Radio – what’s in a name?

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876. If you handed him today’s iPhone he might exclaim (in his thick Scottish accent) “That’s not a telephone!”

Imagine the conversation . . .

“Er, it is. But it also does a load of other stuff.”
“Other stuff? What do you mean, where’s the dial?”
“You don’t need one. It’s touchscreen.”
“What magic is this! Where’s the wire?”
“It doesn’t need one. It uses wi-fi.”
“What? Where’s the bit you talk into?”
“Don’t need one. Just speak into it.”
[Stunned silence . . .]

I believe Mr Bell was a clever guy so I think he’d come around eventually but a lot of people get hung up on the labels we give.

If you look up the definition of radio you might find this explanation: “the activity or industry of broadcasting sound programmes to the public”. It doesn’t define on what platform the public should listen on, when they should listen or where they should listen. Or, for that matter, what else they are allowed to do whilst experiencing said broadcast.

There are a few soothsayers around predicting the end of days for radio. I don’t think so. Radio is not dying. But, like Bell’s telephone, it’s not what it used to be. And that is life (I’m not an economist but there’s a useful term called creative destruction which neatly encapsulates some of the challenges and changes the industry has been going through).

Last September I was compelled into writing a blog titled “Radio – Get Over Yourself” targeting the knockers who are stuck in radio’s past. It’s clear that the linear listening experience is dwindling. Companies like Apple chose to label their Beats offering as a radio station because it’s a label people get; at the same time they (Apple) are helping redefine what it actually means.

Take one facet – where you listen. These days you can listen to radio on planes, submarines, trains, spaceships, tops of mountains, foreign countries — places where traditional radio couldn’t get to. That’s good right?

The latecomers to the party are taking advantage of the positives of our medium and spinning it to their advantage.

But some of the old guard is doing OK as well. Whether it’s engaging personalities, fantastically curated music offerings, or clever technology stuff that improves the experience, it’s not all doom and gloom.

In the UK we’re unveiling this year’s ReelWorld Radio Academy 30 Under 30 and I’m genuinely excited at the prospect of seeing what fantastic things people are doing with the medium and the directions they’re taking it in. Shock and horror, some of it might not look like the radio we’re used to.

You might have guessed that I’m a glass half-full person. Radio is not dying. Like Doctor Who it’s experiencing a regeneration. What it turns into won’t be what you and I grew up listening to. But that doesn’t mean it’s not radio. So let’s not get hung up on labels. Embrace the opportunity or go the way of Mr Bell’s telephone.


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