FOR THE WEEK OF JAN. 16, 2006
Howard Stern satellite debut is part of radio revolution
Newspaper articles and ads reflect changes in popular culture and entertainment technology. Ask students to look through recent papers, especially entertainment sections, and spot things their parents didn’t enjoy when they were young – such as TiVo, iPods, phone cameras, Xbox or PlayStation 2, satellite dishes, DVDs and MP3s. They could discuss what was gained – and lost – because of the new inventions.
Radio personalities like Howard Stern mainly get news coverage when they switch jobs, do something outrageous, are fined or get fired. Let students predict which form of mass communication – print (books, magazines, newspapers), Internet, TV, radio or movies – will most frequently be the main topic of articles in all sections of one day’s newspaper this week. Then check to see how many predictions were correct.
Satellite radio networks have drawbacks similar to those of other national sources of information and entertainment. They don’t provide hometown news, weather, traffic reports, local personalities or the distinctive flavor of cities and regions. Challenge students to identify parts of the daily newspaper that aren’t found on broadcasts, blogs or podcasts.
Radio has been revolutionized in the last few years. We listen to stations from around the world through the Internet. We use iPods to hear personalized programs via podcasts downloaded from an increasing variety of sources. And satellite radio subscribers tune into 120 or more channels offering sports, music, news, comedy, religion and talk – including Howard Stern’s over-the-top antics, starting last week.
America’s most outrageous shock jock began broadcasting this month from a new home -– Sirius Satellite Radio, which is paying him $500 million over five years. His headline-making switch from a national show on free radio to one of the two satellite radio networks is seen as a turning point for the industry. Stern’s arrival and the presence of other well-know personalities -– including Snoop Dogg, Bob Dylan, former MTV host Adam Curry and Martha Stewart -– on Sirius and XM Satellite Radio draw millions of new subscribers. Sirius subscriptions have more than quadrupled to 3.3 million since Stern's switch was announced.
Listeners shell out $30 to $299 for a special receiver and pay $12.95 a month. New portable devices let listeners tune in at home and outdoors, and Sirius just introduced a small receiver that also plays MP3 music files. All of this is redrawing the broadcast landscape. "I don't compete on terrestrial radio anymore," Stern said. "It's so over."
What’s old is . . . : . . . Likely to survive. Revolutionary changes reshaped television, newspapers and movies without eliminating those mass media. When U.S. television broadcasts began in the 1930s, some people predicted the death of radio. The explosive growth of cable TV since the 1970s has expanded viewing choices without knocking off original networks. Daily newspapers have become a vital part of the online information age, rather than being replaced, and the spread of home video players took place alongside the construction of new movie theaters. "Old media never die, they just change functions," says communications Professor Richard Goedkoop at La Salle University in Philadelphia. "Broadcast television still gets about half of the video audience because it provides local information and some programs that are not viable on a subscription basis."
Anyone can be a DJ: Pay-to-listen radio’s appeal is partly the fact that most shows have no ads. That’s also explains the spreading popularity since 2004 of podcasts, which are audio files made mainly by amateurs and uploaded to the Internet for access through computers or portable devices such as Apple’s iPod – which led to the combo name formed from pod and broadcast. "Podcasting is one of the developments, along with online digital music services like iTunes and Rhapsody, that allow a consumer to be their own programmer," observes media analyst Rishad Tobaccowala at a global ad agency based in Paris, France. Rather than fight the trend, Clear Channel Radio is joining it by offering edited podcast versions of interviews and comedy bits from its regular stations.
Anything goes: Another thing missing from satellite radio, besides commercials, is censorship. It’s no coincidence that foul-mouthed Howard Stern has moved beyond the reach of government regulators at the Federal Communications Commission, who fined him repeatedly for violating decency standards. Melissa Caldwell at the Parents Television Council, a watchdog group, urges vigilance by parents who get satellite radio. "Many of these satellite services do post warnings on the display screen to let you know that there's mature content," she noted, adding that warnings appear “not just at the beginning of the broadcast, it's throughout." But the head of a New York group called Morality in Media goes further. "There is no reason why Howard Stern should be regulated on one form of radio media but not the other," says Robert Peters. "Whether broadcast from a tower or a satellite, it is still the public airwaves and The Howard Stern Show should still be subject to broadcast indecency laws."
What’s next: Free radio stations increasingly offer high definition (HD) signals that require a sophisticated receiver able to record and store music as digital files. Benefits also include CD-quality sound, plus digital readouts of song titles and artists. In addition, new-generation cell phones will receive radio broadcasts.
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