What is radio? (BLOG)

What is radio?

Wikipedia says it’s “the technology of signaling and communicating using radio waves,” and that definition was impossible to argue through the early 21st century.  At this point in our digital and entertainment evolution, however, I believe that the content is what defines radio, not how that content is heard.

If you listen to a show created (or, more frequently, syndicated) by a radio station on a website, app or smart speaker, is it still a radio show? Does a radio show have to be heard through a radio to earn the right to that distinction? Let me take it one step further: Do you even own a radio? Probably not, and it’s okay if you don’t. The point is you still consume “radio.”

From my perspective, talk and music audio programming are just ways of doing radio. “Radio” is a form of entertainment that doesn’t have to define itself by being tethered to a giant broadcast antenna.  Satellite radio first challenged our understanding of what radio can be at the turn of the century; and, sure enough, their business model has evolved. Besides ubiquity in rental cars (the traditional radio model), Sirius/XM is a streaming product you can listen to on your phone, desktop or tablet. It’s still radio, but it’s not the concept of “radio” your grandparents understood when they were your age.

Words change their meaning over time. It wouldn’t feel wrong to tell a friend you spent the night “watching TV,” when in fact you were watching Netflix and HBO Max on your iPad. “TV” isn’t just a box you use to watch shows and movies on; it can also be an umbrella term that includes longform video entertainment.

Along similar lines, no one enjoys podcasts in the way they were originally defined.  When it started, “podcasting” was a portmanteau of “iPod” and “broadcasting,” and a podcast was a way to hear audio shows on an iPod. Since no one still owns an iPod in 2021 (okay, besides my friend Rob), the definition of podcasting has broadened to include pretty much any audio show that can be heard on the internet. More recently, podcasting, an audio-specific term, has also been used to describe video-based talk show programming (e.g. “video podcast”). In fairness, I don’t agree with that use, but there’s a chance that I may be in the minority.

It’s not the vessel that defines the content; it’s the content that defines the content. Words change their meaning over time.

And that brings me back to radio. The dogged belief that a radio show is one that has to be created in a well-equipped, corporate-owned, studio still remains. As I have recently left my traditional radio job, I believe that I’m still “doing radio.” The only differences are that I’m not affiliated with a major media company and that I use my car (and sometimes Zoom) instead of a studio to create content.


Author: carconcarne