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The rebirth of radio

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In the second of a series of columns on the future of music, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK explores the impact the Internet’s Audio streams have had on radio.

As one traditional delivery channel for music, namely the record store, faces its demise, another is thriving. Radio was meant to be an early victim of the Internet revolution, given how easy it is to deliver an audio stream online. Instead, it remains the most pervasive mass medium in the world, reinventing itself again and again as it migrates onto cellphones, and uses the Internet to intensify its engagement with listeners.

Even in the United States, where online advertising has overtaken radio advertising, the former has failed to kill off the latter, and radio advertising holds its own year after year. The surprising trend lurking beneath radio’s survival, however, is that time spent listening to conventional radio has plummeted in the past decade.

According to Edison research, in 2000 around three quarters (74%) of American teenagers and young adults regularly listened to radio. By 2010, that had dropped to 41%. At the same time, listening to audio on the Internet had grown from 16% to 42% – overtaking conventional radio in this segment. And what happens among young adults now, migrates to older adults before long.

According to eMarketer, the total Internet weekly listening audience reached no less than 29% of the US market last year, and will rise to 68% by 2015. At the heart of this growth is a company called Pandora Media, which is responsible for the Pandora Radio app, one of the most popular in the world of smartphones and tablet computers. They claim 100-million users, and made $67-million from advertising in the last financial quarter.

We are seeing nothing like those kind of numbers in South Africa, where radio is still largely confined to comparatively archaic stand-alone devices. But the emergence of apps in the South African phone and tablet user’s awareness has brought with it exposure to the best of global radio. From the customisable radio of Last.fm to stand-alone stations like BBC Online Radio, there is little audio broadcast content that cannot be accessed online.

The TuneIn app even includes among its hundreds of radio stations numerous stations from across Africa and most in South Africa. Appropriately, Radio Sonder Grense (‚radio without borders‚ ) is in there. So are Ukhozi FM, Metro FM and Chai FM. This is cross-cultural content at its broadest.

However, the Web browser remains the key tool for accessing Internet radio in South Africa. Aside from most conventional radio stations offering an audio stream off their web sites, new Internet-only radio stations are popping up on browsers everywhere.

A few years from now, you will need the equivalent of an in-depth TV guide to navigate the online audio streams. Meanwhile, try these on your browser:

2OceansVibe Radio ‚ one of the local pioneers in online broadcasting: http://2ovradio.ndstream.net

Hip2B2 Radio ‚ education station from Mark Shuttleworth’s Foundation:

http://www.hip2b2radio.co.za/

Mutha FM ‚ ‚listen to your mutha and get on your dancing shoes‚ : http://www.muthafm.com/

Republic Radio ‚ ‚music that brings back the good times‚ : http://www.republicradio.co.za

Rock Out Radio ‚ for listeners who long for the days of rock radio: http://roronline.com/

Taxi Radio ‚ Cape Town-based talk station: http://thetaxi.co.za/

Voice of Rock ‚ yet another contendor for filling the rock gap abandoned by commercial radio: http://www.voiceofrock.com/

We are seeing nothing less than the rebirth of radio, as it enjoys a healthy second life online. Aside from a few exceptions, in South Africa advertising revenue is not yet following the audience online. In the USA, it is one of the most powerful trends in media. For an obvious reason: it is possible to measure and track listenership precisely. That has never been possible in traditional radio.

Digital radio ‚ via the Web, cell phone or apps ‚ also makes the listening experience customisable beyond the volume switch.

Of course, this is not radio in its strictest definition, which entails broadcasting over the air. For this reason, we hear more and more about an Audio rather than Radio market. We will also hear far more about audio-on-demand ‚ customising your own station.

When that becomes a standard demand, online will become the dog wagging the tail that will be conventional radio.

* Arthur Goldstuck heads up the World Wide Worx market research organisation and is editor-in-chief of Gadget. You can follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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