New Orleans Recently I was visiting an amazing collection of fancy, high-tech radio studios that had largely been used to make commercials for local and national companies to run on the radio. According to the owner that business isn’t gone, but it’s drying up, partially because fewer dollars are being spent on either radio or television ads, but also because the technology has become more accessible and more companies and radio conglomerates are doing everything themselves. You buy an ad, and you get the production for free, essentially, or at least rolled into the price in a one-stop move, rather than jobbing it out. As I left he said something off-hand that caught my ear about radio being fading technology.
Of course that’s the buzz, since contemporary wisdom would be that the internet owns all of the future, but I wonder.
Amazon, which is a pretty future-forward company for both good and evil, has a new device called an Echo. Like the Kindle e-reader years ago, it’s not the most expensive tool out there priced a bit over $100. There’s a genie living in the Echo, whose name is Alexa, and you activate the device by talking to Alexa. You know the drill, “Alexa, what is the weather in Paris today?” “Alexa, what is the 7-day forecast in Toronto?” And, here’s the deal, Alexa answers you. No muss. No fuss. Amazon is one of these classically super secretive, super competitive techie companies, but when it comes to the Echo, they have encouraged other companies to develop applications for the device, which seamlessly connects the apps from your computer or whatever.
So what does this have to do with radio not being a horse-and-buggy technology but, just maybe, a hot ticket to the future? Well, accessing radio is still a million times easier to do from your car or old-fashioned radio set, than from your mobile phone or other devices. On the other hand with the Echo, all you have to say is, “Alexa, play KABF,” and, bam, there it is streaming in your house from a million miles away.
But, I’m not a salesman for Amazon, so my point is that this emerging revolution in voice recognition software and computer intelligence and capacity means that in a few years you can easily expect that we’ll be able to tell our phones, our computers, and any other devices, exactly what we want to hear, when we want to hear it, wherever we are, and there is nothing more ubiquitous than music on the radio. Certainly this is true for terrestrial stations that also stream on the internet, but it is also likely something that may become true for internet-only stations that could be accessed more easily on a voice-command.
Podcasts are not a growing audience according to surveys, but they are also more easily accessed in the same way by voice-command on a device like the Echo. Music still trumps because it more easily adapts as a background soundtrack to life, and noncommercial radio and internet stations will also have an advantage there because there will be less underwriting, talk, and commercial-like blah-blah. There will continue to be some business-model problems to resolve, but far from radio going the way of the manual typewriter, the new world coming of voice-command, immediate search and deliver internet-enabled music could provide radio with a spring in its step for quite a long time, everything being equal.