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Radio's answer to Netflix

29 Dec 2014
Posted by Shannon

For decades now I’ve dismissed the pundits predicting the death of broadcast radio, or as they call it “terrestrial radio.” Until this morning that is. On demand radio just killed terrestrial radio in my house.  

I’ve always been a radio listener, particularly on Sunday mornings. But this morning I flicked on my kitchen radio only to be met with a CBC documentary I'd already heard. In another era I might have surfed the dial. But the commercial radio offerings are so bad as to have reached the point my broadcasting instructors called “unlistenable.” An ugly mix of artificially loud professional voices, dumb talk, idiot call-in shows, and/or cheezy music, all sandwiched between dense walls of commercials. I haven’t listened to commercial radio in decades.  

FIRE-UP THE iTHINGY

Instead, I fired up my iPad with an external speaker and listened online. First I caught the CBC national news and The Current podcasts I'd missed. Then I switched to a series of BBC and NPR public affairs podcasts to catch up on the international news. Then I moved on to some of my favourite indie podcasts. 

I wanted a second listen of the final episode of Serial. Unlike the reporter Sarah Koenig, I do think Adnan is entirely innocent. You can’t manage that kind of strangling murder and bury the body in a forest without some sort of physical evidence tying you to the body. 

NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour always makes me laugh and their offbeat recommendations for the stuff making them happy this week – books, websites, other podcasts, music, journalism – are often great finds. 

Then I caught up on Criminal, a podcast about quirky crimes and criminology by some moonlighting radio reporters who do superb research. I’m interested in journalism so I also listened to podcasts on national and American media issues with The Pub and On the Media.  

And then it was time to go out. 

COOKING WITH LAUGHS

But had I stayed in, I would have listened to either the six-part BBC radio dramatization of Good Omens, a witty fantasy about the arrival of the anti-Christ by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, or Noel Coward’s comic play Blithe Spirit, also on BBC 4. I’m saving them for when I do some serious cooking later this week. 

Like most radio fans, I greeted the arrival of podcasting a decade ago with a cheer. It allowed the kind of time-shifting that made TV popular again when VCRs arrived in the 1980s. But initially podcasting was also more work than broadcast radio – I had to subscribe, then copy to an iPod, then get a patch cord if I wanted to hear the show through my radio. 

Now I just pull up one of my mobile apps – PodBay is my favourite at the moment – search the show I want, and voila. I attach the mobile to an external speaker that sounds as good as table radio. And with that, I've got audio's answer to Netflix. 

And since I don’t have room for a lot of electronic gizmos in my kitchen, I removed the radio with a tuner. 

Although I spend far more time with radio than I did even two years ago, I also know that I spend far less of that time with broadcast radio. And no time at all with commercial offerings. Given all the excited chatter about podcasts I’m certain I'm not alone. 

Radio is dead; long live radio.