Professor Michael Mirabito
COMM 501: New Communication Technology
19 August 2011
Is New Technology Killing Traditional Radio?
New inventions in audio technology have already replaced what the masses now consider
classics. For example, the invention of 8-track tapes replaced vinyl records. Less than a decade
later, cassette tapes replaced 8-track tapes. Compact Discs were the next big thing until MP3
were introduced. You know the rest of the story. Certainly radio has been affected by each new
audio development; however, radio has been able to adapt to and create new trends. New
technology will not kill radio, but it will change the way we consume and think about radio.
What is Radio?
Radio, according to Merriam-Webster Online, is defined as "the wireless transmission
and reception of electric impulses or signals by means of electromagnetic waves." and "the use
of these waves for the wireless transmission of electric impulses into which sound is converted."
Essentially, radio is the transmission of speech or music. These transmissions include telephone
technology, navigation, and even baby monitors (Brian). Although radio relating to technology
and navigation is a crucial part of radio development and history, the primary focus of this essay
is on traditional radio. Many of my sources and I define the term "traditional radio" as AM/FM
radio broadcast. Although talk radio (i.e. radio format based on conversational topics) is still
relevant and part of traditional radio, this paper mostly relates to music formats.
How Radio Works
Merriam-Webster briefly mentions how radio works: "waves." Some types of radio only
need to rely on "continuous sine waves" and a couple of other elements to work. These parts are
the receiver and the transmitter. A sine wave, a wave that separates different kinds of
communications, encodes a message from a transmitter and sends it the receiver. The sine wave
separates the messages sent by all radio devices and people using the devices by moving up and
down at various speeds or hertz (cycles per second). Sine waves need a modulator to be able to
encode these messages, and an antenna to reach your audience. Pulse modulation (PM),
amplitude modulation (AM), and frequency modulation (FM) are the most frequently used
examples of modulators (Brian).
Similar to Morse code, a pulse modulation turns sine waves off and on. Most sources
recognize that pulse modulation is not that common; however, as a radio novice, I understand
why this modulation is used to illustrate encoding messages. Although pulse modulation is not
commonly used, a popular example is a radio-controlled clock (e.g. a modern alarm clock).
These types of alarm clocks are extremely accurate and the modulation can span for a long
distance. The transmitter that is sending my clock updates on daylight savings time or keeping
track of the time when my power goes out (without a back-up battery) could very well be located
on the opposite side of the nation (Brian).
The two most important types of modulation to traditional radio and most relevant to this
paper are frequency modulation and amplitude modulation. These types of modulations are
similar in that signals change by what kind of sine wave is imposed on it. A frequency
modulation has more frequency and hertz than amplitude modulation. A FM radio station runs
with approximately one million hertz, while an AM radio station runs at only one thousand hertz.
Less frequencies and hertz make amplitude modulation more vulnerable to static and affected by
the sound (or amplitude) being played through the modulation (SOURCE 1). It is clear then why
talk radio is typically broadcasted on AM stations.
To pick up transmissions' waves on your receiver, you need an antenna. An antenna can
be a metal stick or a satellite. Exact antenna sizes are calculated based on the speed of light and
other factors (Brian).
To better illustrate the basics of how radio works and the concepts explained above, I will
explain how a "real life" radio works. "A baby monitor is as simple as radio technology gets,"
The Discovery Network promises. Let us examine their example: A basic baby monitor has a
transmitter that transmits a baby's cry to a receiver that allows a parent to receive or hear their
baby's cry. The baby monitor uses a sine wave of about 2 frequencies and an amplitude
modulation Baby monitors have a short frequency distance of roughly 200 feet and transmitter
power due to a small, weak antenna. Baby monitors usually one or two frequencies, because of
the nature of the sounds being transmitted (e.g. noises that do not need to be high quality). You
may recall the amount of static on a baby monitor, which again is attributed to the amplitude
modulation (Brian). That was relatively straightforward example, right?
Since traditional radio is the basis of the paper, I will describe the fundamentals in how
traditional radio works. Like a baby monitor and all radio, traditional radio uses a transmitter and
receiver. Sine waves have 5,000 times the frequency, or 1,000,000 hertz, of a baby monitor when
you are listening to an AM radio station. The frequency of a FM radio station is 50,000 times
that of a baby monitor, or 100,00,000 hertz. Needless to say, the hertz waves of traditional radio
are very fast and have a powerful antenna. The antennas are usually very tall radio towers. For
instance, an AM radio station of 680,000 hertz would call for an antenna of around 360 feet
Three things a simple radio does not need that traditional radio does are a tuner, an
amplifier, and a detector. A tuner divides waves for a receiver. Because there are hundreds or
even thousands of radio stations that an antenna could be picking up, the antenna will choose the
appropriate signal to transmit. The ability to disregard one signal over others and amplify the
correct frequency is called resonance. Amplifiers, consisting of transistors, gives power to the
message that is being transmitted. Finally, a detector essentially detects what part of the wave
you want to transmit (Brian).
History of Traditional Radio
Like I mentioned previously, radio has a long history. Again, for the purpose of this
essay, I am concentrating on the history of what we consider today as traditional radio.
Traditional radio can be traced back to the 1900s (Bellis).
Many people were involved with the initial development of radio through various
scientific studies, experiments, and discoveries. Key people and publics cited for the creation of
radio are Guglielmo Maconi who started a radio telegraph service; Nikola Tesla who holds the
radio technology patent; and even the U.S. Weather Bureau that used radiotelegraphy that
allowed them to announce quick weather updates (Bellis). Again, because of the huge scope of
radio and all the technology and science it uses, it is nearly impossible to summarize everyone
who played a part in the development of traditional radio.
Lee DeForest, in particular, was one of the main figures who is attributed to the invention
amplitude modulation radio. Amplitude modulation stemmed directly from his work on radio
detectors. As a side note, he was the first person who coined the word "radio" (Bellis).
Trying to solve the static problem with amplitude modulation, Edwin H. Armstrong
invented frequency modulation in 1933. More important developments in FM radio were the
invention of the transistor in 1947 by Bell Labs, introduction of the transistor radio in 1954, and,
in 1965, a FM antenna system was built to let multiple FM stations broadcast from one antenna
(Bellis). Certainly there have been more developments in AM and FM radio, but these were the
most crucial progressions for traditional radio. These developments laid the necessary
groundwork for traditional radio today.
Like any new product or development in technology, radio has experienced their share
with regulation, legislation, patent, and the law, in general. President Theodore Roosevelt jump-
started the regulation of radio with the Interdepartmental Board of Wireless Telegraphy in 1904.
Soon after, in 1912, people were ordered to obtain a license to operate a transmitter when radio
became an official "regulated industry." Like other communication outlets, radio has also
experienced issues with free speech (Scott). Radio and new media still has on-going challenges
with laws and legislation. Similar to the history of the development of radio, the history of the
government of radio is also an extensive topic.
Traditional Media Consumption
During the Great Depression, radio was one of the least expensive entertainment outlets.
Because of the low-cost of a radio, 60 percent of households owned radios by 1934.
Additionally, automobile manufactures included them in over one and a half million cars (Scott).
In the 1930s, the most popular format for radio was theatre or soap opera shows that
demanded a lot of imagination from listeners. The term "soap opera" comes from soap
advertising that would literally sell their products to housewives during the day when these
shows primarily aired. Physical theatres were in direct competition with theatre format radio
shows that included "image-inspiring" sound effects in their shows (Scott).
From 1921 to 1932, the number of radio stations grew from five stations to 604 stations.
By 1940, there were 765 radio stations available to consumers (Scott). The number of radio
stations truly illustrates how popular radio was during this time. The steep increase of radio
stations in that short period of time is remarkable, especially if you compare it to the introduction
of the television. Unfortunately, with the invention and accessibility of the television in the
1940s, most radio shows moved to television, while other shows ended completely (Scott).
Critics thought that the end of radio was impending with the introduction of televisions to
living rooms ("Is Radio to Survive Again?"). Luckily, they were wrong. Portable radio replaced
radio sets (Scott). Community radio stations became a focus. Additionally, more music programs
developed, and formats became more niche (e.g. a sports channel) ("Is Radio to Survive
People consume radio similarly today. In a 2005 online study, participants said they
primarily listen to radio for music. Other key words the participants responded with were
"choice, control, and variety." Respondents also said they liked the "real-time information" they
got from weather, traffic reports, and other news. Survey participants also commented favorably
on the "local" aspect of traditional radio. In the survey, participants were also asked to list what
they did not like about radio: "commercials," "repetition," and "technical issues" (Heine).
The following facts, statistics, and information were compiled for a study by Pew
Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Today radio reaches over "240 people over the age of 12, an increase of 3 million over
"Audiences for terrestrial radio have remained mostly stable for the past 10 years."
92% of study respondents said they own a local AM/FM radio.
34% of respondents use the radio for their source of news.
Radio revenue grew by 6% in 2010 from 2009.
Local and National radio advertising also increased.
92% of respondents still listening to radio said "they are much less likely to feel that
AM/FM radio has had an `impact' on their lives.
42% of radio listeners are ages 40 to 49.
Respondents are listening to online-only audio over streaming traditional radio.
27% participants reported they would be "very interested in internet radio in the car"
("The State of the News Media 2011...").
So what do I gather from this research? Traditional radio has competition in certain areas, but is
remains strong in others.
Traditional Radio Versus Internet Radio
Internet radio, first introduced in the late 1990s, includes traditional radio that streams
online and Internet-only radio. Traditional radio is receiving the most competition from online
only radio. Internet-only radio has advantages over traditional radio. For instance, anyone can
create an Internet radio station from anywhere in the world. Time, resources, money, and other
factors limit traditional disc jockeys and radio stations (Beller).
Pandora radio is probably the most common internet-only radio station. Pandora creates
stations based on artists, songs, or genres users like and rate and saves the stations for you. There
are free and paid versions available. The free, public Pandora has advertising banners and plays
commercials. The paid version offers less advertising and more control over skipping over songs
or artists the listener dislikes. Unlike traditional radio, there is no community content, disc
jockeys, radio personalities, contests, or sweepstakes. Additionally, Pandora does not offer talk
radio or news stations (Layton).
Another popular option for internet-only radio station fans is Grooveshark. It does not
compile a radio station for users, but allows users to search for songs and create a radio or a
playlist for yourself. The playlists can be saved. There is a light "radio feature," but the artist and
songs are "limited to basic genre selections." Like Pandora, there is a free and paid option that
relate to how much advertising users are subjected to. The Grooveshark website has had had
many redesigns which many users are not pleased about (Wlosinski).
Last.fm, similar to Grooveshark, allows users to search for music based on songs, artists,
and genre. There is no subscription service available. Last.fm is not as popular by the masses,
but they do attract an alternative niche (Wlosinski).
Spotify is the newest internet-only radio. The service, that is a downloadable application
that streams music from the Internet, was just launched in the United States in July. Because of
their extreme popularity in Europe, there was a lot of buzz surrounding the release in U.S. Users
must get an invitation to join and use the service. Like other internet-only radio stations, there is
are subscription plans available. The plans allow users to get less advertising and more music.
Spotify offers over 15 million songs (Griggs). Spotify does have a radio-station feature, but the
service is mostly a playlist builder.
Traditional Radio Versus Satellite Radio
Satellite Radio are radio stations that allow users to access hundreds of different radio
stations from a broadcast that can carry its signal for over 22,000 miles. The two most popular
Satellite Radio services are Sirius and XM. External radio players must be purchased and
installed to listen to the satellite radios' services which often replace traditional radio players and
stations. There is a subscription fee for the service, but there are limited commercials. Formats
have more freedom, because the FCC does not control regulate the content (Bonsor).
Traditional Radio Versus Ham Radio
Ham radio is an old term, but the concept is still in use today. Ham radio is basically
amateur radio. There are over 2.5 ham radio operators in the world. Hams use different
frequencies and transmitters and listeners can listen via a hand-held scanner. A ham radio station
runs like a traditional radio station. For example, there are DJs, interviews, and call-ins and there
are government license requirements (Brown).
I never knew about ham radio until I started researching for this paper. When I started
reading about it, I noticed a parallel between some internet-only radio stations that allow
amateurs to create mixes that they can share with their friends via social networking.
Turntable.fm is the modern equivalent to ham radio:
"Turntable.fm is a browser-based chat room that streams music based on the
choices of a rotating cast of DJs drawn from whoever is in the room. There are up
to five DJs at any one time, moving from one DJ's pick to the next, as the room
votes on how `lame' to `awesome' the track is. A (sometimes fast-moving)
discussion takes place in a chat room on the bottom right of the screen. DJs get
points for picking popular songs and if enough people think a song is lame, it
skips to the next. You can upload songs or search through the Medianet-powered
library to create your playlist when it's your turn to DJ." (Jeffries)
A New Trend In Traditional Radio
HD radio, or Hybrid Digital radio, works with existing traditional radio. It makes the
music sound better. In addition to better sound quality, it allows for four additional channels by
multicasting. These stations are called HD2 stations. For example, one radio station can have a
rock station, a blues station, a sports station, and a news station all under the same frequency.
The only downside to this new technology is that consumers need to purchase an HD Radio
Receiver. Real possibilities of HD Radio by stations have yet to be fully explored, and HD Radio
Receivers are yet not selling off the shelves, despite the many positive opportunities HD Radio
provides for the traditional radio industry and listeners (Grabianowski).
91.7 VMFM Situation Analysis
The following situation analysis was written for a public relations plan for Marywood
University's student-run radio station, 91.7 VMFM, to combat a real problem that the station
faces. This situation analysis gives insight to an existent radio station facing a problem created
by their competitors and their industry outlined in this research paper. I created the public
relations plan for COMM 562: Media Promotion and Publicity in conjunction with this research
paper to illustrate the importance of radio and to show that traditional radio is still relevant. You
can read the rest of the public relations plan I developed along with possible solutions for
VMFM in the appendices.
There is a problem concerning the perceived value of Marywood University's student-run
radio station, VMFM 91.7. Marywood University is praised for their quality academics;
however, the student-run radio station is not up to par with university or industry standards. In
addition, the radio station is relatively unfamiliar and could possibly tarnish the reputation of the
university, the student body, and faculty.