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Broadcasters have spent 50 years, pre-web, in "one-way street" mode

Posted on: 01/17/2008

Here’s an insightful blog posting from a nationally-known video journalist named Michael Rosenblum. He’s not talking about radio per se — his specific topic is about a course from Discovery Communications’ Travel Channel that teaches consumers how to make short films — but the principles he talks about apply perfectly to our medium.

Rosenblum writes:

Broadcasting is about sending one signal, the same signal, to millions of people at the same time. There is no natural human inclination to sit and listen to Katie Couric — that is simply what the technology allowed. A broadcasting tower that forced pictures and sound into the air to be received by millions of dumb and passive receivers and then watched.


But now we have the web.

Now we have a technology which allows people to talk to each other. To share their stories and experiences with each other, all the time.

This is NOT broadcasting.

This is not even narrowcasting.

This is something else.

This is a community.

Loudmouths get boring

It is the difference between making a speech to a crowd and going to the marketplace or a party to talk to friends. No one wants to go to a party to listen to one loudmouth (no matter how interesting) make a speech. It gets boring. People want to talk to each other, and listen, and respond.

THAT is what the web is all about.

Broadcasters have spent 50 years working in one way — creating content for broadcast — a one-way street. You sit and listen. I will create the stuff for you to watch. It’s the shut up and take it school of content. Which was fine, so long as the technology was dumb and passive.

But it isn’t dumb and passive any more.

It talks back.

Broadcasters could seize the initiative

Broadcasters are a in unique position to seize the initiative here, because for the moment, they have the attention of the audience. But only for the moment. If they don’t seize that moment and start the conversation, the audience is going to drift away.

Because the product no longer measures up… not to what the technology can do… it no longer measures up to what the technology will do.

The old broadcasting model does not really cut it anymore


Read Rosenblum’s entire blog post at http://rosenblumtv.wordpress.com.


Kurt here again.

When radio is delivered to consumers over the Internet, there’s no rational reason that it has to be in “one-way street” mode. Unfortunately, it seems that terrestrial radio broadcasters are “hard-wired” with that mindset. Most broadcast groups are focused on either offering a unicast stream of their on-air signal via the web — with Internet delivery adding virtually no value to the consumer experience — or offering a sidechannel or two that are also unicast streams.

But consumers realize that Internet delivery of radio allows for much more than that.

Since LAUNCHcast’s debut in the late ’90s, consumers have been getting accustomed to having some influence and control over Internet-delivered radio programming — e.g., the ability to pause the stream, to skip songs they don’t like, to vote artists up and down to influence future song selections, and so forth.

As Rosenblum says, broadcasters have a limited window of opportunity to seize the initiative here… or else leave the business opportunity to the LAUNCHcasts and Pandoras of the world and, at least in the world of music radio, become increasingly irrelevant over time.

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  1. Kurt,

    Thanks for sharing this. It’s right on the money. As a medium radio must look for ways to change it’s “push” only mentality. While, currently, the over the air paradigm doesn’t allow for any more than control than on or off, other new media platforms allow for much more two-way communication and relationship building.

    Phil Wilson · Jan 18, 09:07 AM · #

  2. I should probably add that radio can use these new media platforms to further the conversation with their audience. Many have started but the one-way mindset is holding many back.

    Phil Wilson · Jan 18, 09:13 AM · #

  3. Actually, the way I see it, radio has always had the opportunity to be two-way, “interactive,” and the good stations have done exactly that: airing phone calls from listeners, reading postcards and letters, welcoming listeners into the studio (& going out to the listeners on the street), etc. Radio walked away from this, & is unlikely to reverse just because chat rooms, instant messaging, e-mail & listener selection are now available… and it will be part of their eventual demise, I believe.

    Gene Savage · Jan 21, 12:59 PM · #

  4. Hi Kurt: Well, you’re right. So is Phil. Gene’s prediction may come true unless radio embraces some new ideas soon.

    But further, what’s further shocking to me is that here in 2008 the vast majority of stations seem to be UNconcerned about one of the most basic of webcasting issues for terrestrial broadcasters:

    What IS that actual random “filler” programming that’s heard during the spot breaks? who is balancing the mix of spots, PSAs, promos, and those horrible “filler music”/“we’ll be right back” liners. It’s clear on most stations that nobody cares about the abysmal join and rejoin transitions, and the actual content of those breaks.

    This lack of programming is quite embarassing for the industry, especially when it’s heard on a number of stations in top 20 markets. we wouldn’t accept this substandard quality on our terrestrial channels, why do we on our station’s internet streams?

    I mention this specifically because online spot breaks are a missed (but wonderful) opportunity to create new, interactive programming ideas in these breaks.

    Here are just a few ideas for what can occur in those breaks:

    - New music previews – unsigned local acts – listener feedback – extended versions of morning show bits – special online only contests – quick interviews with local leaders about upcoming events – local news spotlights on red hot issues in specific local towns – there’s a million more.

    These unused large chunks of time each our can be just one of the ways stations become “more Web 2.0” in their approach.

    What do YOU think? We’d like to hear from you.

    Tom Zarecki · Jan 21, 02:10 PM · #

  5. Absolutely right (in what could be done) but station owners, managers and PD’s really do not get it.
    I and others I know have a wealth of material we’ve been trying to interest stations in for that very reason and they just don’t want to know.
    Web radio and/or other audio platforms will put them out of business if they continue this blinkered thinking.

    Mike Reynolds · Jan 21, 02:58 PM · #

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