Radio now

I listen to a lot of WBUR in my car. ‘BUR is Boston’s main NPR station, and where I’m I do most of my public radio listening. While weather isn’t the main thing on ‘BUR, it’s a frequent thing, and what makes me feel at home when I listen. Lately the report has been what we’ve heard most of this summer: more rain. Flash flood watch, even.

Still, as I looked around here, it’s sunny and clear and perfect in the same way that Boston weather this summer has been sucky. That’s because I’m listening in Santa Barbara. At home I use our Sonos system, and in the car I use the Tuner app on my new iPhone. Tuner costs money and is missing some pieces (just like the iPhone), but it’s a great way to listen to radio.

I got an iTrip AutoPilot to go with it. The design is good, but its FM signal is way too weak. Not sure if I’ll take it back, but I’ve abandoned it while jacking the iPhone into one of those fake tape cassettes on a wire, which I shove into the car’s cassette player. (The car is a ’95 Infiniti.) ‘BUR is easy on the cell system because its stream is just 24kbps. I’ve also done a lot of listening to faster streams, all the way up to 128kbps, and I gotta say those work pretty well too, over the 3G system. My fave at the top rate is , which is just an awesome music station.

The main result for me is a new set of prelminary conclusions about the final stage of radio.

1) Live still matters. I have lots of stored music and podcasts on my iPhone. They’re great to have, but there’s no substitute. Stored and live are not the same. Both have their virtues, and now both can be maximized.

2) Human still matters. When I listen to WBUR in the morning, I expect to hear Bob Oakes, even if what he’s saying could be said by anybody.

3) The primary medium for radio, as with every other form of digital communication, is now the Net. Over-the-air (OTA) will still matter for a long time, but it will be become secondary rather than primary.

4) The cell phone system will become a data system that carries telephony, rather than the vice versa we have now. The same goes for the Net at home as well. What we still have in both cases is dial-up: data piggy-backing on telephony or cable TV. In terms of provider priorities, that’s the way it’s been for awhile, but the flip is going to come, and the sooner we make that happen, the better.

5) The iPhone is less a phone than a platform for mobile Internet applications that start with telephony. Voice will always be the primary personal mobile communications activity; but it will be one application, or set of applications, among many. Radio is another of those applications.

6) iPhones and other MIDs (mobile internet devices) will become bags of tools for doing all kinds of highly personal and engaged stuff. Today I’m in Toronto blue-sky-ing at PlanetEye (I’m on their board), thinking about all this. Long ago Larry Josephson told me “Radio is personal. That’s it.” But when all you had were transmitters and non-interactive receivers, there was a limit to how personal it could be. Not any more.

I’ll add more, but I gotta go.


  1. Christopher Clayton’s avatar

    Nice article Doc!
    i would love to use my ipod as a radio but… errr… my iphones broken. =[

    but im getting a new one soon =]

  2. Richard Mitnick’s avatar

    I got here from PRPD News for Programmers. I am not in the industry, just a WNYC maniac listener.

    It’s good to read someone who gets it: the internet.

    Thanks so much

  3. High School Musical 3 Fan’s avatar

    Its great to see a blog from someone who gets the internet.

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