Radio’s Future

Re: “Chicago Public Radio—an internal report on its new Strategic Plan,” posted by Michael Miner, November 9

I’ve written and read so many of these things (strategic plans) that I can tell you this is the work of an agency hired by the top exec to prove the point that Akio Morita (former SONY CEO) made decades ago: American business has become the province of the analyst and the consultant.

This plan is so “bleah” as to be nonsensical—one can only IMAGINE what the agency was paid for the drivel.

Prediction: Public Radio is gone in Chicago. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week, but GONE GONE GONE nevertheless.

And replacing it? Satellite radio and a billion stations available over the Internet for FREE. And now, thanks to Steve Jobs, it’s on my PHONE! How utterly user friendly.

And more power to ’em.

I do miss free access to Bob Edwards, however.


The quest to reform low-power FM law actually is moving forward at a good clip this congressional session. The Local Community Radio Act passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee several weeks ago, and a full floor vote is anticipated in the next few weeks. In the Senate, the bill is expected to get a committee markup soon (although obviously health care is dominating everything on that side these days).

National groups like Prometheus Radio Project and Future of Music Coalition are optimistic that the bill will pass. It has true bipartisan support, and the big opponents of the past (including NPR) have dialed back. The bill’s introducing co-sponsor on the House side, Mike Doyle (D-PA) still believes the measure may be on President Obama’s desk by Christmas.

If the bill passes and is signed into law, the FCC will open up a new licensing window for new LPFM applicants. The changes the bill makes to the existing law don’t necessarily solve the problems of the largest markets, but it would put the power to license back in the hands of the FCC, where it belongs. Then the commission will be able to look at possible exceptions and alternative placement strategies in big cities like Chicago, New York, and LA.

For those who doubt the need for broadcast radio in the 21st century, the fact remains that radio is still the cheapest, most immediate, most accessible, and most portable medium. The Web definitely provides a great resource to those who aren’t able to get a broadcast license, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t have the flexibility that broadcast radio does. Some of the portability issues are changing with apps for mobile devices and the introduction of Web radio into vehicles, but very few people are priced out of broadcast radio, which is certainly not the case for the Web.

As for range, most LPFM signals travel 3-7 miles, which in a city like Chicago would include hundreds of thousands of potential listeners, and enough range to listen in a car while running errands or otherwise traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood.


For the record, I did not say that broadcast radio was outdated. I said the need that may have existed a few years ago for low power community radio is pretty much outdated now. And it will be even more so shortly. All Internet based devices are fast becomming very cheap. Around three years ago it cost about $400 for an IPhone or Blackberry. Now you can get one for $99 or less. In a few years, you could probably purchase one for around $20 (about the current price of an Ipod shuffle, which from my recollection originally cost close to $200). You can buy small laptops for about $200, which would have been unheard of a few years ago. In 2015, these will probably cost about $50. Everything is getting cheaper. So I really am not persuaded by the argument that the “digital divide” is a long-term problem or that people will still be priced out of the market in a few years. In around 5 to 7 years, just about every car will have access to Internet radio and there will be portable Internet radio devices available for about $30. I would highly recommend that anyone who is spending time attempting to get legislation passed on issues dealing with low powered broadcast radio should use their energies on something more useful.

The original IAC

I don’t necessarily think you have to choose one or the other. Ideally, you have a broadcast outlet and a stream. Each allows for certain types of flexibility. It’s not an either/or proposition, and I don’t think most people working on the low-power FM issue are overlooking the importance of the Web. I do think some people will always love broadcast radio just like some people love vinyl. It has to do with how you were brought up, what types of technology you’re most comfortable with, and other personal factors.

I will add, though, that a lot of the communities fighting hardest for LPFM are those that have few resources—migrant workers, Native populations, etc. I think it’s easy for us to sit here and say that soon, everyone will be able to afford (and will feel the need for) a Blackberry (or a new car), but I think that that’s still a pretty privileged perspective.

And one final note—I think it’s far easier to maintain a commitment to localism when you’re talking about a low-power broadcast license than when you’re talking about an online station. In the online situation, the temptation is always to go broader since your potential audience is pretty much infinite. You don’t have to give in to the temptation, but it’s certainly there, and I think you hear it in some local stations that have gained national and international followings online.


One Big Water Cooler

Re: “Pot Kettle Blog,” posted by Whet Moser, November 12

Here’s the thing: I don’t think Vocalo is trying to be a major news organization. There used to be some perceived responsibility, or at least a hearty wish, on the part of the Tribune organization to bring the people some news or some good writing. They tried. Now, it’s like the whole news world is turning into one giant overheard cell-phone conversation about last night’s sports/television/whatever, a conversation being had, often, by very boring people producing ill-informed/researched/interviewed pieces or whatever they are now.