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Radio – Intro

Intro

By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

In 2006 the transformation of radio into something broader — audio — accelerated.

The use of iPods, portable podcasting, satellite signals, digital HD radio, Internet streaming, and even phones as music-listening devices all grew. There were further signs that the new technologies were beginning to have an impact on traditional radio, from audience behavior and economics to transforming the ownership and strategy of the industry and altering the projections for the future.

For now, the size of traditional radio’s audience remains fairly stable. But the amount of time people spend with it is beginning to ebb.

In the meantime, other, larger signals of change were unmistakable. The biggest of the year was the decision by traditional radio’s behemoth, Clear Channel, to transform itself into a private company and sell off its TV holdings and well over 400 of its radio stations. Clear Channel’s executives hinted that they no longer thought they could manage their long-term survival if they had to focus on the short-term demands of Wall Street and public ownership. Is the move a harbinger of things to come, of a new era — a move away from large, public multimedia companies and toward private ownership?

While the older players in radio maneuvered, the growing array of alternative technologies was still sorting itself out. Satellite radio, the seeming golden gadget a year earlier, continued to grow, but not as much as expected in 2006. And in February 2007 the two satellite companies announced plans to merge, though anti-trust laws may pose a problem.

The use of podcasting also swelled. More news sites and music distributors began putting content on their Web sites to download on MP3 players, cell phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants, to give the hand-held gizmos their full name). The PDA option is growing most. But it still remains to be seen how much people will incorporate the idea of downloading programs for later listening into their lives.

And traditional radio’s best option to compete with all this, HD Radio, took on more momentum during the last year. But cost still remains a major roadblock.

The only notion that seems clear is that the first major new communication technology of the 20th century — radio — is changing rapidly and appears likely to survive the early years of the21 st. The form or forms the medium will take, however, are still shifting.