Norway is once again blazing the trail. The small, nordic country, that lies in the north of Europe has been notorious for their progressive politics and high quality of life, but their recent move to abandon FM radio has created a bit of a stir. While many countries have begun the debate, it doesn't look like this switch will become a new trend. For the United States, this 80 year old technology has burrowed itself incredibly deep into our culture and it would not be to easy to remove. But is there even a reason to remove it?
We've made changes like this in the past. The United States has transitioned from analog television broadcasts to digital, meaning all full powered televisions that relied on an antenna had to start using a digital converter to continue working. This process took a while to be put in place, the mandated switch off date was even pushed back by congress more than a few times to help consumers adapt. This change was made to free up portions of the broadcast spectrum for different uses and to allow stations to focus on digital broadcasts, which have superior quality. At the end of the day it was an improvement, so then why don't we just kick FM radio to the curb?
FM radio is an equalizer between Americans of all classes because of how inexpensive it is. Digital radio's, or DAB's (lol) are much more expensive to get your hands on and only come standard in newer model cars. Most older radio's only pick up FM broadcast and would be rendered useless if this switch was made. Unlike the television change, FM radios are expensive to convert over to digital. If radio became less accessible, then the next best option would be streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, or Pandora. However, these services require a computer or smartphone to access and have monthly fee's to worry about; making them even more expensive. There are also public saftey reasons for keeping FM radio broadcasting alive in the United States. In the case of an emergency, the government needs to be able to communicate with the public over radio, television, and wireless cellphone service. With older generations who are behind in this technology or for those who can't afford it, radio is the most accessible option.
So there are monetary and public safety reasons for keeping FM broadcasting, but the most interesting thing to consider with turning off FM radio is how this would affect the music industry? With so many people who rely on radio to act as a soundtrack to their daily commute, how would this limit the way in which a song becomes a "radio hit"? If it was turned off today, radio listenership would go down and other alternatives would most likely be picked instead of upgrading to a digital radio.
Satellite radio, as well as streaming, provides more choices when looking for something to listen to. This could potentially threaten the control pop music has on the charts. Specifically with streaming, where you have the ability to skip songs or only listen to one artist. If we start to abandon the radio-play factor, then pop music could likely have to change in order to stay relevant.
The same way that the iTunes individual song purchasing modelkilled full album sales, radio losing control could threaten the way that pop stars force themselves into our ears. If I can pinpoint what I want to listen to, then I will stop listening to anything else. For example: I have always been a big fan of indie-folk, but I've never found a radio station around me that does a good job of focusing in on this music. Since I have a crappy car radio, I will often times settle on pop stations that play artists like Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, and Pitbull. I'm not a big fan, but I will put this station on because it's better than sitting in silence. Pop is like the vanilla of music, it's not my favorite, but it's also not the worst. I assume this settling helps songs become "Billboard Hits." Whereas, if I had more choices, or more access to the music I wanted to listen, I would probably never hear from Pitbull again. With radio numbers down, stumbling onto these songs would be harder.
The one thing that pop artists are really good at is getting stuck in your head, it often seems like this is their main focus. If I can get this song stuck in his head, then he'll come back for more.
It's like drugs. But if FM radio becomes less accessible or popular, than the focus of the music industry would maybe stop revolving around huge pop stars that sing formula, dance earworms. If I have more choices, after switching from FM radio to Spotify, my chances of stumbling across Pitbull and being infected by his 120 bpm magic would greatly decrease. This might spread the wealth around in the music industry. It's as though the top 1% has more exposure in the market than the other 99%. Hey Bernie Sanders, we need your help.
Thankfully, radio has already started failing at it's role asthe best way to advertise new music. For upcoming artists trying to break through in the past 10 years, the internet has become a much more important platform. Through the sharing of online meme's, songs like "Hotline Bling," "Bad and Boujee," and "Black Beatles" became unexpected hits. Spoofs of song lyrics, altered music video stills, and even dance trends that correspond to individual songs inhabit posts that get shared across social media platforms and lead people to hear this new music. Online content creators now have a lot of control. With a post that can reach millions, how can radio compete?
If the access and the convenience to your favorite music goes up, while the power that radio has to turn you onto new music goes down, when will radio die? Not for a while. According to Nielsen
, a research firm that tracks how people consume media, FM radio stations are putting up a fight. They are doing this by taking hints about what's cool from streaming numbers. If a song is streamed extensively, then radio stations will get the hint and start to put that song into their rotation. This adaptation could help listeners control what's on the radio, in an indirect way. Although, I believe there could be perks in letting go of FM radio, it's still ridiculously popular. Nielsen also claims that radio reaches 93% of Americans at least once a week. So I guess the only choice we may have is to get our headphones and Spotify playlists surgically implanted into our heads before we can finally, let radio die.
Also if video couldnt kill the radio star; it may never go away.