iPod kills the radio star… and nostalgia

The GCap network has decided to close a couple of its radio stations, claiming that there is “no future” in digital radio. I think, for the moment at least, there is a place for DAB, since no other medium is quite as portable. To achieve the same effect via internet radio, one would need wireless devices that were much more durable than laptops, with much more powerful sound than PDAs and mobile phones, as well as a prevalence of open wireless networks. None of these innovations exist at present, but it would be foolish to suggest they will not emerge in the next few years. Indeed, since broadcasters can switch from DAB to the internet comparatively easily (many, including the BBC, broadcast via both mediums anyway), there may not be sufficient incentive for them to promote DAB.

Nostalgia of CDs

A correspondent of mine, currently at university, has observed that iPods may be killing off nostalgia too. Previously, in halcyon days gone by, she and her friends would listen to a CD or mix tape on their stereo, while they were all hanging out together in their shared flat. Since changing a CD is an inconvenience, they would often listen to the same album for months on end. These days, however, they are much more likely to be listening to their iPod (perhaps with one of those sound station amplifiers), with its near infinite playlist of tunes. No one CD evolves to become the ‘soundtrack of the summer’ which reminds them of days gone by, nothing to bond them to this time and that place. (h/t Harri)

7 thoughts on “iPod kills the radio star… and nostalgia”

  1. On nostalgia – this is only true as long as you consistently over-use the shuffle or playlist option.

    I use my ipod quite in a similar way as before, often playing the same album ad infinitum. Partly because I like it, partly out of indecisiveness/laziness, and partly for this very nostalgia reason.

    If you want to create prospective musical nostalgia, the ipod can deliver for sure.

  2. DAB seems to be fairly universally accepted as a obsolete standard, many countries have now abandoned it, having moved to more modern standards such as DAB+, DRM(+) or DVB-H. I believe most of the DAB receivers sold in the UK up to now are not even software upgradable to DAB+, meaning the BBC & friends are probably going to have continue with DAB for a good few years yet while the rest of the world uses something better.

    Personally I think most or all of these digital radio standards are sadly stuck in the tune into a radio frequency and listen to a stream of audio mindset, modern digital radio could be so much more.

    We could get rid of the idea of channels, as something you have to specifically tune into, instead for mindless music listening we could have something more like last.fm where you simply select I want to listen to music like X and the receiver scans transmitted feed information for the closest that’s being transmitted at that moment, feeds could mandate blocks of live DJ chat, advertising or whatever the commercial stations want as a condition of listening a (set of) track(s).

    Given that so much music on radio is pre-recorded anyway you could even distribute higher quality versions tracks in advance so (audiophile) folks who consistently liked a range of music could download them to ‘radios’ like pod-casts, to be decrypted and listened to should some over-the-air cue be received.

    Obviously there would still need to be concept of live programmes – talk shows or sports commentary could just be a block of audio for the length of the programme.

    All this would mean that you would be hopefully bundling much more easily consumable meta data with the transmissions, making it easier for listeners to actually get something they want.

  3. Dougie: Yes. Or you could just listen to Radio 4.

    The sad thing is how the techie people really reckon that people who like listening to radio give two hoots about whether they do it by tuning in, or by freeview, or by DAB or BAD or ABC, or whatever silly acronym that means nothing to normal people is supposed to be all the rage at any given time. I hate to disillusion you, and I’m sure it’s all very clever, but the fact is we don’t actually care.

    There is a place for all the things you suggest, but they are not and will not be “radio”. Radio is not just about listening to stuff, and people who think it is are really missing the point. It’s about context, it’s about the relationship between broadcaster and audience, and it’s about shared culture. If everyone is listening to their own bespoke impersonal tailor-made “audio”, you lose a rather crucial feature of what “radio” actually is, however it is delivered.

  4. Clarice: I’m having a hard time believing you will indiscriminately choose to listen to everything that’s broadcast on Radio 4 given the chance.

    When I was younger I remember my mum used to ‘listen’ to Radio 4 whenever she was in the kitchen, but in reality she wasn’t really paying attention for the most part she just liked the random patter of the mostly speech based programmes running in the background (infer what you will from this about my childhood family life). Very occasionally there would be a programme which she actually seemed to care a bit more about. I only really remember the news and Archers being in this class. She would usually make a point of turning the radio up to be sure to drown out any other noise.

    Was she a Radio 4 listener, yes in very general sense, I don’t think the radio in the kitchen was every tuned into anything else. But did she really care about most of the programmes between favourites, I don’t believe so, it was just convenient and comforting to leave the radio turned on and tuned in until the programmes she really wanted to hear came on air.

    I went through a similar thing when I was student where I would get hooked on a station because it played the kind of music I liked. I didn’t really care about most of the programmes/DJs as long as the station playlist catered reasonably for my tastes and I could listen to it casually in the background. As the playlist of one station drifted away from the genres of music to my taste I would find myself more and more listening to another station, only switching back for a DJ that I knew would play music I was really into. Eventually I would become ‘a listener’ of the new station.

    Now I don’t listen to radio at all. Why, I think for me it’s become too unpredictable, too hit and miss and all in a bad way. I’ve now got a reasonable collection of music I think is great, packaged as mixed albums, which I can pull up using simple menu system whether I want. Monday night, Sunday afternoon, I set my own playlist, my own listening schedule. Will I need radio any more, perhaps.

    I still like the idea of programmes. For the moment I watch programmes on the wireless with pictures all the time. If you think of yourself as a Radio 4 listener, then I’m sure it’s because of the programmes, you have your favourites, you know the schedule, you probably just end up listening to others because your schedule doesn’t always fit with Radio 4’s schedule.

    Is the schedule part of the Radio 4 experience? When I saw your mention of Radio 4 I went to look for schedule and came across the “Listen Again” service. It made me wonder if taking the programmes out of schedule, so to speak, significantly altered the Radio 4 experience. Could I still be a Radio 4 listener if I cherry picked my favourites from and listened to them on my own schedule?

    So do people need a schedule set? I’ve heard before that a station “format” is really important, apparently if you mess around with it too much your listeners get all unsettled and end up complaining/turning off/listening to something else

    If left to their own devices with an archive of Radio 4 programs would a interested party (but non-broadcast Radio 4 listener) manage to produce something close enough to the Radio 4 format to that they could start identifying with broadcast Radio 4 listeners? Would it be more likely to happen if they had some kind of “guided listening” system that tried to fit their topic interest programmes into a “Radio 4 format”?

  5. Very interesting, but I think you still haven’t countered my point, dougie.

    Which is that radio is about much more than listening to “audio” per se.

    I think there are two points in relation to this:

    a) the schedule
    If you make the schedule yourself, something is definitely lost, in my view, or at least different. A song sounds different if it comes on the radio than it does if you just press play. Shuffle functions would go some way to countering this, but you know when each song comes on that it’s only evidence of an algorithm, not evidence of a shared taste in music with anyone else. “Guided listening” I think is a hybrid of these two extremes, but it still lacks the direct personal touch that radio implies. Having said that, I don’t listen to music radio, for just the reasons you mention. But I used to, when I was younger, and forming my tastes.

    b) the social aspect
    If you listen to radio, you know you are part of a shared culture. If you make your own personal playlists, you lose a large aspect of this.
    To listen to radio is to engage in real time in a form of intercourse with your culture, and to be part of a common audience. To isolate yourself from this by sticking only to your self-picked playlists is, on this model, akin to masturbation, I would say. It is isolationist (unless you’re foisting your picks on an audience of others). In terms of new music, it also relies on other people stepping outside your model, to provide the correlations on which your playlists and recommendations are based.

    As it happens, yes, I will choose to listen indiscriminately to whatever is on R4, if that is the mood I happen to be in. I’ve been known to do 10-hour solid stints and more. And even the things that interest me less have a value, because they serve to remind me that the world does not revolve around me, that there are people with different interests but equal value who deserve to be catered-to as well. Which I would say has a certain pro-social value. And maybe I’ll hear things I otherwise wouldn’t have done, if I’d been sticking safely to what I already know I like/will like.

    And so what if it’s sometimes just a comforting background? That has a value too.

    In a way, I don’t think it matters why I like R4 regardless of what’s on it. The point is that I and many others do like it. Perhaps you’ve been listening to your own schedules and personal playlists for too long? 🙂

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