Robert Freeman's whole Media, Business and Technology thing. Sorted.

Archive for May 2009

The return of the transistor radio

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Radio-on-your-mobile learns lessons of 2 generations ago

The National Association of Broadcasters in the US, is trying to interest more phone manufacturers into including FM radios in their handsets. I’m amazed this hasn’t been a priority earlier, radio listening is increasing, mostly on devices that aren’t traditional analogue radios.

The NAB initiative is keen to see antennas included within the handset, so people can listen with wireless headphones. Most FM radios currently require wired headsets, as it’s the wire which is picking up the signal.

I’m instantly thinking of the 60s revolution in radio when transistors brought in pocket-sized radios and a fleet (literally) of new radio stations offered new listeners greater choice.

Will this happen again? With integrated antennas in phones, are we likely to see groups of people lying in the sun, in a park, chilling around their phone? (I almost hope not, seeing as I already get this on the top deck of London Buses!)

I don’t think so.  Here’s why. Radio hasn’t worked out a way to make their content as transparent and accessible as the on-demand kind. It’s too linear. Online I can tell a great deal about what I’m listening to. MP3 devices are full of extra metadata to rate and order the content on them.

Listening to the radio, when you’re used to the alternative, is a bit like flying in the dark. I don’t know what’s coming next, and I’m not sure I like that.

I listen to loads of audio downloads of radio programmes. That’s about having what I want, when I want, and what I’ve selected is a known quantity, even if I don’t know the exact content when I download it.

Interestingly Apple have never included any radio tuner on their devices. I’ve always wondered if online listening apps like would be quite as popular if there was a default radio tuner already onboard.

Maybe not. I can’t say I listen to the radio on my Nokia that much. Apart from anything, the audio’s pretty terrible and I’m used to crystal clear digital sound nowadays. And when I’m out and about I tend not to be idly listening and I always have something downloaded and ready to go on either my phone (normally news and current affairs, because I can download on-the-go) or my iPod (usually stuff that won’t date so quickly).

Britain’s temporarily backtracked on having more DAB services.  But I’m all for them, but not as linear radio. New DAB should be essentially a data loop of content on various channels. When you’re in within reception, your phone just starts downloading the programmes off the air, depending on the preselections you’ve made.

It could all be done faster than real-time. It should all come with current text information and metadata which your phone captures as well. I download lots of RSS headlines … they could just come straight to the phone.  Like Ceefax, but digital, wireless and mobile.

Live streams could be carried too.  You could be interrupted by important live news, like travel and traffic info) while I’m listening to something pre-recorded. Like the way RDS works in cars, having opted-in, your phone swaps your headphones over to the live stream when an update is going out.

(Check out the US-based Alert FM system which does something similar, albeit over analogue)

The swinging 60s pioneered shared, accessible youth media. Technology was the catalyst. I can’t help but think we’re missing an important lesson from two generations ago.


Written by Robert

13 May, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Mobile, radio, Software