The FCC has just released a report on the future of media. Information Needs of Communities, The Changing Media Landscape in a Digital Age is a 475 page document produced by the commission’s Future of Media task force. The Radio section of the report focuses mainly on the changing role that local news and reporting has had in radio.
Summarizing radio’s history from its invention and initial uses, through the arrival of FM, deregulation and consolidation, to the introduction of satellite and broadband deliveries, the report is a concise look at radio’s evolution from a media that dominated as a local news source to one with more dispersed offerings and delivery technologies. I recognized a tone of wistfulness in their description of earlier days in radio:
A national poll conducted in 1944 found that over 50 percent of Americans cited radio as their most accurate source of political information, while only 25 percent chose newspapers.
And possibly regret in its discussion of deregulation:
Whether or not consolidation was imperative, its impact has been to make the industry much more bottomline focused.
The study concludes that forces including these, as well as the arrival of the Internet and subsequent ease of finding alternative news sources led to radio’s demise as the dominant media for local news.
The number of people who said that they listened to news on the radio dropped from 54 percent in 1991 to 34 percent in 2010, according to a Pew Research Center study.54This is a much sharper decline than that seen in overall radio listenership, which remained above 90 percent, during the same period.
Enter Internet radio (and satellite, but the report’s treatment of that is limited and less interesting). Internet radio has, in the FCC’s opinion, made noteworthy gains in attracting listeners.
For the first time ever, more Americans (55 percent) listened to online-only radio (like Pandora or Slacker Radio) than to online streaming from an AM or FM radio station (40 percent)…. And an increasing number say that they are hoping to get Internet radio in their car.
The report mentions Pandora, Slacker and Stitcher as popular online listening places, and notes that the ability to deliver targeted local advertising without offering local programming could harm local radio.
The FCC has delivered a concise, objective overview of radio that provides a lot of food for thought for broadcasters. In fact, the conclusion to the Radio section virtually recommends streaming:
In some ways, radio should have an easier time adapting to the Internet economy than TV. It is far cheaper and faster to transmit audio online or through a phone than video. In that sense, the question is not whether audio will be popular in the new media world. It already is.