28 September 2007

Is Net Radio the Future?

    Oh! picking up something good
    Hey, radio head!
    The sound...of a brand-new world.
      Talking Heads

Awhile ago I mentioned that I've been listening to YRock on XPN. I still am, and recently I found something pretty cool. I have a Windows Mobile phone with Internet access. Out of curiosity I the listening YRock, and I was able to play the high speed stream reliably. What's more, it sounded great on the little ear buds that come with the phone. It's like a little Net Radio walkman I can use almost anywhere. This gets me thinking, is Net Radio the real future of radio?

The obvious alternatives are satellite and HD. However neither format's future seems secure. Broadcasters are really pushing HD as the successor to FM. Despite the big push, I think the jury is still way out. As for satellite radio, clearly people are buying it, but Sirius and XM are still losing money. They justify their proposed merger, in part, with the assertion that a satellite radio monopoly is the only way to keep the format alive. That's not a ringing endorsement of the technology.

Net Radio has a lot of pluses. It doesn't lock the consumer into a single provider like satellite does. It's more like traditional FM and HD in that respect, which is would seem to be a plus for broadcasters - they don't need to negotiate with provider holding a monopoly. Unlike FM/HD, they have virtually unlimited range. If you have broadband Internet, you can receive their signal. Therein lies the rub. Net Radio requires broadband access, and most of us need to pay for broadband. It will cost you even more if you want it on a mobile device like a phone.

Nonetheless, the broadband market penetration continues to rise even as the price of bandwidth decreases. Even the price of mobile broadband has gone down, and coverage steadily improves. At this rate, it won't be long before incremental cost mobile broadband will be less than the monthly cost of satellite radio (if not already). Other services like telephone and video are also moving online. There has to be a tipping point where broadband will be like cable TV or even telephone, and everyone will have it. At that point, what chance to other formats have against Net Radio?

No Internet media discussion is complete without mentioning podcasts. Personally, I don't see podcasts as a threat to the live radio format. Podcasting is great for downloading new/talk shows (e.g. Fresh Air, This American Life, Marketplace, etc.) and music shows (e.g. World Cafe or Echoes). It's not a great format to replace on-air or satellite radio, because most people don't want to pre-download that material for later playback and the recording industry would be too fearful. Assuming you can access the online stream, Net Radio is a much better fit.

Satellite radio scares broadcasters because it threatens to render local stations obsolete. Net Radio, however, does the opposite. Radio stations will no longer be bound by the size of their transmitter or the geography of their location. Local stations can reach their listeners even when they're travelling. Of course some stations will probably fail when faced with so many competitors. Still, a wider audience means you can find success by specializing. Niche market stations would become more viable because they can find enough subscribers among a worldwide audience.

This should bode well for broadcasters and listeners alike.

Update: I mistakenly typed XD instead of HD. I've fixed it. Thanks to Rob for spotting my mistake.

11 September 2007


    The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
      Abraham Lincoln
      The Gettysburg Address

I't funny the things you remember. I was on my way to work. I had to redial my cell phone because the lines were tied up. Every news site was down from traffic overload. There was road work, and I wondered if the flagman knew yet. A co-worker was reporting every rumor he heard in some chat room. All these little snippets of time so insignificant in comparison to the events that unfolded.

One of the more vivid memories I have is a co-worker's reaction when the first tower fell. He's a firefighter and EMT, and he was visibly stunned. He said something about the number of rescue personel in that building. I don't remember what I said, if anything, nor how long I stood there.

I didn't know if I should even put up post for 9/11. There is little I can say that has not been said, and few if any who will take note. Still, I think it's important to remember that day for what it really was, not the hollow catch-phrase our leaders have made of it. To that end, I guess there is value in even the smallest story, so here it is.

10 September 2007

Shortest DMV Visit Ever

    Contrary to what you may have heard, the Internet does not operate at the speed of light; it operates at the speed of the DMV.
      Dave Barry

I guess that means the Somerville office must be the DMV* equivalent of broadband, because I renewed my registration in minutes. I waited barely a minute in the receptionist line and was given the necessary form highlighted to show exactly what I should fill in. There was no line at the counter where I handed in the form, and it was processed in less time than it took me to fill it out. I could not believe how fast it was. Somerville rules!

*In the interest of accuracy, it's not actually the DMV. It's the MVC (Motor Vehicle Comission).

05 September 2007

Bourdainalyzing Top Chef

    First rule of Chef's Club is:
    Shit Happens.
      Anthony Bourdain

I think I've blogged about all of Bourdain's blog posts on Bravo. It's hard not to, and this week's was the perfect analysis of an untimely departure. One of the top contenders crashed and burned in a really big way. No doubt there is plenty of viewer anger, but Bourdain provides a compelling defense of the decision. He also serves up his usual scathing critiques of the various cheftestents.

So this is the level I've descended to: blogging about reality TV. Actually, blogging about reality TV bloggers. Top Chef and astronomy. Is that all I'm good for? We'll see....