radio-like': (a) Music Choice, a new 'super-multiplex' of music channels (available on the Sky Digibox) as an example of 'automation', and (b) the downloading of MP3 files from Internet sites.

The remainder is theoretical work. Sections Two and Three provide some key propositions and themes: the moment of undecidability ('aporia') in theory-building which I suggest is our current position, to a degree, and a first summary definition of radio. Also there is discussion of the ontology of sound and a typology of radio listening is offered.

Section Four, 'Apparatus theory', defines this new grouping of theory issues around the technology of broadcasting and receiving, allied to user, space, 'listening zone' and 'consummatory field'. This Section also introduces a spectrum of radio apparatuses from the 'disciplining' to the 'disappearing', in an attempt to relate apparatus theory to the history of radio and, today, to the use of the multi-media computer ('disciplining') and the personal stereo / Walkman ('disappearing'). Apparatus theory is the first of my five approaches to 'What is radio?'.

Section Five presents numbers two and three of the identity conditions - clarification of radio as against the other media, and reception theory. There is also the contentious proposition that 'radio is what radio sounds to the normal listener' and further, the 'Scruton Question': Are listening to a CD and a broadcast the same?.

Section Six outlines some specificities of radio (the fourth approach). These are the hierarchy of sound, the 'economy rule', sonic continuity in broadcast, and the verbocentric. This Section continues with radio-philosophy, one of the parallel themes of the monograph, and ponders on how radio makes meaning. How is radio both a shaper and a translator of the 'extra-radio world' (my term)? The transition to the digital further destabilises some key theoretical terms, as the very apparatus itself is transformed.

Section Seven introduces the portmanteau term 'radioworld' to include all instances of radio and the radio-like within itself, and relating the monograph's theory strands to each other. It includes my study of the automated Music Choice and of Core Radio (digital).

Section Eight introduces additional topics: Is the use of a strict constructionist/anti-essentialist stance in theorising the evolution of radio too restrictive? I look also at ideology and possible ways through in 'soft' radio studies, and I work further on my 'radioworld' term.

The Coda looks at the future of radio studies, the undervaluing of radio ('Cinderella') and relations with the emerging radio-audio industry.

 

Introduction 3

'un-radio-like'

Jo Tacchi, one of the foremost radio theoreticians on the frontline here, has talked usefully of the 'un-radio-like' (Tacchi, 2000, 290). We could apply this to examples of digital broadcast audio which do not fit with our present - pre-digital - understanding of radio. Some examples stretch this concept, and some contradict it and are therefore the most 'un-radio-like'. Let me list those which range into the 'un-radio-like' as they are the impulse for this monograph. A little technical explanation is needed alongside. First there are Internet radio stations, and with a multi-media computer, you can listen to their live output somewhat as you listen to analogue radio. These stations are of two sorts. There are the 'simulcast' stations - terrestrial radio stations which broadcast or simulcast the same material on the web. The B.B.C. is an obvious example. The material is live output from a radio studio. Some stations also supply additional 'side channel' material, and this is only available from their web sites. The material is typically interviews and previously broadcast features, archived as sound files for downloading.

Then there are Internet only stations. They have no terrestrial presence and gain their audiences only from the web. (The estimated total of stations of all sorts on the Internet is 5,000 - information in the MIT directory at http://www.radio-locator.com/)

 

Introduction 4

Established Internet stations carry output as live streaming audio, to be heard as it is broadcast. Some also have archived audio files on their sites and this can be downloaded at the user's convenience and choice, and then listened to. This is the additional 'side channel' material mentioned above. The B.B.C. makes available, for example, interviews and excerpts from programmes, while music stations have interviews with DJs and performers, and news about the music scene. Some small Internet stations only have archive material on their sites. So instead of real-time listening to a live radio station, this is 'time-shift' listening, and to selected material of personal choice though only from what is on store.

Apart from radio stations, there are Internet music archive sites, via which you can download music in MP3 format. You play this on your computer and portable MP3 Player. Napster is the most famous, though constrained by the recent USA Senate decision over copyright. There are others too, which use this networking system, and operate outside the recent Napster ruling. So in summary so far: you can listen to Internet radio stations broadcasting live (terrestrial simulcast or Internet only), and sometimes they have additional 'side channel' material stored as audio files for downloading. And away from radio stations on the Internet, you can download music in MP3 format, and this is popular in youth culture.

 

Introduction 5

automated music channels and 'hear-view'

So far I have restricted myself to the Internet. I turn now to digital satellite, cable, and DAB (digital audio broadcasting). Also of interest to me on these communication pipelines are what are called 'automated music channels' or 'automation stations'. They are a crucial test for my investigation of the un-radio-like. New or favourite music is continuously available on these various genre channels, and it is music only. It is entirely without DJ, commercials or idents, and without the spoken voice. Listeners pay a subscription. The example I choose to discuss is Music Choice (7.3), a bundle of nearly fifty channels. It is available on the Sky Digibox for an extra subscription, and it has a few channels available on its Internet site.

The final category I examine is what I term 'hear-view'. Some radio stations use their radio studio web cam to transmit pictures of live production - often a DJ but also, for example, B.B.C. Radios 4 and 5 - onto their web sites. But on television also, and therefore in television-quality, a channel such as German WDR or Flemish RTL2 can be given over at times to a 'radio' programme, broadcasting live. There is a television camera operating in the radio studio, trained on the presenter, who can be a DJ or in another case a phone-in presenter talking straight to camera. We both see and listen to a live 'radio' programme being broadcast. Is this television or radio or both?

We also await the launch of digital receivers with interactivity and a screen for visual images. (More can be found in Appendix.)

 

Introduction 6

So, are we tuning in to the 'death' of radio as we know it? Is there no longer the sense of belonging to a live audience? Do Internet radio stations no longer cater for community, local or regional audiences? Many of them go in for 'narrow-casting' or niche broadcasting. Further, is the apparatus of 'listening' changing so greatly that some, but not all, of the audience, and at some times, will no longer use a radio? They will subsume this into a multi-media computer, or a Wavefinder as part of the computer (perched on top), or buy at some future time a digital radio receiver with a visual screen. For some, will the 'radio' disappear into another, multi-functional apparatus? - the famous convergence that we hear so much about. (More on 'death' in 2.3.) There is also the problem that radio is multi-centred.

Again, I refer to film studies and the 'death of film'. There are rapid changes in the digitalisation of the film camera, in post-production and computerisation (6.4), and the gradual replacement of analogue equipment in cinemas. The cinephile experience of cinema - regular visits to repertory cinemas - is dispersed across television (terrestrial to satellite etc.), video and DVD. Film is not longer exclusively consumed in its purely cinematic state, in the dark.

I have already introduced some new terminology and a Glossary is appended with yet more. We are moving on, I suggest, from the successful and pioneering theory of pre-digital era radio (e.g. Crisell 1994; Shingler and Wieringa 1998). It has built into a relatively coherent body of writing. But we are on the move from a relatively closed-concept or integrated theory grouping to an open-concept future.

So these 'un-radio-like' examples - automated music-only channels, MP3 files, 'hear-view' - are a challenge to theory-making. They raise intriguing and foundationalist questions. What is radio? What do people do with it? What are the identity-conditions for defining radio? And so, what about radio studies now? Are we embarking on 'post-radio'/digital-era-audio studies? A 'new' radio studies?

 

Introduction 7

Object-study and subject-study

As an initial approach, it is possible to divide radio studies into two - object-study (what programmes are broadcast, how broadcast and how regulated - approaches through cultural materialism, for example) and subject-study (who is listening - reception theory / studies). I take these divisions from film theory. The object is the 'signifying text', as for example, in New Vocabularies in Film Semiotics (Stam, 1992, 32). Gill Branston talks of film's object/subject model, but warns how each theory approach 'ignor[es] huge areas that it cannot or does not want' (Branston, 2000, 26).

This binary division into object-study and subject-study is at least a starter. The apparatus, in my apparatus-reception theory grouping, assumes more importance because of so many advances and new uses. We are at the beginning of ethnographic studies of the new technologies (e.g. Tacchi's work). But slicing up the theory cake after that is troublesome, as emerges from my argument below. Perhaps the digital challenge to radio theory-building will turn out to be a radical one.

 

Introduction 8

'Reinventing' radio studies?

We are at a dynamic time of change, as outlined above. Radio's boundaries have moved, reconfiguring in the digital age. For nearly fifty years, since the arrival of stereo and the transistor, radio technology has remained largely the same. Its UK industrial structure has shifted, with the coming of commercial radio, then multi-media networks and various strategic alliances. This article is mostly confined to issues in the UK and Bruce Owen helpfully outlines the changes in USA radio, in his The Internet Challenge to Television (Owen, 1999, 52-78). He also defines the digital initially as:

… a way of communicating in new forms and processing data much more cheaply.
(ix)

New kinds of knowledge are demanded from researchers, new analytical skills and a disciplinary consciousness. The 'core' of teaching and researching about media reconfigures now - some converging, some disappearing. This change affects radio studies as it is located in the academy, curricula, peer-review panels, etc. Jo Tacchi first clearly sounded the call for new theory work on 'the study of radio and soundcasting [that] should challenge disciplinary and methodological boundaries' (Tacchi, 2000, 290-1). She stressed that 'radio studies, or radio theory, needs to achieve some coherence yet, [and] at the same time, remain multi- or post-disciplinary' (ib.), and the aim is 'a field of study (and practice) that is post-disciplinary and yet coherent' (293). But Tacchi's summons is daunting. Is the aim of digital-age 'radio' theory to be adaptable, unifying and synthetic (in the sense of putting it all together), and so 'coherent'? At least it can be said that it will take a long time to catch up.

 

Introduction 9

I take some encouragement from a new collection of essays, Reinventing Film Studies (Gledhill and Williams 2000). 'Reinventing' is in 'the spirit of postmodernist self-fashioning of new identities out of old' (Gledhill, 2000, 1) and covers some of the following: a rethinking of the uses of theory, the interdisciplinary location of film, the sensory aspects of the medium, history and the postmodern, and the impending dissolution of cinema within the globalised, multimedia, digital age. (Compare the 'death of radio'.) So the issues I raise here are current.

Radio studies is still so young. We build on the foundation of some brilliant books and articles. But my opinion is that, contra the overall optimism of Jo Tacchi (Tacchi 2000), we may not have reached the end of the 'subject definition' stage yet. (Film got through that in the 1970s and it was painful, what with 'psycho-semiotics', Marxism and other disputes.) Suddenly, the digital age plunges us into a 'reconfiguration' stage of radio studies. What is our recognised field of enquiry? What is a healthy mix of methodologies focused on the same - moving - object of study? Are we ready to 'reinvent' radio studies? I have already suggested that one drawback is that as radio researchers, we just have to spend more hours together in dialogue in the same room (Beck, 2000b, Epilogue).

 

Introduction 10

'Hard' and 'soft' radio studies

I also borrow the useful division into 'hard' and soft' from Reinventing Film Studies (Gledhill, 2000, 1) and what follows is, in the main, Christine Gledhill's protocol. The 'hard' and 'soft' were computer metaphors in origin. Here is my application of this division into radio.

'Hard' radio studies is the core we know - media/cultural studies focused on issues of mass communications, political economy, public policy, institutional aspects of radio, representation, gender, ethnic issues, media imperialism, reception studies (ethnographic and so on), etc. It could be summarised as the analysis of institutions, texts, discourses, readings and audiences in their social, economic and political context (from Shuker, 2001, ix on music). It draws on history, sociology, semiotics, women's studies and queer studies, among others. That much is established and well known, and there is an impressive and increasing body of theory. There may be a reluctance to commit to many close analyses of the individual radio 'text'. The use of the term is disputed. Note to Introduction 10

Film studies signals a warning that 'either we determinedly carry on with textual analyses or we study audiences - but the chances of finding any real link between the two are minimal' (Barker, 2000, 188). Is the impression of 'hard' radio studies that of an increasingly unified field of study?

 

Introduction 11

Definition of 'soft' radio studies

For Gledhill, 'soft' film theory includes 'aesthetics, fantasy, and the body' (ib.). 'Soft' radio studies is a novel concept with fuzzy edges. It has a tradition, I claim, and is to be found in Crisell 1994, and Shingler and Wieringa 1998. Barnard 2000 and Hendy 2000 mostly and rightly focus in other directions. But now I speculatively suggest the 'soft' to be the following:

  1. a widened reception theory linked to the new interdisciplinary work on cognitive studies, apparatus theory and phenomenology
  2. listening-in-itself (aurality) as a more focused area, made part of core radio studies, and linked to anthropology and other studies of listening in the Lifeworld, and sound theory
  3. a bundle of other topics now much worked over in film, drama and the visual arts, and which presently lack an input from radio studies: aesthetics, fantasy, desire, the body, biology, image theory, performance theory, phenomenology
  4. radio-philosophy as an area in itself - defining foundationalist radio studies issues and our methodologies (Allen and Smith 1997; Freeland and Wartenberg 1995)
  5. cross-overs to theorising the film sound track, sound installations, sound in live performance
  6. links with film's 'Post-Theory' challenge (Bordwell and Carroll 1996; Allen and Smith 1997; Tarnay 1997; Beck, 2000b, 2.4), and on and on.

Introduction 12

'Soft' is a sort of 'more-than-radio' movement, pointing beyond context issues ('hard') to aesthetics, phenomenology, etc. It could help to integrate, overlap and align theory models from neighbouring areas, and so, along with 'hard' radio studies, point to the future and the diversity that is forced on us. It had perhaps been possible up to now to think of the discipline as a field, with borders, insides and outsides, and a claim to internal unity (as Cheetham, 1998, 6 says of art history before its paradigm shifting). That is the impression that I gain from those few excellent theory 'primers' such as Crisell 1994 and Shingler and Wieringa 1998. Part of their function was to lay out that territory, regularly laying pioneer claim to it.

But 'disciplines are political institutions that demarcate areas of academic territory, allocate privileges and responsibilities of expertise, and structure claims on resources' (Lenoir, 1993, 82). Timothy Lenoir there cites Michel Foucault on the historical 'shape' of a discipline, and its policies of inclusion and exclusion, legitimate objects of study, methodologies and practitioners. Is the 'shape' of radio studies to be shifted into uncertain contours, and realigned against the privileged territories of other 'shapes'? This affects beliefs, claims and behaviour in the academy (Cheetham ib.) Is mapping territory, with contours and borderlines, no longer a useful model for radio theory's work? Rather we might think of a three-dimensional matrix, which criss-crosses often into other subject areas?

 

Introduction 13

This monograph cannot do more than sketch a theoretical panorama and put some leading forms of interpretation to work, alongside the traditional. New digital circumstances seem to demand that novel strategies assume an importance. But these come with a cost. The universal model of a radio studies contained within present media studies and cultural studies is exposed to question. Does that threaten confidence in the centre of the field? Will that bewilder our own radio students? Will it affect recruitment? But as discussion of disciplinarity is popular in most fields, some auto-analysis may help. This monograph is an attempt to show, somewhat, how radio studies could broaden its outlook and begin to incorporate a number of ideas, theories and conceptual frameworks viewed presently as outside its boundaries. To emphasise again, however, 'hard' radio studies will continue to produce a structuring set of paradigms which define most of the disciplinary inside and outside (Cheetham's terms).

 

Introduction 14

Hybridity

Overall, 'soft' radio studies tries to deal with the 'hybridity' of radio. This is a paradox of radio broadcasting - its ability to adapt and change. Sometimes radio draws on, even 'clones', the forms of other mass media like television and the Internet. At other times, it exhibits a fully deployed range of the 'radiogenic' or those aspects which make optimum use of radio's features (and the specificities of radio, Section 6). Hybridity is where radio broadcasting oversteps its boundaries more and more, and challenges the known identities of radio. (See Hendy, 2000, 189-90, on my introduction of this concept into radio theory and Tacchi, 2000, 292 for the useful coinage 'radiobility', of which more below in 7.1.) Radio as a medium has a fluidity, indeed back to its institutional origins in the 1920s, and the new digital technologies have allowed it to become even more 'hybrid', to overstep its boundaries even more.

So radio studies must respond to this hybridity with an appreciation of the interdisciplinary aspects of radio studies. (See Introduction 2, quoting Jo Tacchi on radio studies as 'multi- or post-disciplinary', and her call for just such work (Tacchi, 2000, 290-3).)

'Soft' radio studies examines new territory, often free from the pressure of the ideological focus of 'hard' radio studies culturalism (discussed 8.16). Tacchi has called for this new radio studies to be 'coherent' (293). Only time will tell. As I mentioned above (Introduction 2), I believe we have still to get through the subject-definition and subject-reconfiguration-reinvention stages (Introduction 9).

 

Introduction 15

'Hard' and 'soft' radio studies as a mix

Some of the 'soft' could be described as the front lines of the theory trenches over in film, in the virtual, and image studies and performance. Why shouldn't radio studies be there too?

For example, in this article, I introduce apparatus theory for radio and separate it off from reception theory (though it is housed there, 4.3), and I have a go at radio phenomenology (again tied to reception theory). This is also an 'essay', in the sense of an attempt, at radio-philosophy. I have linked radio and philosophy with a hyphen, in the hope that they will connect together (see 2.2). I am impelled by work on film and philosophy (Allen and Smith 1997; Freeland and Wartenberg 1995) and in the visual arts (Cheetham, Holly and Moxey, 1998).

'Hard' and 'soft' are both so necessary and ongoing, I suggest, and parallel. Most, by far, of the work in radio studies will continue to come from 'hard' radio studies, in both object-study and subject-study. (I have given a quick definition of these above in Introduction 7.)

I will argue that responses to the challenge of radio studies in the digital age and the 'The Death of Radio?' topic crucially depend on answers to be forged from both 'hard' and 'soft' branches of radio theory. But the answers that come from 'hard' radio theory are not satisfying on their own, I claim. This is one of the main propositions in this monograph. Further below, I also have a doubt about the constructionist/anti-essentialist argument in defining radio (Section 8). It can be summed up as: 'radio has no essence and takes different forms at different times of its history'. This gambit seems to me to have a lot of use. But it can also block off further areas of potential debate if it turns into a version that I term absolutist constructionism. I describe this, rather polemically, as a cul-de-sac and a 'get-out clause'.

There may be a forthcoming crisis in radio thinking suggested in this work, but that is due, I claim, not to shortcomings in radio theory so far, but rather to its success. Such is the range of research and its methodologies, that it provides steady foundations for the future. There is a little analogy to be drawn here with analogue and digital. Pre-digital radio research has been the 'long and strong approach' (Gilder, 1989, 2 describing analogue communications technology) while the 'new' radio studies is more dispersed, 'complex manipulation of long strings of on-off bits' (Gilder on the 'hugely more efficient' digital systems).

 

 

Introduction 16

Five approaches

This monograph has five approaches to 'what is radio?' in the digital age:

(1) Through technology and the radio apparatus (Section 4)

Radio apparatus theory concerns itself with the technology of both broadcasting and receiving, and with user, space, 'listening zone' and 'consummatory field' (4.3). It is at the intersection of a number of topics, including reception theory. Though the definition of 'radio' (via such various communication pipelines) must be discussed under the heading of radio apparatus theory (or the vehicle distinction), this in itself is not a sufficient or necessary condition (5.10).

(2) Through clarification, or defining radio as against other media (Section 5)

Clarification is only treated briefly and mainly through the advantages of digital production (5.2). Again, technology is not the sole determinant.

(3) Through reception theory and reception studies, that is, perceptual aspects of radio (Section 5)

Issues include paraproxemics, transparency, and the Scruton question ('Are listening to a CD and a broadcast the same?'). One conclusion is that 'Radio is what radio sounds to the normal listener' (5.10).

(4) Through the specificities of radio (Section 6), leading on to issues of -

(5) (Section 7) Defining a portmanteau word for all the instances of radio - radiobility (Tacchi) and radioworld (Beck) (7.1).

This leads on to further difficult issues: radio has no 'essence'? (Section 8), the absolutist-constructionist stance, problems of essentialism and aurality, or listening-in-itself.

Here is no closure. I mentioned we are moving on from, or being, perforce, shifted out of, the well-secured and relatively coherent pre-digital body of theory work (Crisell 1994; Shingler and Wieringa 1998; Introduction 7). Although in some respects, 'radio' may now be collapsing, my hope is that we can find new open-concept ways of talking about digital-era radio-audio.

 

Introduction 17

Topics excluded in this monograph: empirical research, 'object-study' approach, communications policy

I have some exclusions and boundaries here. Theory should also be the result of empirical work and there are limits to my practical research. While I listen daily to Internet radio, and digital radio via two digiboxes, I have not had access to two of the newest - and most expensive - digital receiving technologies. There is Wavefinder, which sits on top of the computer and retails at £199 (June 2001 bargain price), and the DAB receiver, retailing at £500 (Appendix 1). (There is also hope of a DAB portable radio at £100.) In the UK, however, there are few digital-only radio stations though the B.B.C. has announced plans for two stations to come on line in autumn 2001. I have not had access to the regional DAB stations. But I have researched the others, such as Core (7.3 following). So I have not covered all digital phenomena for this inquiry. Note to Introduction 17

I have not researched women's use of digital radio and Internet radio, and beyond the outstanding work of Jo Tacchi, I have not found an investigation of this in, for example, the otherwise comprehensive and trail-blazing Women and Radio (Mitchell 2000). (45% of UK users of the Internet are now reckoned to be women, The Guardian, 19 June 2001.) Of course, media consumption is gendered in terms of space (who uses what media where), time (who has more leisure time), allocation of resources (who spends money on the media) and use of media in the home (TV, computer, telephone, newspaper) and the office (computer). Domestic studies often emphasise polarities of some men and women (Seiter, 1999, 3). It is often agreed that writing about the users of media is fraught with difficulties. Here is Martin Barker on film:

... film analyses depend upon claims about what the 'audience' must be doing. 'Audience', 'viewer', 'spectator', 'we', 'they': these are the typical sign-post words for the imported assumptions upon which, I want to show, actual interpretations have to depend. They are also the most problematic aspects of film analyses, because they are almost always posed in terms which defy any kind of empirical investigation.

(Barker, 2000, 16)

But my largest exclusion is that I have not taken on fully issues of State and international cultural policy, of the political economy approach, and also the 'object-study' approach to digital radio. Object-study (Introduction 7) focuses on the signifying texts, and therefore on what digital programmes are broadcast and how broadcast. I have explained that this is very much the task of what I have termed 'hard' radio studies (Introduction 10 and see, for example, the judicious conclusions of David Hendy on radio as a mediator between different cultures, Hendy. 2000, 238). Jo Tacchi has given some analysis of a Bristol Internet station in which she was involved (Tacchi 2000), and her bibliography refers to some other studies.

 

Introduction 18

Christopher Priestman's Web Radio (Priestman 2001) covers expertly, in his area, what I have omitted. With concise research and practical knowledge, and in a much-needed book, he surveys the content of radio available on the Internet and its technology. I am grateful to him for allowing me to read his MS in process. Web Radio opens up many and various avenues of research, and makes the subject lucidly available for more than the specialist.

In Chapter 10, 'Redefining radio content', Priestman summarises the content of web broadcasting:

The majority of web radio transmissions are either simulcasts of terrestrial radio broadcasts or else variations on the American model of format music radio, looking for the business model that can repeat that commercial success story on the Internet.
(Priestman, 2001, XX)

I will, however, examine the fully automated music channels collected in Music Choice below as a defining example of the un-radio-like (7.3 following).

 

Introduction 19

Communications policy issues are also only touched on here. For example, if as is forecast, we will eventually watch television on the Internet (though Owen 1999 argues mostly against), what of radio? Can a continuation of the B.B.C. licence fee be justified? (There is for example, the paper 'Does "new media" make the licence fee redundant?', Prospect, by Gavyn Davies and Tim Congdon, April 2000.) Which regulatory system should predominate - that of the Internet or that of television? And will this be applied, willy nilly, to radio? What new multiple actors are brought into play in the newly forming 'policy communities' (Hogwood)?

This is an era, from the 1980s, of both deregulation and re-regulation, privatisation and competition. There is both convergence and its opposite tendency, divergence. (See in 1.13 for my views.) There is a crisis in the 'public service' model based on technological limitations such as the scarcity of airwaves. Has this now been made obsolete by the availability of multiple channels? Do more radio stations mean more choice? Considering, for example, the competing pop music Internet stations, have diversity and plurality increased? Or is there an excessive duplication of mass appeal programming? (See Hendy, 2000, 224-36 for radio, music and cultural change.)

 

Introduction 20

Further exclusions

I have not scrutinised Internet and digital-only station formats, the genres and content of the programmes, how listeners are addressed and how positioned as niche audiences, beyond my studies of Music Choice and Core. Obviously further research is also needed on websites and interactive feedback from audiences, and how managements use and regard such feedback. I hear anecdotally, for example, that on the B.B.C. sites, only hits from the UK are valued, as they come from licence-fee payers. This is all a tricky and emergent area of research, as we know very little as yet about the ways in which listeners and hearer/listeners make use of the apparatus.

So with these exclusions - its sins of omission - and as an exercise in 'soft' radio studies (Introduction 11), I head towards my five approaches (outlined in Introduction 16). Each of these interpretative procedures is a way of having a go at the central problems of this monograph: 'what is radio in the digital age?' and 'what uses do people make of it?'.

 

Introduction 21

'Push and pull'

Priestman refers to the principle of 'push and pull' in broadcasting (Priestman 2001, chapter 8, referring to Levinson 1999) and here are his points. 'Push' has been predominant so far. The radio producer determines the content which fits the schedules and that content is pushed to the listeners. By contrast, the Internet began as 'pull' technology. Content is uploaded to be pulled off as and when the user needs it. Of course, there is 'pull' in all broadcasting in the station's response to audience feedback and in the research the station invests in.

Internet radio has favoured 'pull' rather than 'push', though it is still a hybrid, as Priestman says. 'Side channels' are an example of the 'pull' (Introduction 4). The user can determine which news files to download. Priestman cites NetRadio.com as a 'pull' music station. It claims to be the single station which can be relied on to cater to all musical tastes - 'Listen to the music'. (I discuss the much larger Music Choice.) In the popular music industry, the 'pull' (consumer choice, underground music) versus the 'push' (genre commodification, determining tastes and maximising profits) is a central debate. (See Shuker, 201, ix and xii on the music industry.) Music Choice is 'push' in the determining of the genres, but 'pull' in the range of choice.

 

Introduction 22

Two more points about Internet radio are to be made. Resemblances between Internet web sites and television programming are on the increase, with popular genres from TV, as Ellen Seiter notes:

The World Wide Web reproduces some popular genres from television (and radio) broadcasting: sports, science fiction, home shopping clubs, news magazines, even cyber-soap operas with daily postings of the serialized lives of its characters.
(Seiter, 1999, 116)

There is a converging tendency in programming across the media. This could form the subject of a separate study of Internet-only radio. A second point is to do with the apparatus. Seiter also usefully makes the point:

… the dual nature of communication technologies such as television sets and computers 'as quintessentially novel objects, and therefore as the embodiment of our desires for the new', which simultaneously act as 'transmitters of all the images and information that fuel those desires'
(Seiter, 1999, 119)

(Seiter quotes from Silverstone and Hirsch, 1992, 3.) I take up part of the 'novel' as I discuss Internet hype (1.14-15). But digital radio can also involve the disappearance of the receiving apparatus, as, for example, Internet radio is heard through the computer and the conventional appearance of the radio is transformed in the - still to come to market - DAB radio with a visual screen for interactivity (4.5, 4.8). There is also 'hear-view' through the TV.

 

Introduction 23

I have placed 'radio-philosophy' in the title of this monograph and said that this is a way of asking radio studies to think of itself. I can only aspire to the clarity and range of the works which I find so influential, in what I call the film-and-philosophy school. I can raise only some of their questions. I refer to Film Theory and Philosophy (Allen and Smith 1997), Cynthia Freeland and Thomas Wartenberg's Philosophy and Film (Freeland and Wartenberg 1995), and the works of David Bordwell and Noël Carroll.

Let me explain further. Freeland and Wartenberg in Philosophy and Film (contributions to film studies by various philosophers) suggest that they bring 'rigor [and] new critical voices, traditions … and alternatives' to the study of film, along with 'critical analyses of some of the most basic assumptions now dominant in film studies' and that:

Philosophers are generally wary of adopting any specific theoretical vocabulary and simply applying it to the study of any area. … Philosophers studying film are aware of the need to subject the basic assumptions of a discipline to critical study.
(Freeland and Wartenberg, 1995, 3)

 

Introduction 24

Freeland and Wartenberg summarise their topics, prevalent in film as they say from the 1920s:

Is film a language, and if so, how is it constructed, and how does it communicate? If film is an art form, what constitutes its uniqueness, and what makes works in this medium excellent? How do people construct, study, interpret, and criticize works of art generally, and films in particular? What is the nature of filmic representation?
(ib.)

I have also found Francis Sparshott's Off the Ground. First Steps to a Philosophical Consideration of the Dance (Sparshott 1988) helpful. She begins her work with this:

In most of the major arts, there is a repertory of stock problems and themes, topoi, that forms the main substance of what is actually discussed in the philosophy of that art. What one learns in a course on "aesthetics" consists largely of what these topics are and what there is to say about them. Aesthetics thus has a firm operative structure within which the ordinary business of academic debate is carried on and which is not itself to be fruitfully discussed. The structure is frequently called into question and may be denounced as arbitrary, but after a respectfully penitential pause the conversation resumes as though nothing had been said.
(Sparshott, 1988, xvii)

 

Introduction 25

Of course, aesthetics plays a role more in radio drama than in other radio genres, but the idea of an organising repertory of 'topoi' is central to this monograph, and that these radio 'topoi' are expanding rapidly. But Sparshott also warns against such theorizing as a 'self-contained and self-satisfied logomachy' (battle of words):

In every field, there are good reasons why the everyday preoccupations of practitioners should fail to coincide with what one would have thought to be the fundamentally important issues, and why theorists encounter a gap between what is fundamentally important and what can be profitably discussed; and it may be conceded that in the philosophy of art, likewise, what we actually do is a fair indication of what can be fruitfully done.
(Ib., xviii)

The other demand of a philosophical enquiry is whether, among all the things that might be said about digital radio-audio, any are really worth saying, and judgements of relevance and centrality.

It might be asked why little has been pursued hitherto on radio-philosophy. This question needs no answer, really, for radio researchers have plenty of work to be getting on with and inactivity needs no excuse. The question should be rather: Why should there be any such radio-philosophy? I hope that I have just suggested that radio-philosophy does have a place and a future, and that there is distinctive material ('topoi') to draw on.

 

Introduction 26

Admittedly, radio across all its formats makes many more demands and hence the crucial dominance of 'hard' radio studies. There are enormous differences between film studies and the massive broadcasting output of radio. The concentration of film theorists/analysts is on narrative fictions (with some attention to documentary) and so on aesthetics, and on 'artworks of all kinds as symbolic systems with complex internal structures' (ib.).

But in my own limited way, and for the purposes of this monograph, I seek answers also to the Freeland and Wartenberg questions. I look only briefly at radio as language (3.1) and I have previously explored the claims of radio drama as an art form in the 1920s, and its centring on language (Beck 2000c). I explore how audiences use radio and in the digital age (Sections 3-5), and I take up the nature of radio representation in Section 6. I attempt to analyse some basic assumptions of radio studies throughout. That colouring of radio-philosophy accounts for the wider topics I raise, pairing with the tighter issues of the digital age.

 

Introduction 27

Freeland and Wartenberg also point out that in their collection of essays:

The project of reflecting on a film becomes much like the project of assessing a philosophical system.
(Freeland and Wartenberg, 1995, 4)

I must admit that I do not have this philosophical training (though formally only in classical Greek philosophy). I am daunted by the strictness enjoined on theorists in Allen and Smith 1997. All I can plead is that my work hopes to strike out in new directions and that I acknowledge the prestige and guidance afforded by the film-philosophy school. My omissions and misdirections are my very own. This work is provisional, hoping it will encourage others to further thought and render this monograph inadequate, and so move on.

Given the wide range of topics and questions here, including 'What is radio?', this work may appear to be a rather grandiose enterprise. My aims are more direct - clearing som eground - and I hope some of them will be achieved. But it could be the questions that interest me are taken as unproblematic and uninteresting by others.

The ultimate (joint) project is to articulate the many functions that radio fulfils, both public and private, as well as encouraging useful theories of radio. Theories and theorists are mentioned and discussed as they help the discussion along, never for their own sakes. The Sections are intended to be continuous but at the same time, not to close off certain alternatives. Although this monograph is preliminary, in the sense of leaping into newish areas of radio studies, my approach is not neutral, and is even polemical at times.

Maybe there exists a not easily expressed tension in radio studies between empiricist / objective-based views (particular studies, e.g. of music formats and audience ethnographic studies, along with some syncretic accounts of radio and radio theory) versus a subjective view (self-declared and even relativist questioning of radio's foundationalisms, of the ideological practices of radio studies, and e.g., complaints of radio as 'Cinderella'). In the spirit of discussion towards which the digital age pushes us, I suggest that there need not be one unified and agreed methodology any more.

 

Introduction 28

Publication as a monograph

I have expanded my discussion into a monograph, suitable for electronic publishing. In fact this medium alone affords me the opportunity to publish, as monographs have all but disappeared from non-scientific print publishing. Frankly, there is no print market also for radio research solely at the post-graduate and upwards level. Such is demanded of intellectual property by a cash economy.

Further, most academic writing is in the form of journal articles. Because of this brevity, the journal article has to be puzzle-oriented, preoccupied with a topic that can only be debated within that protocol. Authors have not enough space to explain their reasons for their starting points. They may be 'parasitic on systems already worked out and on larger concerns articulated elsewhere' (Sparshott, 1988, 7). My monograph is intended to be midway between journal radio studies and book radio studies, and to expand where it should; and though I wear the clothes, so to speak, of my 'elders' - syncretic books such as those of Crisell, Shingler and Wieringa, and Hendy (and others) - this monograph does not measure up to them.

 

In this Introduction, I have sketched digital-age radio studies (radio/audio studies), and a division into both object-study/subject-study, and 'hard' and 'soft'. My five approaches to the problems of 'What is radio?' and 'What uses do people make of it?' are given. I have also stated what I have excluded from this discussion. And so on to Section 1 which considers industrial reports on the digital age, MP3 files and surveys a profitable discussion on the radio-studies mailing list.


Endnotes

 

Note to Introduction 10

I am immediately plunged into a definition of such a basic radio term. Film deals which whole entities and so the 'film' and the 'documentary'. See Beck, 2000b, 4.4, 'Is there a text in this classroom?' where I discuss whether the text has an entity apart from the reader and I have more confidence in using text of larger radio pieces such as the programme, the feature, the package and the radio drama.

The use of text as a term has to be justified out from its semiotic origin. Kress, in Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design, dealing with the multi-model, defines the 'textual function' and 'the way in which representations and communicative acts cohere into a meaningful whole we call "text"' (Kress, 1996, 14). Watson and Hill, 1997, 233, define it as 'a signifying structure composed of signs and codes which is essential to communication', and in a variety of forms: film, speech, writing, painting. Also Kolker, 1998, 12, 'We can define a text as a coherent, delimited, comprehensible structure of meaning.'

Hendy, 2000, 7 judiciously refers to 'what media analysis generally calls the [radio] medium's "texts"', and (148) to 'radio as text - something more than a one-dimensional product ... specifically designed to be taken in and interpreted, "read" if you like, by listeners'. But the main function of 'text' for radio theorists is indispensable and is as Hendy effectively uses it, to distinguish the radio piece (item, programme, section of broadcasting) from out of the flow, and from production and its reception by listeners (7).

 

Back to Introduction 10

 

Note to Introduction 17

I listen daily to radio on the Internet, on a range of computers with varying bandwidths, including ASDL and ISDN. Also, via a Sky Digibox to B.B.C. radio stations and some other UK commercial stations, and to Music Choice's fifty odd genre-based music stations. Also via a second Digibox to Eutelsat 13 degrees East and so to a variety of European stations, and a third box, an analogue satellite box, to some other stations. (This makes listening to French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Irish stations.)

Back to Introduction 17

 

 

To Section 1

To INDEX

To TOP

 

 

The Death of Radio? An Essay in Radio Philosophy for the Digital Age - Alan Beck - online book - published by Sound Journal 2002

 Abstract

 Section 1 - Radio - How Do We Know We Hear It If We Can't Define It?

 Section 2 - Theoretical Challenges

 Section 3 - Sound and listening
 Section 4 - Apparatus theory

 Section 5 - Approaches through clarification and reception theory

 Section 6 - Specificities of radio

 Section 7 - Relatively radio - radioworld

 Section 8 - Doing business as usual? The problems of radio 'essence'

 Coda

 References

 Glossary

 Appendix

 Alan Beck's SITES

 Alan Beck's PUBLICATIONS


 

 

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