Reclaiming Radio

For months now, there’s been a document kicking around in my Google Drive entitled – as this blog is – “Reclaiming Radio”.
It was effectively common knowledge that Apple was working towards some kind of streaming music offering, and earlier this week, having concluded a deal with the third and final major record label, they announced iTunes Radio.
I had in mind quite a detailed piece about why what these streaming music services like Apple and Pandora are offering, is not actually “Radio.”
I was going to write about how the word “Radio” has been repurposed by broadcast industry outsiders to mean something different to what listeners have always understood it to mean.
I’d have taken readers back to the early days of radio from Guglielmo Marconi’s work in the late 1890s, and the earliest stations beginning broadcasting in the early part of the twentieth century, through to the first proper disruption the medium has suffered with the introduction of the internet.
But mostly, I’d have been aggrieved about the co-opting of the word “radio” from technological interlopers, who are adopting the word to act as a proxy for the new services that they’re offering.
However, I don’t need to do that, because lots of other people have been doing it too.
David Lloyd has a great piece about what radio actually is, and what it means to listeners.
Phil Riley asks whether Apple’s move will mean the end for radio? (Broadly speaking, he says it won’t).
James Cridland suggests that misuse of the word radio is actually the crime of passing off (And there are lots of pages of discussion underneath his piece).
Writing a short while ago, when Google announced its own music streaming services, Mark Barber also explains why this isn’t radio.
In addition to all of this, I thought that it worth looking at the definition of radio.
And yet, and yet, and yet.
Language evolves. We all might be getting totes emosh about the industry, and not experiencing too many lols, but the way we describe things changes.
So as an industry, we need to win listeners “hearts and minds” as John Adams might have said. We can’t go on crying about other using and abusing our terminology. We need to win listeners back through what “we” can do that “they” aren’t able to do.
In some ways, this is the first time that radio has truly had something genuinely different park its tanks on our lawn. While the BBC Home Service might have killed off Grace Archer on the night ITV launched in 1955, nothing has really threatened radio until now.
We can’t ignore these new services – the companies backing them are multi-billion pound international conglomerates.
But rather than moan about the misappropriation of our language we need to take the game to them and play to our strengths. Radio has always been more than an endless series of songs generated by some kind of algorithm and punctuated by ads*, and we need to make sure our services are so good, listeners appreciate the difference. See all those links above if you’re not sure what I’m talking about.
Take the fight to them. Because if we don’t, we deserve everything that comes to us.
*If that is a fair approximation of your service, then you need to get worried, and quickly.