Tuesday, March 4, 2008 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Jon Fine's "Requiem for Old-Time Radio"

Business Week media columnist Jon Fine penned a "Requiem for Old-Time Radio" this week that illustrates the troubles facing one of America's oldest media sectors. Fine expresses the same sort of reverence and nostalgia I often do when talking about what radio meant to some of us in our youth:

"I remember what we now call "terrestrial radio" with ridiculous fondness. I recall huddling with it long past bedtime, the volume set low, hoping to hear something I loved. Thus the truism of how radio is the most intimate medium: You're in bed with the lights out, the music and the DJ's voice going straight into your brain, the images created are yours alone."

Radio really did inspire the imagination of a entire generations like that in the past. But, as Fine notes, those generations got old, and so did radio. "Realities of the music world—the explosion in both expression and availability, first on independent labels and now everywhere, thanks to the Internet—began overtaking commercial radio stations well over 20 years ago." Indeed, as I documented in part 5 of my "Media Metrics" series, the competition for our ears has never been more intense:

This entire marketplace is in a state of seeming constant upheaval. Everything has changed and continues to change at a rapid pace as “disruptive technologies” fly at us with increasingly regularity. Old business models are breaking down, and new ones are multiplying. Long-standing industry players are shedding assets or even disappearing as underdogs rapidly enter the sector and become big dogs overnight. You want a textbook example of Schumpeterian creative destruction in action? This market is it.

In this environment, consumer gains--in terms of increased audible information and entertainment options--have largely come at the expense of the traditional radio broadcast sector. Radio broadcasters are hemorraging both listeners and advertisers, as the statistics in that blog of mine make clear.

Isn't it ironic, then, that broadcast radio remains among the most heavily regulated of media sectors. What possible justification remains for strangling a struggling media platform with mounds of regulatory red tape when most of its major competitors are largely--if not completely--unregulated? Seems a little unfair to me. For reasons Fine suggests in his article, broadcast radio's days may be numbered regardless of what happens next. But public policy ought not facilitate that process by unfairly handicapping this sector as it aims to reinvent itself and remain relevent to the next generation of consumers.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 2:31 PM | Mass Media