Death of radio? Not good

Per chi lo conosce dai tanti anni di militanza nella pubblicistica informatica e per i suoi manuali sul personal computer (sin dai tempi del DOS), John Dvorak non è uno che ama usare troppe metafore


da Radio Passioni

Per chi lo conosce dai tanti anni di militanza nella pubblicistica informatica e per i suoi manuali sul personal computer (sin dai tempi del DOS), John Dvorak non è uno che ama usare troppe metafore. Sull’ultimo PC Magazine, il giornalista e scrittore spende il suo nome così musicale (Antonín Dvořák sarà stato un parente?) per suonarle a una industria radiofonica che non si accorge di un fatto increscioso oltre che epocale: la radio sta morendo.
Da bravo informatico, John ha capito molte cose prima di altri. L’assassino non è la presunta cattiva qualità di modulazioni e frequenze “obsolete”. Ma il classico maggiordomo inteso proprio come “server”: Internet con annessi e connessi, podcast e compagnia cantando. In una parola, il broadcasting sta soccombendo di fronte al narrowcasting, alla miriade di stazioni ultrapersonalizzate che chiunque può mettere insieme con un player MP3 da quattro lire. Dvorak esordisce scrivendo paro paro ciò che un italiano di bocca buona ma efficace tradurrebbe con “il problema è che la radio fa cagare”. Troppe, anzi troppo poche corporation che controllano la quasi totalità delle stazioni facendo una programmazione nazionale che “fa schifo”. Battibecchi mattutini, tirate di estrema destra da Rush Limbaugh & C e noiosissimi dibattiti da bar sport. Ecco i tre soli ingredienti di una radiofonia che ha tradito la sua invenzione più efficace, i format tematici, e dalla quale stanno fuggendo un po’ tutti, per andarsene sul satellite o sui contenuti autogestiti. Il discorso si applica solo agli Stati Uniti, direte voi. Balle. Accendete sulle varie Piattinette rauche e le Uanstescionuannescion dell’ultimo “grande successo” discografico che dobbiamo sorbirci dal circo radiofonico nostrano e avrete più o meno lo stesso brodo, solo su scala più ristretta (per il circo televisivo basta sostituire con “talk show” e “reality”). Credere che per invertire la rotta sia sufficiente appiccicare sulla baracca un bollino “digital inside” è da idioti. Del resto solo degli idioti potevano inventarsi una radio (e una televisione) di questo genere.
Leggetevi fino in fondo l’editoriale di Dvorak perché la verità sta nella coda ed è pazzesco che a proclamarla non sia un sociologo o un critico letterario, ma uno che ha cominciato scrivendo delle magagne di MS-DOS. La morte della radio fa paura perché andando verso la distribuzione su IP, è inevitabile che le possibilità di controllo da parte di maggiorenti e governi diventino più concrete e minacciose. Lasciate stare che il podcasting assomiglia tanto alla radio delle masse, dal portinaio al postdoc. La questione vera, che dovrebbe saltare così evidente agli occhi di chi assiste attonito alle conferenze stampa dei Tronchetti, Murdoch e Berlusconi è: ma chi controlla ‘ste benedette infrastrutture di distribuzione, i cavi e o le onde di Wi-FI e generazioni successive? Guardate un po’ come scodinzolano i “colossi” dei contenuti IP come Microsoft e Google, davanti alle “vaghe pressioni” della casa regnante cinese. Le radio americane hanno rappresentato il diritto a una informazione libera da condizionamenti governativi. Quando saranno spente chi raccoglierà il testimone? I blogger appesi, letteralmente, a un filo? Auguri vivissimi.

The Death of Radio

Over the weekend, a story appeared about various shortwave-radio towers along the Spanish Costa Brava being blown up. Obviously, they were no longer needed or wanted. Even YouTube has a clip showing the Voice of America towers near Munich, Germany being destroyed. The article, which ran in the International-Herald Tribune and elsewhere, reminisced about the short-lived shortwave radio era that begin with the first installation in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, by Philips in 1927. It was used so the folks working in the Dutch East Indies could get their daily dose of local news and feel connected.
Shortwave evolved into a clever technique to broadcast beyond borders, because the signal essentially bounces like a basketball between the Earth and the ionosphere for unimaginable distances. Apparently, this technology is no longer needed. I suspect that whatever is left of shortwave will be relegated to fringe use, mostly by missionaries and the underappreciated amateur/ham radio community.
What’s overlooked in all this is that it’s not just commercial shortwave that is over. Commercial radio itself is under the gun. It’s no coincidence that the shortwave era is ending with the advent of podcasting. Podcasting is a much bigger threat to normal radio than it is to shortwave. In fact, radio is being assailed from every angle you can imagine. Why? Perhaps I should get to the point here: Commercial radio sucks. Seriously. It genuinely stinks. It has been deteriorating since the 1980s and now is just dreadful.
First of all, the models have changed. Too many large corporations own too many stations, and they do plain-vanilla national programming, hoping to maintain their investment. This has resulted in few music stations worth listening to, since the music is generally bad and not a reflection of current tastes. Because of this, various personality shows and talk shows have taken over the airwaves. There are various models, but the three that seem to dominate are the “morning zoo,” “conservative talk radio,” and “sports talk.”
The morning zoo is the worst of the group. It’s essentially a bunch of goofballs ripping on each other for 3 to 4 hours in the morning during drive time. Within this model, there is a lot of sophomoric news commentary. Conservative talk radio was invented by Rush Limbaugh when the federal Fairness Doctrine—which required radio stations to give people who disagreed with political opinions broadcast on the air a chance to respond—was repealed. Now there are dozens of cloned national and local personalities all bitching about “liberals” and how they’ve ruined the country. And finally, there are also dozens of national and local radio personalities who moan and groan about sports and the results of recent games.
I should probably also mention my biggest complaint about radio: incessant commercials. There are too many of them, and they continue for too long. I change the channel immediately during a break, but because so many shows are so similar, they all use a similar clock. The “clock” is a model based on an hour which carefully divides the show up into segments and positions the commercials at certain points. Too many are identical. So you hear 5 solid minutes of commercials, for example, beginning at 20 minutes after the hour. The hour probably has at least 20 total minutes of commercials.
Because of this narrow range of programming, commercials galore, and the miserable music stations, the door was wide open for an alternative to broadcast radio. Enter podcasting, with a worldwide audience of Internet users and a narrowcast model that works only in massive distributed markets. Thus a podcast such as the one I take part in, “This Week in Tech,” can achieve an estimated 500,000-700,000 downloads and listeners. Having done local radio about computers myself, I can assure you that no such numbers are possible except through podcasting. Most specialty, narrowcasting radio is relegated to the weekends or college stations, where nobody cares about ratings.
Now the delivery mechanisms for podcasting, namely digital music players, are finding direct connections to the car radio. They thus bypass the radio itself for news, views, and information, all available from a huge palette of options. And many people who relish music programming have opted for satellite services such as XM Satellite or Sirius radio. Podcasting has not yet found a legal way to exploit music programming. When it does, the impact will hurt radio more than anything. Already people are listening to their own mixes rather than the radio.
Does anyone in radio see any of this as a problem? Maybe not, since many of the most popular radio shows are now available as podcasts. In many instances, there is no need for a radio version of these shows. The only sort of programming that radio can own is news reporting and traffic information. Years ago, I would have added interactive call-in shows, but these seem to be fading as the shows’ hosts do most of the talking (incessantly, some would argue) nowadays.
Personally, I find these trends disturbing, since everything is gravitating toward Internet IP distribution, and as far as I’m concerned, this can eventually be more easily controlled by centralized governments than can broadcasting. Not good.

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