New Generation of Phones Is Game-Changer for Radio

Steve Rubel on Digital Communications

By Published on .

All the talk about one medium replacing another has largely been just that: talk. Over time, new formats tend to be additions in our lives, not replacements for something else. In the '80s, video did not kill the radio star, as the old Buggles song said. Rather, MTV made it stronger.

Still, an era is dawning when some new media will, in fact, supplant others. Or, more likely, existing information we interact with daily will come from new players that harness the internet, e.g., bloggers stealing eyeballs from journalists. It's a function of the attention crash. We can't keep adding media to our lives without reaching a saturation point.

Steve Rubel
Photo: JC Bourcart
Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP at Edelman Digital.
While TV and print have been hemorrhaging, radio has remained more resilient in the digital age. It reaches 93% of the population for 18.5 hours per week, according to Arbitron. This is only down from 22 hours per week 10 years ago. The U.S. -- despite rising fuel prices -- remains a car culture. We live in our automobiles, and radio still rules here, despite the iPod invasion.

This, in part, is because radio serves as a powerful discovery engine for new music. However, the medium today is one-way. That's about to change thanks to sophisticated mobile devices. The broadband-connected cellphone turns this experience into one that harnesses crowds to become far more personalized. All you need to do to see this yourself is to buy an iPhone and download some of the free streaming audio applications, such as Pandora and

The iPhone 3G and other smart phones like it will change how people access and interact with audio. Already, the Pandora music-discovery service is the fourth-most-popular application in the iTunes store. And bloggers such as Jeff Jarvis say they believe it will disrupt radio. I tend to agree.

The cellphone will change the radio landscape by not only establishing a two-way modality but by ushering in new models for advertising that are mapped to people's musical tastes and that are perhaps locally relevant as well, thanks to GPS. This may be one of the most promising mobile ad formats and is a space to watch.
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