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Now and Then: Radio

Posted: 4/16/09

On average, Americans listen to about 20 hours of radio each week. Surprising, isn't it? With everything moving to the Internet and mp3 players on the rise, radio is going to face some challenges. Has the radio reached an evolutionary dead end? Some would like to think so, but more than likely the media form is just adapting. Radio is versatile. Let's take a brief look at how it has adapted through the decades.

Before the age of television, computers and cell phones, the radio was king. The first wireless voice transmission was made by Reginald Fessenden in 1906 (prior to this, only Morse Code was transferred over radio waves). The transmission of vocals over radio waves marked the slow beginning of an entirely new era for radio, though it would not truly become a commercial concept until the 1920s.

It's said the first commercial radio began in 1920 when Frank Conrad became the first commercial broadcaster in Pittsburgh. A series of congressional acts revolving around the use of radio would ensue shortly after this.

These acts limited what stations could have for programming, which stations could use what frequency and eventually established the Federal Communications Commission as the ruling, licensing and censoring body over all wireless broadcasts. The FCC is somewhat controversial since it controls free speech and all. The Fox television show "Family Guy" has a great musical parody of the FCC in the episode "The Fellas at the Freakin' FCC" - for the free speech enthusiast it is definitely worth a watch.

The golden age of radio would last from the 1930s into the 1940s until television came onto the scene. Radio would combat this competition by switching to FM radio signals (for better sound quality) and going portable thanks to technological developments (the transistor). Radios could now be taken everywhere, and listeners could enjoy music and news wherever they went. The radio continued to change, decreasing in size and improving in efficiency until eventually taking to the sky in satellite form with Sirius and XM radio (now merged into Sirius XM).

It should be noted that satellite radio is in a bit of a rough spot right now. Due to the economic crisis, there have been rumors of Sirius XM possibly filing for bankruptcy within the next year. Sirius XM is primarily funded by subscription services and a large percentage of its new subscribers come from new car sales. As we all know, General Motors, Ford and Toyota aren't doing too hot right now, and that is bad news for Sirius XM. This brings me into the current state of radio.

Nowadays, everything is being digitized and moved to the Internet - Skype, Hulu and iTunes allow users easy access to media. To try to compete, radio has made the transition by digitizing itself with High Definition and webcasting. Pandora Internet Radio is a revolutionary example - if you don't know what Pandora is, I highly recommend checking it out.

However, there are fears over radio's ability to keep up with changing technology, the troubles of satellite radio and suspicions that listenership is decreasing. But there is good news.

A recent Nielsen study in the magazine Advertising Age, found that despite all of the new technological advancements and move to the Internet, radio still has a large following. The study examined different criteria than previous studies had, and hinted at the fact that radio isn't in an actual decline - the method it uses to reach its audience is just changing. This goes to show that radio is versatile. Radio is turning into new mediums and technology, and will probably be around for many years to come. Now, what form it will take is an entirely different question.

LINK:Now and Then: Radio - Showcase
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