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

 

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

Introduction to Section 1

In this Section, I will look at the radio-studies debate which began when Eryl Price-Davies challenged:

For the most part Internet radio is NOT radio - it's more like an audio-on-demand service.
Eryl Price-Davies, Thames Valley University, 3 June 1999, in an e-mail to the UK radio-studies list.

I will survey the four formats for the delivery of digital radio, along with recent industry forecasts (1.2-6) and also my responses to MP3 files (1.7-9). I favour not convergence (the optimistic view about technologies connecting together), but tentatively, divergence for digital radio and audio (1.10-11). Finally, I will survey the 'defining radio' debate on the radio-studies list (1.13-20).

1.1 'Internet radio' as radio?

Christopher Priestman summarised the growth so far of Internet radio so, particularly for 'community' stations:

… [The Internet] makes getting a station 'on air' very easy … it does not require a licence to transmit … its range is local to global and … it has an inherently interactive, horizontal infrastructure. But the Internet is also very confusing in the wealth of media uses it brings together.
(Priestman, 2001, 13)

The radio-studies debate began with Eryl Price-Davies' gritty and incisive comments against 'Internet radio' as radio :

… it is fixed in one specific location (usually the desktop), and thus lacks the portability/mobility that distinguishes contemporary radio listening; the programming is of highly variable quality, and lacks the connection with an audience that radio can achieve.

… Whilst it is occasionally entertaining to listen to the re-broadcast output of a station from the other side of the world - it is impossible to feel part of the listening community - the traffic information, local news and information, etc. for example are meaningless. As for Internet stations - much of their output is more like that of a jukebox (one where you only have a limited amount of control over the music that you listen to). This lack of identification with the listenership is one of the most serious obstacles.
(Price-Davies, 3 June 1999)

There are important points here about audiences, programme content, listening and non-'portability'. I will respond to some of these later, remembering my exclusions (Introduction 17). The most valuable issue for me is what I term apparatus theory (Section 4) and I am most grateful to Price-Davies for impelling me to think about this. I also deal, partially, with how the Internet radio listener interacts in Section 5 (the whole issue of clarification, and paraproxemics (5.5)).

The defence case came from Peter Everett, ex-B.B.C. producer:

Global internet radio will segment listeners by niche interests rather than by geographic location. The connection/identification will be different but just as strong as, if not stronger than, that generated by locality-based services. … I like to know what's happening in distant places - both those I know from visits and those I don't. Radio stations do for the ears what postcards do for the eyes. In short, I'm excited about Internet radio, and I think it's going to be huge.
(Everett, 3 June 1999)

1.2

These two postings give a neat dialectic for my purposes here. In this useful though necessarily sketchy radio-studies debate, various other issues were raised. I survey some of these valuable contributions in 1.12-20. The postings are archived on the radio-studies site for consultation. All credit must be given to scholars for sharing such insightful and immediate thoughts.

Chris Priestman usefully points out that for our regular uses:

Radio needed no more definition than the transmission system by which we picked it up. All sound programming carried from a transmitter to our tuner using the properties of electromagnetic waves we called radio. What's more the precise nature of the radio medium is determined by the available technology we use to hear it and that has changed over time.
(Priestman, 2001, 1)

Radio conflates many uses and technologies within the one word.

1.3 Survey of four digital radio formats

In a dynamically expanding (rather than converging) market, it is not easy to gain an overview of digital broadcasting on the four formats (satellite, cable, FM broadcasting (DAB), and the Internet). I offer here a quick 'tour d'horizon' of the industry's views on the digital market, though the first port of call is David Hendy's excellent chapter 1, 'Industry', which surveys the systems and ponders future developments (Hendy 2000). Internet addresses to current information from the B.B.C., Eire's' RTE, retailers of equipment and further technical and marketing information are to be found in Appendix.

Already in 1998, the Arbitron Company's 'Internet Listening Study' had identified that with the Internet and digital satellite, 'time spent listening to radio should see some natural erosion' (Abritron 1999). Fortunately for scholars, the McKinsey Quarterly web site at http://mckinseyquarterly.com/ provides some key industry research, mainly in the USA. Broadcasting and music industries have many worrying questions to answer according to the article, 'Digital what? The coming revolution in radio':

Although radio has been a remarkably robust technology - it has survived the advent of television, several revolutions in recorded-music formats, and the Sony Walkman - traditional broadcasting may face a serious threat from digital radio.
(Alderton, Krim, Schmitt and Sheehy, 1999, 125)

And the conclusion is that for the American market, at least:

On the face of it, satellite, cable, and Internet radio will each compete in about a third of today's broadcast market: satellite radio for affluent motorists, cable radio for home listeners, and Internet radio for office listeners, students, and teenagers at home. Broadcast is vulnerable to them all - not least because of its reliance on advertising revenue.
(128)

1.4 'Is anyone out there listening?' Report

Bughin, Djelic, Bozidar and Schröder, in their 'Is anyone out there listening?' conclude that some of Europe's radio stations have a chance to double their revenues, and that deregulation will heighten the difference between winners and losers (Bughin, Djelic, Bozidar and Schröder, 2000). They further prophesy:

Some observers argue that a third development - digital audio broadcasting (DAB) via existing FM frequencies, as well as satellite, cable, and the Internet - will soon pose a direct challenge to established broadcasters. They note, for instance, that DAB is expected to reach a penetration level of 10 percent in the United Kingdom by the year 2005. We believe that, at least for the next three to five years, broadcasters needn't worry. In the meantime, they will be able to use the Internet to enhance their brands, to strengthen their relationships with listeners, and to start exploiting the increase in the number of stations made possible by full deregulation and the rollout of broadband technology.
(Bughin, Djelic, Bozidar and Schröder, 2000, 48)

This is shrewd stuff, with a main eye of course, on revenue streams and deregulation.

1.5

At present, radio reaches more than 80% of European households and matches TV in the average listening time it commands, and radio is still more effective for advertising than the Internet, though, in the view of this report, too over-regulated (Bughin, Djelic, Bozidar and Schröder, 2000, 49). Radio station web sites can more rapidly measure audience share and satisfaction, and help raise revenue yield (53).

Bughin, Djelic, Bozidar and Schröder conclude in 'Is anyone out there listening?' that digital technology and the Internet are not a direct threat and 'can actually enhance the attractiveness of traditional radio' (53). DAB is 'unlikely to emerge as a truly competitive medium for some time' because although it offers CD-quality sound and interactivity, digital receivers remain expensive (54). Further, regulation and public lack of interest mean that, although digitalization potentially offers many more frequencies, investment is not forthcoming for development. Internet 'webcasting' via leased narrowband lines has not caught on and the sound quality is still inferior to FM radio. The Internet audience remains less than 1% of radio's total and traditional European broadcasting offers a wider range of choices than ever before.

1.6 Internet-only Webcasting

And finally in 'Is anyone out there listening?', although the Web is global and can offer tailor-made music playlists for niche audiences:

… the value proposition of Internet-only Webcasting … remain[s] weak. How could it be otherwise when Internet listeners in Europe have to pay what are essentially telephone rates for the time they spend listening? … [B]roadcasters seem to have only a limited ability to make money by reaching very narrow slivers when that course entails aggregating audiences across national borders.
(54)

So those are some swift opinions within the industry of the radio digital revolution. DAB (digital audio broadcasting) is being rolled out more slowly than expected. As mentioned above, David Hendy gives an excellent survey of this technology, including the DAB 'multiplex' system, the market, expectations, and what world stations existed in 2000 (Hendy, 2000, 49-56). Christopher Priestman's Web Radio is the newer authoritative analysis (Priestman 2001), and he points out that DAB, with its multiplex bundles of seven or so stations, heralds an increase in the vertical character of broadcasting institutions (12).

Opinion in 2001, particularly with a threat of recession, seems more pessimistic now and the DAB portable receiver, costing about £300, has not yet reached the market, in spite of various PR announcements. One could also add the issue of the multiplicity of Internet stations. These can get lost in what David Shenk calls 'data smog' (information overload) (Owen, 1999, 10). A compensation may be the greater power the Internet gives to people to control information (ib.).

1.7

As regards the Internet, and again with credit to Hendy's fresh and thoughtful discussion (56-8), there have been brighter developments. B.B.C. Online has blossomed and so also have TV programmes on the Web, an example being the various, interactive 'Big Brothers' across the world, particularly Germany's RTL2. The controversy about music copyright and the Napster site was partly resolved on 3-11 April 2001, by a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. The music industry's expectation seems to be a future 'subscription-based delivery model not unlike that of today's cable television' with less of the 'interaction costs' (manufacturing and distribution) (May and Singer, 2001, 129). 'Let the good times roll', as a section of this 'Unchained melody' report says. The future is a pay-to-hear 'jukebox-in-the-sky', holding all of the music ever recorded (131). Startling indeed!

1.8 MP3 files and hybridity

Downloading MP3 music files from the Napster site at http://www.napster.com/ or similar, has become so much part of popular culture. This seems closest to Eryl Price-Davies' definition of Internet radio quoted at the beginning - 'more like an audio-on-demand service'.

Terrestrial radio stations had begun storing their playlisted music on computer hard drives from the mid-1990s, and accessing them through software applications such as RCS Selector. Tracks could be played out in the order specified or at 'random play'. As 'live assist', a DJ is needed to present the show. 'Fully automated', no DJ is needed for the broadcast though pre-recorded DJ links can be included. (See Priestman, 2001, XXX; Hendy, 2000, 102, 112. The 'live' radio debate is touched on in 1.22 and 7.16.) As Priestman says, this computer-based automation transfers very readily to the Internet.

So, getting nearer to the questions posed in this article, what is the difference between (a) listening to an MP3 music file downloaded onto one's computer (or MP3 player), or (b) other news or music files offered on radio station Internet sites as 'side channels', or (c) listening to music from Internet live streaming audio? A Robbie Williams hit, say, or Eminem are enjoyed on all formats, though obviously (c) is live. (I will deal with this - the Roger Scruton question - in 5.8.)

A short technical explanation is needed here. Digitalised audio on the Internet is listened to, as one alternative on offer, as a continuous 'stream'. Christopher Priestman describes streaming as:

… the web equivalent of an analogue radio broadcast .. it carries the output from the broadcast studio … in real time.
(Priestman, 2001, XX)

1.9

The alternative is that audio can be downloaded as a file, typically from an archive on a radio station site and listened to only when the transfer is complete. Priestman continues:

This 'time-shifted' listening is a very significant new departure for the majority of radio audiences. Most of us have not had access to the radio equivalent of the time programmable video recorder. We are used to missing favourite programmes when we go out - or else we carefully arrange our lives to fit around the radio schedules. Time shifting has major implications for programme makers and web station schedulers … Some smaller, 'internet only' stations exist solely as archived streams: they may not have the personnel to run live output or they may expect their niche audiences to 'find' them over a period of days, weeks or months.
(ib)

1.10 Audio quality of MP3 files

Audio quality is an added issue about MP3s. The 'Unchained melody' report pulls no punches about 'that Napster-type piracy': [P]ortable MP3 devices can't substitute for home and car audio. Most MP3 files provide a listening experience of FM-radio rather than CD quality.
(131)

I note also Scott McPhee's 'Audio visual poetics in interactive multimedia' (McPhee 1999). He denounces the sound quality of the present Internet bandwidth. Listeners to MP3 files, of an age above the usual 'pop pickers', and accustomed first to 'warm' vinyl and then to CDs, have found the new-format music thin, shallow, fuzzy and unreal.

For myself, I feel these contrasts when I download various MP3s via Napster - opera, orchestral pieces and numbers from musicals. I then listen to their high-definition originals on CDs and to their broadcast, digitally, by B.B.C. radio (via my Sky Digibox). I would describe these examples - opera arias, art songs, piano solos, Sondheim hits - as demanding, though I am aware that this is a personal, cultural judgement. There is a blurring in these MP3s and it is as if the original has been cropped. On the other hand, there are other MP3s which do not sound distorted to me, and I do not have a sense of distortion. My examples are some pop music, and older musical numbers, originally on 78s.

Douglas Rushkoff explained this difficulty in an International Herald Tribune article, particularly aimed at this 'baby boomer' generation. He included visual difficulties in film-watching with computer-generated elements and the feeling that the figures (as in 'Gladiator') do not form part of the same world as their environment:

What's bothering our analog-era senses is our ability to see and hear what's really going on. Digital graphics and audio compression routines amount to little more than tricks. Like those "Magic Eye" 3-D pictures that require viewers to un-focus their eyes in order to perceive the illusion, today's digital trickery demands that we blur our senses to experience the simulation.
(Rushkoff 2000)

Technical details about the MP3 CODEC can be found in Chapter 3 of Christopher Priestman's book (Priestman 2001). The MP3 format compresses music files into one twelfth the size of a WAV file.

1.11

MP3 files are something known as the 'psycho-acoustic algorithm'. (For algorithm, see the Glossary.) This attempts to fool the brain into hearing what is not there. As Owen says generally:

A digital signal takes samples of the real world … at certain intervals, and reports the state of the world at the ends of those intervals. … In some cases, the human eye or ear fails to notice that anything is missing. … the representation of reality between the sample points is invented. The ultimate objective frequently is to convince the viewer that the image received is "real". It may not be necessary, however, or even desirable to achieve the objective of re-creating subjective reality.
(Owen, 1999, 159)

Owen's main point is about the poor quality of video signals via the Internet as compared with conventional television. This also applies somewhat to MP3 files. There, the real overtones of different instruments, voices and the environments in which they are being played, are eliminated to a certain degree. They are replaced with a set of similar frequencies. And, crucially, MP3 files save a lot of space.

1.12

As a 'baby boomer', with these hearing (and entertainment) problems when I connect with MP3 files, I am grateful to Douglas Rushkoff for giving me reassurance and then some solutions. Ultimately my brain must use these sonic clues in MP3s and imagine the real musical event. I must fill in the blank spots.

Owen sums up. (His subject is Internet television):

It may be that the content of such signals is …. suited to their form so that higher technical quality (greater subjective reality) is not useful, or not worth its price. To take another example, many photographs look better and are worth more when some information is subtracted from them. Realism is but one aesthetic modality.
(Owen, 1999, 159)

I have discussed the topic previously in relation to radio drama in terms of 'perceptual filling-in' (Beck, 1999, 1.5; Beck, 2000a, under heading 'Objects in outline Gestalts').

1.13 Convergence and divergence

So, as an end to this 'tour d'horizon' of radio, the Internet and MP3 files, there are optimistic and less optimistic views. Jo Tacchi, especially in the context of the innovative Radiocracy Conference in Cardiff of November 1999, when radio practitioners and academics gathered from all over the world, sees 'old and new technologies are converging and connecting and how this is being used by traditionally marginalized groups' (Tacchi, 2000, 290). I have emphasised how perhaps at this moment, divergence operates as well as the famed convergence of the multi-media. And it depends on how strictly convergence is defined. Here is Bruce Owen in The Internet Challenge to Television:

The hypothesis is that a single digital medium such as the Internet will replace analog telephone and television media.
(Owen, 1999, 343)

Crucially this depends on a 'melding of consumer equipment' (18). (See Priestman, 2001, Chapter 2 on this and Covell 1999.)

1.14 Internet hype

But Owen is cautious:

The salient characteristic of the Internet for our purposes is that it has limited capacity, or "bandwidth."
(Owen, 1999, x)

He sees complete convergence of TV and the Internet - so that the distinction between a TV set and the Internet will disappear - as a possibility, though only one of a number of possibilities (Owen, 1999, x). Owen also warns that although experimental technologies are 'wonderful', most will not come to pass (xi-xii). And crucially, he warns about the Internet: Understanding the uncertainties faced by Internet entrepreneurs does help to explain one phenomenon: the hype. There can hardly be an industry whose products, projects, strategies, and executives are better publicized than the Internet. The hype makes sense because it is in part through such means that the Silicon Valley herd can be stampeded in the direction of a particular medium, whether or not that approach is the best or the least costly. We can look forward to a lot more hyperbole.
(Owen, 1999, 41)

1.15

Owen's verdict is even more timely now, with the downturn in Internet stocks and 'brown-outs' in Silicon Valley in 2001. He also, typically of a commentator on that side of the Atlantic, warns about the 'tragedy of broadcast regulation' (chapter 5) and that USA regulation is always in the favour of government and the present incumbents (xi, 4). He stresses how 'digital media fragment audiences; they do not aggregate them' (13). (See also Priestman, 2001, 3 for a cautious approach to the Internet.) More generally, Philip Agre, a remarkably judicious scholar on the subject of the Internet, comments: Portrayals of a digital future are too often monolithic: everything will be digital, everyone will be wired, all media will converge into one, and the physical world will wither away. This kind of monolithic story is wrong, I think, and particularly unfortunate when it comes to the future of communications media. … [M]edia will continue to multiply. Everybody's daily life will include a whole ecology of media; some of these will be voluntarily chosen and others will be inescapable parts of life in public spaces and the workplace.
(Agre, 1998, 1)

Agre also invented a telling phrase for our relationship with the digital: 'Welcome to the Always-On World' (Agre 2001). Radio-audio-Internet streaming are very much part of the 'Always-On', but within the 'whole ecology of media', and 'not everyone will be wired'.

 

 

1.16 The Internet radio debate on the radio-studies list

I promised above (1.1) to give some indication of the valuable debate about Internet radio (June 1999) and also digital radio (April 2001) on the radio-studies list. I have to stress that this was not discussion in a formal setting but off-the-cuff. These were all useful shorthand notes, in effect. I also thank all of those who took part, as they have enriched discussion with their prompt comments and, for me, spurred on my research. What I give here is only a summary, and my apologies if I have not fully represented people's views. It is also a pleasure to air these contributions more widely. I present them in order of posting and link them at times, to my work.

1.17 The 'defining radio' debate on the radio-studies list

Carin Aberg

Carin Aberg perceptively summarised the 'ancient question on what a medium is' as:

a) programming and content
b) regulation and legislation
c) perceptions (by listeners and/or producers) and use at a certain point in time
d) the same content delivered by other (technical) means
e) programmes/content which can only be achieved by means of sound without images ("true radio forms")
(Carin Aberg, 10 April 2001)

Here is a good mix of object-study (programmes, and how broadcast and regulated) and subject-study (reception theory) (Introduction 1), and clarification (5.2). Aberg also added on the latter issue:

However, radio is NOT equal to sound, in that case the wind and rain and traffic noise and telefax signals on AM would be radio...
(ib)

These, wind etc., are interesting examples - all acousmatic sounds (see 3.2 and the Glossary for definition). I have tried to cover this more widely under what I call the 'Scruton question' ('Are listening to a CD and a broadcast the same?') in 5.8, and 5.10 ('Radio is what radio sounds to the normal listener').

1.18 Ken Garner

Following Aberg's contribution, Ken Garner suggested defining radio firstly by:

… the broadcast from one sender to many receivers of audio content via electromagnetic radiation using amplitude modulation or frequency modulation … a text, one-way one to many …
(Ken Garner, 15 April 2001)

This is straight-down-the-line communications theory - though Garner quips 'dull for our purposes, ain't it' - and continues with:

- audio-only texts
- involving any or more than one of music, narrative, dialogue
- which are produced for broadcast purposes
(ib)

So here is a mix of semiotics ('texts'), formats / genres (and also what I term domains), and intentionality (by broadcasters?). Garner then intriguingly says that his definition 'includes 99% of what passes for webcasting … despite notable examples/possibilities of interactivity' (and refers to Jo Tacchi's work). He stresses that his second point ('involving any or more than one of music, narrative, dialogue') is key and that it is tricky to find words to 'embrace all kinds of radio content'. It is challenging on Garner's part to describe most Internet radio as similar to radio in other analogue-digital formats. (Though not having conducted an empirical survey myself, I would however agree with Garner.) So the debate widened interestingly. Garner's point about lack of terminology was taken up later by Richard Berry (1.22).

1.19 Eryl Price-Davies

Eryl Price-Davies followed with this measured view (and I am very much in sympathy with it):

One recurring theme is that whatever radio was...it is no longer possible for us to conceive of it in these ways anymore. That, however, is not the same as saying that there is no such thing as radio anymore. So - I'm quite happy with the notion that radio is changeable, fluid, defined by its users, and so on...but I still think it is important to inquire into its ontological status. Otherwise … there is an absent centre to our endeavours.
(Price-Davies, 5 April 2001)

He stressed the ephemerality of radio ('the vast bulk of radio is not designed to be listened to repeatedly') and then went on to reception aspects:

My own view is that radio is for listeners … That doesn't, in my view, mean that we should exclude 'hearers', for one of the real pleasures of radio is that it allows for variable modes of engagement - it can be relatively unobtrusive, or it can demand our undivided attention. It might even be possible to produce a map of radio output which relied on these variable modes - some radio is explicitly designed to be 'background', other forms of radio set out to capture the attention of listeners in a more sustained way.
(ib)

Price-Davies' view that, to put it in my terms, this is a paradigm shift was taken up below (Rob Watson in 1.19).

1.20 Max Easterman and Jo Tacchi

Max Easterman pointed to intentionality on the part of broadcasters:

It seems to me that 'what is radio' really depends on how the product is intended to be distributed (i.e. 'broadcast'). If a programme, or programme stream, is intended initially or mainly for distribution directly via wireless means (the ether??), or is originated by an organisation that so intended, then it's radio - however you may finally receive the product. But if it's produced only for distribution by a wired means (but does this include the Internet?), then it has to be something else. But, in the end, it's the quality of the programmes that matters - which is an entirely different discussion!.
(Easterman, 5 April 2001)

Again, key points, and for me, Easterman links with radio formats (genres) and my 5.10 ('Radio is what radio sounds to the normal listener') - the listener responds to broadcasters.

Jo Tacchi's constructionist point (see 7.4) was taken up:

… this non-essentialist direction is (it seems to me, anyway) the only really defensible direction in which to work. Otherwise, endless debates about what is 'true' radio or not evades the really important questions about the definitions, practices, and contexts that together define 'radio' in any particular time and place.
(Jay Hamilton, 5 April 2001)

I deal with this in Section 8.

1.21 Janey Gordon

Janey Gordon helpfully offered:

As a teacher I am pretty pragmatic about what radio is. I teach radio as I was taught at the knee of people like Bob McLeish (SFX scratchy violins), and when my students get jobs using those skills, I am willing to call what they are doing radio providing that -

1. It is a point to multi point method of communication, i.e. one sender to a number of potential receivers.
2. It is essentially audio material. I am not bothered by RDS, DBS text or browser pages or even most webcams. They at least tend to show that the sound is coming from a sound studio and with people in it!
3. It is transmitted in some way. It is not something you can pick up and carry off like an audio tape, (but what about an MP3 file left on a website for a year?).
(Janey Gordon, 5 April 2001)

… web radio travels a point to point route, whereas the other competing digital systems use one way, 'one to many', broadcast routes. As such they reproduce the broadcast characteristics of analogue terrestrial transmission plus some unique additions of their own.
(Priestman, 2001, XX)

1.22 Richard Berry

Richard Berry summarised the 'What is radio?' debate:

... [radio is] something that is live by its nature with I'd suppose an element of human intervention (as a producer or a live presenter) and is recognisable as such. I suppose what I am trying to do is to separate "radio" from jukebox music streams like "Yahoo! radio" and the likes... As we all know it's a thorny issue but I was wondering if anyone has read anything where someone has tried to define what "Radio"? Is it a technical distinction or an artistic one? I think Eryl is right to separate "radio" from "sound" after all when visuals are placed it's called "Video on demand" rather than "TV on demand" so should we not be thinking of radio like that? Is it "sound" "web-audio"? "webio"? We could of course take the fact that the radio term is used no matter what the method of delivery as a positive message about the versatility and durability of the medium!
(Richard Berry, 5 April 2001)

Berry has put some leading questions here. He has bridged 'live' radio with automated in an interesting way, and also for me, introduced, as Price-Davies did, the question of apparatus or the broadcasting vehicle. He also points to our terminology and its limits.

Rob Watson

Rob Watson 'exploded', as he said, the 'concept of radio'. He is the teacher of a new module, 'Digital Radio', and urged that we take radio 'beyond anything that is presently meaningful':

With the intervention that multimedia and networks are making, we are being driven ever more to look at 'audio content'. Obviously this does not have the ring that radio retains, but there is most certainly an audio content industry forming around key delivery mechanisms, such as the net. Perhaps we will be forced to explore in greater detail the differences between formats and programmes, and more particularly, between audience modes of consumption. If the audience is prepared to listen to audio content, but does not recognise the absence of presenters, stations idents, news and so on, then who are we to tell those consumers that they are not listening to radio? As in all the best developments, we have to be prepared to 'watch this space', because things are going to start to change pretty rapidly over the next couple of years - if we ever get broadband, that is.
(Rob Watson, 6 April 2001)

This breaks down the distinction between 'radio' as conventionally self-promoted and self-labelled (on whatever delivery vehicle) and the new, for example, Napster and what Music Choice offers on both the Internet and on Sky Digibox (Introduction 7 Note 1). Watson also introduced a wider range of personal expertise to the debate. (I refer back to the difficulty of access to expensive new technologies, Introduction 17). I am very much in sympathy with his view that we should look to 'audience modes of consumption' and what the audience 'is prepared to listen to'. (Again my 5.10, 'Radio is what radio sounds to the normal listener').

1.24 Radio stations' automated output

Richard Berry and Paul Carter raised the issue of automated radio broadcasts, usually during the night by small and medium commercial stations. Computer software enables this. The question posed of these stations is, 'do they cease to be radio at these times' (Carter)? There is what is called 'live-assist' or pre-recorded presenter links. That is the sole human element. Paul Carter summarised:

… the issue of whether they are 'true radio' or if they change in identity when they switch to automation (a switch which goes unnoticed by most listeners) is one worthy of much (and I hope heated!) discussion.
(Paul Carter, 6-4-2001)

There are industrial answers to this topic, about the style and formating of stations, and their budgets. But I provide some sort of an answer, and the answer is yes, it seems like radio, in 7.9, under my definition of 'radioworld' (a term for all the instances of radio). Paul Carter has already answered the puzzle in terms of reception theory, that most listeners do not notice the difference. (Radio is what radio seems to the ordinary listener, 5.10)

1.25 Etymology of radio

As part of her posting, here is Jay Hamilton:

I wonder how far an investigation of the etymology of the word 'radio' would begin to suggest the variety of its uses...?
(Jay Hamilton, 5-4-2001)

It is necessary to raise this, but for my purposes, I have to kick it swiftly into touch. This is too determinist for me, although much-discussed as a theoretical approach (George Steiner, for example). It sits oddly with the constructionist approach ('Radio is what it is at a given time, in a given context of use and meaningfulness.' Tacchi, 2000, 292; Section 8).

1.26 Christopher Priestman and Web Radio

I will not be able to do justice to the extended analysis in Christopher Priestman's book. He asks initially two key questions: What new strengths does web radio add to pre-internet radio? and What established strengths of radio does web radio supplant? (Priestman, 2001, 3)

Priestman chooses the title 'Web Radio' and not 'Internet Radio', stressing internationalism and 'frontier' openness, and the Web's simultaneous two-way, interactive communication system. Potentially, a more 'horizontal' situation is offered, where participants have an equal status and where communication passes freely between. The five recognisable sectors of today's international radio industry as outlined by David Hendy - State Radio, Public Service Radio, Commercial Radio, Community Radio and Underground Radio (Hendy, 2000, chapter 1) - are being blurred by the Internet (Priestman chapter 11).

National public service radio stations 'simulcast' live on the Web see keeping their citizens overseas in touch with home as part of their remit (ib. 5). Priestman gives this valuable summary:

… web radio is truly a double edged sword in this world of commercial media giants. On the one side it offers them cheap access to vast new international audiences and the advertising revenues that go with them: but on the other the Internet disperses audiences and hence their source of income. The arrival of "narrow-casting" in place of broad-casting allows an unlimited army of (relatively) tiny new competitors to offer listeners the kind of niche programming which mass broadcasters cannot provide. … Audience size is completely scaleable according to the financial means of the webcaster and the number of listeners they can attract.
(6)

1.27 Summary

These debating points - and I have only covered some of them - show to me that those on the frontline, so as to speak, are those innovating with brand-new courses on the 'digital' and 'audio'. They engage with the 'reinvention' and 'reconfiguration' of radio studies (Introduction 1-2) immediately, not least because they have to write course proposals. We all suffer from terminology starvation. And do enough radio teachers have access to emergent and costly technologies? Do only a very few of us - and I posted in with a message on the 'death of radio' - see a need for the 'reinvention' of radio studies? It could be that we can't say at the moment what is, and what is not radio / audio, and we do not have sufficient terminology and theory to do so. These are the points I come round to in Section 7.

Christopher Priestman notes optimistically:

… for the first time [Internet] radio has the challenge of defining itself by the nature of its content rather than the receiver we use to hear it
(Priestman, 2001, chapter 2)

So in this section, after a survey of the four formats for the delivery of digital radio, I have favoured those industrial reports and also Owen (on the Internet and television), which do not take the optimistic line on technological convergence. Those commentators are also, for me, more realistic in their forecasts about DAB (not to reach 10% in the UK till 2005 - 1.3), about marketing to affluent customers, and acknowledging Internet hype (Owen in 1.11). With that foundation in digital radio as an industry and the radio studies debate, I now move into my main territory - the challenges to theory-making.

To Section 2

To TOP

 

 

 Abstract

 Introduction - Digital - coming soon to a radio near you

 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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