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Digital radio may be on the horizon of the new millenium


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Industry predicts you'll tune in to digital radio

Web posted on:
Monday, January 25, 1999 4:04:44 PM EST

From Correspondent Neil Curry

(CNN) -- From Marconi to Sony, the 20th century is set to end as it began -- with a radio revolution. Digital satellite and cable radio are coming to a car, home or office near you, and are destined to change both the face of the radio dial and the way we hear music.

While it's certain that digital music offerings will keep you in tune with the songs and artists you hear, some believe that cable radio could make the traditional radio format obsolete.

"As we head toward the year 2000, there are a number of developing technologies that are going to change the competitive landscape for radio," says Chuck Taylor, the radio editor for Billboard. "There's satellite radio, which will be here in 2001, where you have a tiny satellite dish in your car, and radio that you subscribe to -- 100 stations of it coming into your car, your home, your boombox.

"There's digital audio broadcasting," Taylor adds, "which will aid radio as we currently know it by bringing a near-CD quality signal to your traditional radio."

Some TV cable companies offer at-home digital audio broadcasts

It's not the first time that phrases like CD-radio and digital audio have been used, and have enthused tech-savvy listeners. But to many, such promises of hot airwaves are so far, little more than hot air.

"DMAX music choices, those sort of cable-based digital radio systems, have been around for years," Taylor notes. "There are a number of elements that have made its penetration difficult. First, a cable company has to agree to take on that service, and then, to offer it to their subscribers. I don't think a lot of people know that they even have it."

But the factor that has most hampered digital radio, Taylor says, is that so far it has been available only from the average subscriber's living room, where the TV is. "Radio's success has a lot to do with in-car listening, and when you lose that element, you lose a dynamic part of what makes any audio service successful."

Taking the show on the road, so to speak, is a vital part of the radio business: in the United States, in-car listeners are estimated to make up between a quarter and a third of the listening audience -- about 100 million motorists. People listening to portable devices -- Walkmans and boomboxes, for example -- are also a target for digital new wave.

Going digital may make it easier for you to know what you're listening to

"The idea that you can listen to all the music you want, see the title of the song and the artist, is a great benefit. It's a wonderful thing to not necessarily have to listen to the commercials or banter if that's not what you're into," Taylor says.

Yet some radio listeners want the banter of radio DJs, as radio professionals can attest.

"When TV first came along, they said radio was going to be gone -- and it didn't go away," says Scott Shannon, the program director of radio station WPLJ, who said that similar predictions of doom accompanied the advent of both the CD player and computers. "Powerful local radio that entertains and titillates is not going to go away. It's going to be here for years to come."

Hilary Shaev of Sony/550 Music agrees. "I don't think the Internet or satellite radio will ever entirely replace radio," she says. "I think that people still want to hear localized information. People still want to hear the weather, the traffic, and what's going on in their own towns."

But in the end, some think that radio and the digital revolution may work together, enhancing the entire listening experience.

"I think it'll be interesting to see in the next couple of years how radio and the Internet collaborate even more," says Tom Poleman, the program director for Z100 NYC, who predicts "even more opportunities to sell a product. You can stream your audio on a computer, if somebody likes a song they click ... there's ways to embrace the medium so it's not necessarily a competitor, it's a collaborator."

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