Is Terrestrial Radio Dead?

Yesterday, I received a twitter message from Leo Laporte with the simple question, “Is radio dead?”  While I wouldn’t exactly call terrestrial radio dead as millions of people still listen to it, I do believe that it is dying a slow death.

With the increasing number of people flocking to satellite radio or the internet for music, fewer and fewer people are able to say that they continue to listen to traditional radio stations.   While many people still see traditional radio as an adequate way to listen to music, news, talk radio and more, it is quickly becoming a means of last resort to listen to audio broadcasts.

Terrestrial radio suffers from two major problems, commercials and content.  The single biggest complaint I have had about terrestrial radio for years has been the commercials.  With many stations, its not uncommon to hear 15 min of commercials in an hour, often in sizable chunks.  While many people aren’t as bothered by them on television and typically use the time for a bathroom break, make a sandwich, or place a phone call, such a format is not ideal for the listener on radio where most people are trapped in their car when listening to the radio with nothing to do but listen to the commercial or change the station.  This is much of the reason for the popularity of satellite radio.  For a monthly fee, you don’t have to worry about commercials and you can drive coast to coast while still listening to your favorite station.  While I have yet to make the transition to satellite radio, the large blocks of commercials is the primary reason that when I am commuting, I listen primarily to CDs or podcasts on my Zune.

The other problem is content.  With traditional radio stations targeting a broad audience, it is often hard to find a station that plays more music that you like than what you don’t.  With many stations playing music genres that span decades, it is often hard to find a station that plays more artists and songs that you like, than those that you don’t.  It is this which I believe has fueled the rise of internet radio, mp3 players and podcasts.

With internet radio, mp3 players and podcasts, music, talk radio, news and more has become about what the individual listener wants, rather than the shotgun blast of traditional radio which stations hope will please as many listeners as possible at a single time.  With internet radio services such as Pandora and Shoutcast, it has become very easy for listeners to still be provided the content that they love, but still find new music based upon their likes and dislikes.   For those on the go that still want access to the music they love, mp3 players are continually increasing in popularity.  With custom playlists and easy ways to purchase music, mp3 players have become the gadget of choice for those wanting their favorite tunes no matter where they are.  For those that prefer talk radio, podcasts have become the way they stay up to date with news and listen to the topics they love.  While not all podcasts are talking, podcasts allow people to search for specific content based on the topics they enjoy, such as technology, space, news, entertainment and much more.

Clearly, until radio finds a new advertising model and a better way to become more listener centric, it will continue to bleed listeners to other mediums.  While radio won’t die tomorrow, I hold little hope that it will be around in 10 or 15 years.