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José María García-Lastra, (ES)

RDE Blog: In This Century …. What is Radio?

What does radio mean in the 21st century? This is not an easy question, particularly if we look at the definitions used in the last century.

Until recently broadcasting was simply the way an audio signal was transmitted by radio waves. That is how Frank Conrad, a Pittsburgh engineer who worked at Westinghouse in 1920, understood it. He constructed a cheap receiver capable of playing local audio signals and built the first commercial radio station in his house.
Since that day radio has supplied the world with information and entertainment through the airwaves. A product with a solid commercial model that extended around the globe. Frequency spectrum licenses over the years organized the radio spectrum space, and governments and international organizations played the role of referee in distributing those channels that communicated with an audience.
Today radio is at a crossroads. It needs to change its definition to adapt to new times but, most importantly, to be ready to compete against the other players who threaten radio's territory. Broadcasting cannot and must not be only the way these waves are transmitted. Radio as a mass media is in its Perfect Storm. The complications that threaten us are easy to explain: Radio is the last mass media to digitalize, the licensing model is coming to an end, music has been democratized, radio's production model is obsolete and its economic model hasn't found an appropriate adaptation to the 21st century. Among other things the audience wants to hear what they want, when they want, and where they want.
It is clear that to continue to be profitable all of the above has to be taken into account. The economic model used until now does not allow for an extension. For radio, as we have known it, its time is over. The countdown is motivated by the loss of its monopoly of immediacy, it is no longer the only ubiquitous mass media. In addition it is expensive to produce radio, particularly the production costs of new channels. And radio also competes commercially, through some of its channels, with TV and newspapers.
As a result, radio broadcasting must seek other territories. Services such as Spotify, iTunes and Google Music are stealing listeners from the traditional radio companies. We need to understand that those services and the radio companies have the same goal: to entertain and inform through audio channels.
So facing this situation, I propose a new definition of radio:
Radio is a multimedia product, fundamentally based on audio, with a logical packaging, that can be distributed by any channel and consumed on any device.
With that new definition, Radio would meet the needs of the consumer and would be on its way to finding a sustainable income model. Without it, radio's future is in jeopardy.
José María García-Lastra, Spain