From Granville T. Woods’ railway telegraphy invention of 1887, to Reginald A. Fessenden’s radio transmitter of 1901, to Lee de Forest’s human voice transmission technology of 1907, the radio industry has surely made some commendable strides along the way. As the radio was originally used solely for purposes such as maritime communication through Morse code, it was not until much later in the U.S. that the radio industry gained the function of entertainment. According to The History of Communication Technology, this transition from utility to recreation did not take place until the end of World War II when Americans turned to the radio for amusement. Over the course of the next few decades, trends such as “The Top 40 Hits” were introduced as well as a variety of stations specializing in genres from rock to classical to pop and beyond, shaping the industry into what it has become today.
Over time, we witnessed the downfall of the newspaper industry after having been greatly affected by the premiere of the television. Although the radio industry was not quite as phased by the TV, it does have its own competitor whom has proven more than capable of captivating and stealing potential listeners. This competitors name is internet radio, and it comes in many forms. From Pandora, to iHeartRadio, Spotify, Youtube, iTunes Radio, and so on, the internet radio user-base has grown exponentially over the last decade, rapidly approaching and surpassing the number of traditional radio listeners. According to Radio Facts and Figures, approximately 236 million people tune into FM Radio stations each week. This may strike you as a large amount however, Pandora Internet Radio, a 15 year old company, has managed to accumulate 250 million registered users in a fraction of the time. The Pew Research Center stated that “More than half of Americans ages 12 and older have listened to online radio in the past month” meanwhile, the number of internet radio listeners has more than doubled over the past five years.
So what is the appeal, you might ask? Why have such a large portion of listeners jumped ship from traditional FM radio to the modern version of internet radio? When surveyed, listeners indicated that their favorites parts of internet radio were the convenience and customization. Many listeners prefer personalizing their music by creating their own playlists; they also enjoy exploring the wide selection of genres, as well as the ease of use and availability on their devices. The number one reason that over 50% of listeners favored internet radio, however, was the ability to skip songs. As the head of a radio station, I would attempt to incorporate these key components to regain a larger share of listeners. For instance, decreasing commercial airtime could prevent listeners from changing the station as often. Another improvement could be venturing off the beaten path and focusing on underground, unique music rather than the same fifteen mainstream songs that are played continuously on all major stations. Although the ability to skip songs is not feasible for FM radio, perhaps the larger variety of music and minimal advertisements will help make the traditional radio more appealing.