Radio tends to favor a conservative approach. Once the innovator in
RF technology and audio, radio now follows the lead of other
industries. On the eve of a new millennium (yes, 2001 is the real
start), radio is preparing to be an innovator again.
The most recent change for radio was the introduction of digital
audio sources and control. The advantages of adopting a digital
standard were easy to recognize at first. Eliminating tape hiss and
vinyl-record surface rumble were the early prizes in digital audio.
Removing noise and distortion from the medium carried over to STLs and
phone lines as well.
Our acceptance of digital audio was facilitated by the limited
choices available. Nearly everything was PCM. Sources with other
encoding formats were not a problem because they were converted to
analog; something we were already well prepared to handle. The small
variations in available formats were not cumbersome to understand or
We have since grown beyond AES-3, S/PDIF and SEDAT. Now we routinely
encounter WAV, BWF, MP3, MP2, ATRAC and other formats with ease. As
these new formats were introduced, we accepted them, and in most cases,
continued to convert the signal to analog. Now we have advanced beyond
the continuous conversion process and maintain a digital signal
throughout the system.
When new technology is introduced, there are some people that jump
in head first. Sometimes they get burned. Other times they strike gold.
It's a fine line between leading-edge and bleeding-edge. As a whole,
radio accepts change slowly. The transition from vinyl to CD, from
carts to hard-disk storage and from reel-to-reel editing to DAWs was
slow and careful. These technologies were gradually introduced and
accepted. Today they are mainstays. Not many people would be happy to
return to tape splicing and multiple track bounces to produce a
Yet, as far as we have come from the early Marconi tests to the
first broadcasts of stations like KDKA, we continue to evolve. The
Internet, a dominant influence in every industry, has already turned
its hand to radio. Listening habits have been changed with the
introduction of Internet radio, music download sites and portable audio
file players. More changes are on the way.
It is interesting that while broadcasters carefully investigate new
technology, consumers typically dive right in. Granted, the bottom line
plays a major part in this scenario. The marketers have already
exploited the word digital to the masses. Anything digital must be
better than anything analog (or not digital). We know that this is not
always the case, especially with initial product introductions.
Several major radio changes are due to be implemented in 2001.
Satellite radio (S-DARS) will take its place alongside terrestrial
radio and Internet radio. This should be the biggest change to affect
radio in some time. In addition, Internet audio appliances will begin
shipping, IBOC will continue its development course, and wireless
Internet capabilities will increase. All of these changes will require
radio to change as well. The basic role of radio - providing
spontaneous and interesting content - will continue, but it will grow
and evolve even more than it already has.
The new millennium is here - for real this time. 2000 was just a
trial run. 2001 will deliver some significant advances. I'm looking
forward to what the coming year may offer. Some of it has been
previewed; much of it will be a surprise.