The Decline of the Radio Station


Auckland got a new radio station yesterday Big FM. I was interested to see how they will position themselves as unique, because in my humble opinion there is not much difference from one radio station to the next. My first impression was a cross between classic hits and classic rock, but I’ll have to let them grow for a while to find out what their identity actually is. The problem for me and for them is that I no longer listen to much radio.

In New Zealand we really struggle for variety. Pretty much everything is mainstream and the reason for that is that we have a small population, only a little over 3 million people over the age of 18 and a total of only 4 million. There is no venue for special interest music such as jazz, blues, country, world and alt on our airways. Cool Blue Radio was around fora while which had a mix of jazz, blues and country and no DJ’s, but this now only exists on the net, where it competes with every other radio station around.

Radio in some ways mirrors the ails of the recording industry. It does very little that is new and doesn’t even use much of today’s modern technology. Everything is mainstream, there are no thought leaders, visionaries or radicals any more. Back in the day we had pirate radio stations like Hauraki, Veronica and Radio North Sea which captured the rebel in us, played great music but also challenged the norms of society. The problem is that today everyone is PC, the challengers of the past are the conservatives of today.

There are lots of things that radio stations could do. Yes, some are showing webcams of the studio, most have streaming radio on the net and some go further with things like background or in depth coverage of news stories, but that is about as far as it goes.

In New Zealand there are less than a handful of radio stations that effectively use the RDS band. RDS is the text area on your radio, especially in your call that provides information such as the station identifier. In Auckland only Radio ZM uses this to tell you the artist and name of the song. Some stations like George FM have info about the DJ’s, a song or text in promotion, but that’s about it. I was dissapointed to see that the new Big FM doesn’t do anything more than the station identifier. There is so much that they could be doing to be more modern and in tune with the world.

A while ago I wrote about new technologies coming to your car including Satellite and HD Radio. Recent news is that there are (as usual) battles over which sort of satellite radio system to use and as to HD Radio, which is being test broadcast at the moment, and the concensus in the industry is that it will be a long time before these technologies become commonplace. I also wrote about the fact that record companies have been ripping us off for years and not giving us value for money which started as a post about Ringo Starr’s innovation with the Live 8 Flash Card.

A few weeks ago I was approached to do a radio diary. You know the survey diaries they use to show marketshare of the radio stations by demographics and total listeners. I couldn’t do it because these days I hardly ever listen to the radio. I listen to podcasts all the time. Some of them do come from radio stations, but not local ones. I listen to Digital Planet from the BBC, The Music Show from ABC National Radio in Australia, Radio Free Amsterdam and the list goes on. As well as feeling like I have a relationship with the DJ, they use new technology, they are almost advertising free. On my Ipod I see images, have links to artist information and other enhanced services to go with these programs as well as in some cases also video.

A key thing with podcasting is that I can listen to pretty much anything I want. Every kind of music is available for free. Many people don’t realise the range of podcasts that are available and think they have to buy music if they want to use iTunes, but the reality is that if you have an eclectic taste, or just feel like listening to a particular genre right now, that you can do it. In the past I would have the radio on all day when I was at home. Today I rarely even listen to my CD’s, even though I keep buying them:).

We have lots of great artists coming to New Zealand for concerts this summer and I am trying to work out which ones I will stretch my budget to see. In the past I would listen to their promotions on the radio. Now I can go to YouTube and listen to dozens of tracks from all of these artists, including lots of live show clips so I can see if they actually put on a show which is worth spending hundreds of dollars on.

Even if I don’t watch the video clips I can effectively listen to anything I like and I have struggled to come up with any songs or artists I can’t find on Youtube, including myself. If I want to explore a theme, like Christmas, or pretty much anything, or listen to artists similar to a band I like, I can go to Ilike and have my very own personalised radio show, where I can rate the songs I listen to and it becomes more and more the station that plays ecactly what I want to listen to. If you want to hear other artists that sound like me you can go to Ilike and key in Luigi Cappel and you will hear at least one of my songs and then other artists of a similar ilk.

So if you are program director for a radio station, what are you going to do to compete with the Internet? How are you going to get me back to listening to the radio, so that you can sell advertising and put bread on the table? I have to tell you, you are doing a pretty poor job right now, The way you do things right now might do ok for breakfast radio, maybe drivetime (with real time traffic) and talkback, but beyond that, you are competing with products that are far better targetted and if you don’tdo something about it, you may have to look for a new job. If we do get Satellite Radio sorted (and the shelves of retailers in the USA are littered with receivers) consumers are going to have an international choice. They can find the stations that they relate to and I suspect that the percentage of people listening to local radio will rapidly diminish unless you wake up now. Don’t be like the record companies, hide your head in the sand and wake up one day wondering what happened!

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

What sort of radio do you want in your car, HD or Satellite?


In the US, the debate is on as to whether the new in car entertainment systems should include both HD and Satellite radio. The main thing that HD Radio will bring is greater quality in the signal and potentially more information about what you are listening to. Of course the quality does require that you have a good signal and in a country made up of volcanic rock in many places, the signal may not be great, so it may be that dropout still occurs in places.

I’m all for quality and given that you are sitting between the speakers, track separation and stereo effects are often more enjoyable than listening to the stereo at home. On the other side we already have RDS and certainly in New Zealand until recently most stations have only broadcast their station ID on RDS. ZM is one of the few that have given us some service. On the odd occassion that I do listen to the radio, it is my favourite so I can find out what the track or band is that I am listening to. With distraction laws coming, it could be that the driver will not be permitted to see more than that anyway.

They mention being able to view Real Time Traffic information on HD Radio. This is really just hype. You can already get LED displays for RDS TMC, but the reality is that the messages about traffic come from 1590 different categories and the sheer volume, without it being disseminated for car navigation relevance would make it just one more distraction. You don’t need to know that there are 63 sets of road works on the other side of the city do you?

They have been testing HD radio in New Zealand for quite some time, so I guess it will be here commercially before to long, and just like HD TV which is being pushed aggressively right now, it will generate more business for appliance stores. Of course many cars these days come with custom dash setups and there are no DIN Slots (the traditional cavity in your dash where you can mount the car stereo of your choice, rather than the cheap and nasty one the car manufacturer installed to keep costs down. So for many of us there is really no choice.

I hardly ever listen to the radio at all any more. I use my car stereo to receive podcasts from my iPod so that I can choose what to listen to, rather than 47 versions of the same stations of Classic Hits, Talk-back and Hip Hop / R&B.

Satellite Radio is a different story entirely and I would expect local stations to be very worried about this, because it really gives people serious choice as to what they want to listen to. When I was in Florida last year, the shelves in the appliance stores where full of digital radio receivers.

Satellite gives you choice and in fact some of the podcasts I listen to are US shows that I have downloaded. Channels such as Sirius and XM offer listeners the ability to listen to what they want to, when they want to. These 2 stations on their own offer 300 channels to choose from. Want to listen to some BeBop, go for it, now you want some Lounge, there it is on your dial. Just like with podcasts, very soon you will be able to catch up with your lectures or pretty much anything you can think of. This will be a serious threat to local stations who will have to come up with some great ideas to keep people tuning in so that the advertisers will keep paying.

Just like cable TV, many people will be very happy to pay a subscription for advertising free radio. If ever there was a threat to the music store, this is the next one. But it is radio and royalties will be paid to the artists, so ultimately it is only the radio stations that have in many cases taken us for granted that will suffer.

If consumers have their way, once they understand the options, your new car entertainment system will feature both HD and Satellite. It will be interesting to see what the radio stations will do to keep you listening to them. Maybe they will listen to what you want instead of resting on their laurels. Now that would be interesting wouldn’t it.

Car Design and Pricing


I was sitting on my soap box yesterday and thinking about car pricing and design and wondering about some of the rationale of car companies.

This train of thought started on my way home from the Hamilton 400 where I was the guest of Navman and Ford New Zealand who hosted me royally, thank you very much. I had lots of time to think about this because my trip of 120 or so km took me 4 hours as it seemed that most of the 60,000 people attending were taking the same trip north after a great day of V8 motor racing.

The first thing that I wondered about was why a Holden Commodore cost so much more than a Ford Falcon. What do they put in those cars that make them worth a huge premium? When it comes to German precision and safety and having had brief opportunities to drive BMW 6 and 7 Series cars, I can see where they get to charge a premium. They offer both highly sophisticated features including at the safety level and with new requirements such as ADAS,(which will include things like warning if you move out of your lane, monitoring distance and speed of the car in front of you, checking your eyes to see if you are alert and awake etc) they will continue to be in the forefront.

But when I was looking for my next car and comparing cars like the Commodore and the Falcon, I could not understand the price difference and even less when comparing to the features offered in Japanese cars today. You will appreciate that being a toy boy, I like to have gadgets and features as well as sleek lines and lots of power, so when I looked at entry level Commodores, I couldn’t see what the fuss was about.

Sure Commodore won the V8 series, but that was in a $500,000 racing car, not a street car. Anyway after pondering this for some time, I decided that the premium was about status and brand value, not necessarily about the end experience and practical value, which I am sure the manufacturers will argue, but not to my satisfaction as a consumer.

Then my thought process went on to the design of cars and the accessories and features included and decided that we are being ripped off. What a difference there is between concept cars and the cars that we get to buy. My theory is that they come up with a huge number of innovations and drip feed them to us so that they have something to offer into the next model to make us update our car.

The shape of cars doesn’t change significantly. Cars have slowly become more aerodynamic, which means improved performance through less drag. With the cost and future scarcity of petrol, performance is going to become far more important. Why do they move from the bulky square edged gas guzzlers to sleek aerodynamic shapes over 15 years of model enhancements instead of immediately? Are they afraid that they will not be able to come up with new design enhancements? Isn’t it likely that if they dramatically improve car design, features and accessories in one go that their cars will sell more competitively and be more popular. Given how creative people are in the industry (look at the annual Honda car design awards or the annual solar energy races they have in Australia), isn’t it likely that car design would radically improve at an ever increasing pace? It seems as though the industry is deliberately holding back.

I hope that one or two brands of car get the message and start sharing their creativity with us. We should have small (but impact safe) town cars that can slide sideways into tiny car parks in the city and have larger comfortable but economic sleek cruisers that are fun to drive and own for out of town driving, with all the features one would expect like ADAS, navigation with real time traffic, events, reservations for food and accomodation, electric seat memory controls, iPod dock, heated and cooled cup holders, personalised audio and climate control memory, tyre tread sensors and loads more, like TV, games and DVD players for rear seat passengers, interenet browsing……………………………

Imagine, if that was the starting point, how car design would develop for the future, the pace of change and growth would be unbelievable and people would happily upgrade their cars to new models more frequently.