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G&B: Apologies to Sting

It's been a blast, folks. The Worlds Most Popular Podcast is signing off. Truth to be told, there's not enough hours in the day for ...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

getting ahead of change

Good read from The Infinite Deal

There was a funny article in the BBC News Magazine this week about a 13-year old boy who swapped his iPod for an old-school Sony (cassette) Walkman for one week. Scott Campbell learned all about what we used to call "shuffle" (randomly pressing and releasing the FF button,) that cassettes actually had to be flipped over, and, of course, the difference between what Sony called "portable" then and what we expect today.

My favorite quote:

My friends couldn't imagine their parents using this monstrous box, but there was interest in what the thing was and how it worked. In some classes in school they let me listen to music and one teacher recognised it and got nostalgic.

I had one of these exact models, and I fondly remember attaching it to my gym shorts (Jams!) while I mowed the lawn, and, much to the amusement of my neighbors, struggling to keep my shorts pulled up with a 5-lb weight clipped to the elastic. We look back on the Walkman as a chapter in history--clearly, now, it seems silly (as the 8-track did to me as a child). What interests me about technological change, though, is exactly when the tipping point on a particular technology actually happens, and what the signs are. When, exactly, did we realize carrying this brick around was absurd? For most, it was when something newer and smaller came out; for others, it was the change in format to CD. I still own and use three minidisc players for various reasons, so I can be as stubborn a Luddite as anyone. But there comes a point when it is obvious to all that a technology, format or device has passed its sell-by date. The key is being able to recognize the symptoms before this occurs, and shaping the change instead of being shaped by it.

All of which brings me to the wonderful, long list of comments to Larry's provocative post last week on phasing out AM and putting the best content on FM. It was certainly positive to see such a spirited defense of AM--a little passion in a time like this, to quote one of my favorite Raymond Carver stories, is a small, good thing. However, can you imagine a time when the scratchy, mono hiss of AM radio becomes a memory? To the engineers out there, AM is an essential technology for coverage, DX listening, etc., but IP is the new AM, and its coverage is limitless. When a brutal thunderstorm hits, a revolution happens in Iran, or a King of Pop dies, we are learning of these things from device-independent services like Twitter, which with its mobile phone accessibility already has a potential 85% reach.

If you think AM will be around forever, well--I respectfully disagree. But if you think it will one day join the telegraph, shortwave, Satellite Radio and HD as anachronisms, when do you think that will happen? And will you recognize the signs? How many of these signs are already around you?

Getting ahead of the change may take work, but the path is clear. Own as much of your content as you can, make that content great, and get that content on as many devices/services/formats as you can--let the listener choose how they want to consume your content. I've been a big believer and proponent of podcasting in this space for the past five years (here are a few articles to get you started) and am bullish on the creation of box-independent programming as the future of radio. Ownership of content is required to embrace downloadable and on-demand media, which means every station that simply turns their programming over to satellite, or a hard drive at corporate HQ, sells their future in this space to make this quarter's budget. This is already happening with once-exclusive properties like Major League Baseball, and other audio content isn't far behind.

One day, we'll see the next Scott Campbell holding up his father's clunky AM radio in this picture. Whether you see that day as the near future or a distant tomorrow says a lot about how ready you are to face that day.