The History of the Death of Radio
Updated: Dec 11, 2019
Over the past few years, radio has taken its fair share of shots from other platforms. Terms like "yesterday's news", "old and outdated", and "anachronistic" generally come to conversation amongst those who brandish all the latest phone apps. The death of radio seems to have a lot in common with that of Grigory Yefrimovich Rasputin.
Radio has survived for so long for many reasons, but the biggest one is because it never tries to compete with the new media that arrives. No one reading this might be old enough to remember how television was going to replace the radio. It did, but only in the living room. The radio moved to the kitchen and formed an incredible bond with females who predominantly inhabited that room. (Stop yelling at me, it was the 50's and that's the way things rolled) The legacy left behind: The majority of radio stations from that point on targeted females. Meanwhile in the living room, the most watched TV shows of all time in Portugal, Germany, the United States, and Canada are respectively, a collection of soccer matches, Super Bowls and hockey games.
The first challenge to radio's pedestal came when television ended radio's golden era. In the years after television took over the living room, radio added the FM band to its repertoire, and the golden age of radio gave way to the golden age of disc jockeys.
Throughout the 70's, the radio still had the monopoly on portability and television only offered a handful of channels. In 1982, the Sony Walkman again threatened radio. The invention was significant because for the first time, the personalized music experience was truly portable. Inevitably, this invention essentially did in music on AM radio while FM radio was left untouched. In the coming years, the MTV and CD era was ushered in with the release of Michael Jackson's Thriller.
This is where the relationship between radio and records becomes truly codependent and amazingly profitable. The only expense is AM radio. The sounds between CD's and FM were congruent and radio along with MTV/MuchMusic made gobs of money on the only codependent relationship to never become abusive. If it you do not remember what it was like, nothing sums it up better than a 1991 CBS news special on radio. (Note how the record rep said radio was in trouble) And when you've picked yourself up on the floor, watch the video:
Things remained static in North America throughout the 90's save for the self-inflicted repatriation of ownership rules which allowed for US companies to own up to 8 stations and Canadian stations up to 4. What followed was a quest for efficiencies, flanking, and acquisitions. While there were those that complained about it, the profitable ends justified the means.
In 2005 when the iPod came out, and YouTube became the real deal; the end user could customize their musical experience. Radio suffered a blow. Not because people were not going to listen to the radio anymore, but because radio was no longer apart of the initial engagement for the user. Put into alternate terms, radio was no longer apart of the birthing process, but at best a mid-wife.
The iPod is now the iPhone, Streamers arrived at the party, and there are additional distractions (Facebook and Twitter) that have hampered radio's original enemy more than radio itself. The fact that so many people are talking about radio and its future shows it will be around for years to come. If there is one thing constant about radio - it's change.
For those pondering radio's demise - it's going to be okay. In 50 years there are still going to be over the air transmitters and the airwaves will still crackle with the sounds that emotionally spur listeners; as long as programmers and performers provide it.