What is the biggest threat to terrestrial radio?


First we heard that Sirius and XM Satellite radio was going to kill off regular terrestrial radio. No doubt it has put a big dent in the advertising dollars conventional radio stations bring in, especially with the number of satellite radio customers increasing in numbers. Then we heard that podcasts were going to kill off conventional radio. While podcasts have increased in popularity they still are not as mainstream as radio, even since iTunes pushed podcasts closer to the mobile entertainment forefront. I don’t think either of these platforms pose the biggest threat to terrestrial radio, no sirree. If not these forms of entertainment then what?

Cell phones. That’s right, the lowly cell phone. Let’s face it, there are more cell phones in existence than any other electronic gadget and carriers and handset makers are jumping on the entertainment platform as fast as they can. Will they make an impact on local radio? They already are. You don’t hear much about it yet, but that will soon change. An article recently published on the Radio and Internet Newsletter points out an interesting fact:

“Sprint Nextel is now in the radio business, working with Sirius. Cingular is in. Virgin is in…, Motorola has iRadio with 435 channels from Clear Channel; Nokia is getting in, CBS Radio is working with Hewlett-Packard on a “visual radio” concept… “

I think the cell phone may be the straw that broke radio’s back.


Alan A. Reiter

Hi James,

I know something about this subject, and one of my four weblogs is about wireless podcasting.

Among the services I’m testing is Sprint’s Power Vision (1xEV-DO) service and I’m testing everything that’s available, courtesy of Sprint. This includes live TV (ABC News Now, Fox News, C-SPAN, C-SPAN 2 and, I think, Bloomberg is live).

I get MSpot, Rhapsody and Sirius on my Sprint service and the first two have podcasts, mainly from Public Ratio International and KCRW (Santa Monica) — very poor fare compared to the thousands of podcasts available.

However, Rogers Wireless — largest (I think) cellular operator in Canada just launched Melodeo’s Mobilcast service for $5 per month (Canadian) that has some 1,500 podcasts that can be streamed or downloaded and listened to later.

Pod2Mob offers a WAP and Java client for streaming podcasts to your phone. With 1xEV-DO the streaming works great assuming you remain in the coverage area.

What are some of the problems with cellular phones?

1. Battery life. Fancy phones with color screens just suck battery life. If you want to listen to lots of streaming audio files on your phone you had better carry an extra battery. If you watch lots of videos, you have better carry at least two extra batteries!

So, digital music players are still better choices from a battery perspective.

2. Controls. Granted, the phones that are optimized for music, such as the Sony Ericsson W600i, have pretty good controls. But the ease of use of many music players, such as the iPod, blows away most cellular phones.

Also, there are many attachments and accessories for some music players (iPod rules here) that enhance the value/enjoyment.

What are some of the advantages?

1. 1xEV-DO works great if you’re in a major market or in other areas (such as Cape Cod, surprisingly, for Sprint) because it really is fast. Using a Sprint handset as a modem with my X41 Tablet I get 800+ Kbps to about 930K bps downstream.

Podcasts and videos load quickly on the handset. There’s no problem there.

2. Stereo speakers on cellular phones. Only a few phones have stereo but it does make a difference. No, they aren’t good, but they are good enough when you’re listening to podcasts.

Stereo speakers sound just fine when your phone is on your desk, for example, when listening to a podcast or radio program. Headphones sound better, of course. (And if you’re at your desk, why use a phone to begin with?!)

3. Convenience. When you combine Pod2Mob (free streaming), Mobilcast (free streaming and downloads, via some carriers in the U.S.), being able to transfer podcasts and radio shows to a phone’s storage card (if it has one) and listening to subscription-based radio “channels,” the phone can be a powerful “time waster”!

I wouldn’t be surprised if some cellular operators begin looking for cellular-friendly podcasts. That means five to 15 minutes maximum, with plenty of solid music, news, etc. — not lots of time screwing around by the podcaster.

If you’re listening to a podcast at your desk or when you have a couple of hours to kill at the airport, you can sort of “afford” to listen to all the “wasted” time. If the podcaster wants to talk about how his microphone or Internet connection isn’t working too well or he spends time telling his dog to get out of the room, well, that doesn’t matter much.

But for a cellular listener who might have limited time, the podcast has to be “tight.” That doesn’t mean eliminating the “personality” but, rather, packing in a lot of stuff music, talk, whatever) in five to 15 minutes.

Well, I’ve probably pontificated too long as it is!

Alan Reiter

Ed Valis

In addition to the examples provided, I use my recently obtained Cingular 2125 to access an online XM account! Very cool!

Warner Crocker


Totally agree up to a point. That point being lack of content, or original content. Get radio out of the hands of the bean counters and format formulators and put up original content, and folks will listen. No different than Hollywood.

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