January 26, 2007

On Radio and the Internet

On Radio and the Internet

Yesterday we pointed out that WETA in Washington, DC has adopted an all-classical format and will no longer carry us. Blog regular plnelson asks:

Why can’t DC listeners listen via streaming audio, from other stations that carry the show, e.g., WGBH in Boston? Or dowload the MP3’s? I listen to programs from all over the world that way, as well as participate in their blogs, etc.

Maybe I’m not “getting” what the problem is here but it seems to me that an old-fashioned radio station where the listener and the broadcaster are limited by their physical location is SO 20th century!

plnelson, in a comment to Open Source, January 25th, 2007.
Mid-century clock radio

I wish I could quit you! [stereonaut / Flickr]

It’s a fair question, and there are two answers. First, as josephmoyer pointed out, public radio stations pay to carry Open Source; a large part of our business model is for public radio stations to use donations from their audiences to pay us to produce this show.

Second, even were we to find ourselves a Medici to write us a yearly check to record Chris talking to interesting people, we’d argue that a public radio presence would remain a crucial part of spreading the gospel. I, for example, am as wired as they come; I listen to the BBC and Georgia Popplewell via podcast on the T, and once in a blue moon I stream RFI at home so I can pretend I’m learning French.

Which I’m not.

The point is, I still listen to Morning Edition on a plain old terrestrial FM signal when I eat breakfast. Radio is easy, like a utility; you turn on the tap and out it comes. I don’t think you can overestimate the value of simplicity. The mere fact that I don’t have to synch anything or wait for a download or maneuver my laptop into place to get plain old radio makes it exponentially more likely that I’ll listen to it.

Or, in other words, we have roughly 150,000 radio listeners and a podcast audience of 8,000. The podcast audience is invaluable; it gives us comments from sidewalker in Tokyo and bicyclemark in Amsterdam. But you can’t argue with 150,000, and we’ve noticed that every time we pick up a new station our web numbers jump, too. A significant portion of our referred web traffic comes from the sites of the radio stations that carry us. (Here’s a list, by the way.)

More listeners = more people commenting on the site = better blog conversation.

So web-based distribution is important, but we have no intention of leaving the terrestrial sphere to inhabit your brains through the web alone. Radio and the web complement each other in ways too important to ignore.

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