CN April 3, 2014


Remember when something called “the Internet” began ripping the newspaper business model to shreds?

Well, there’s reason to believe that mobile platforms, and their associated smart-devices, are about to give broadcast radio its turn in the buzz saw.

In-dash broadband receivers are bringing multimedia into more and more cars. The devices in our pockets are getting faster and smarter. And a new breed of broadcasters is quickly gearing up to provide a different kind of “radio” – one that’s programmable, customizable, localizable and almost completely at the control of the listener.

That kind of listener-driven service has been around for a while in the music world, with services such as Pandora, but now the news-folk are getting into the act.

“The Internet jumped very quickly in bandwidth in the early 2000’s”, Rivet News Radio‘s Charlie Meyerson explains. “From text and photos to being able to accommodate video. And simple audio got a pass because video was the new shiny thing. We’re kinda backtracking now, and media entities large and small are saying – oh, we missed something.”

That helps explain how he and others came to start Rivet, which is a mobile-platform-based audio service that streams, Pandroa-style, to your tablet or smart-phone. It sounds just like radio, but it’s actually hundreds of smaller stories and audio clips, stitched together in real time in an order and priority that you request. So if you want heavy business news or sports, you can get it. And because your phone knows where you are, so does Rivet, and it tailors things like traffic reports just to your location.

Jon Hansen is the newly-appointed News Director at the just-initiated DNAInfoRadio, the companion to DNAInfoChicago. Like Rivet, it’s a 24-hour service, but its focus is very local. And, as with this new breed of audio services, it’s customizable.  “We have 30 reporters out in the streets, in the neighborhoods, telling all the local stories…and they thought, let’s continue to find ways to get our stories out there. So I am the  broadcast filter,” he tells us.

You’ll simply have to watch (at about 9 minutes in) to hear Jon tell how he got that video scoop in the Dearborn subway as a man jumped on the tracks to stop an oncoming el train and save a woman’s life. It’s a great “new media” story.

WBEZ, like many radio companies, has been working hard to find a new digital path, and their Director of Digital Content, Tim Akimoff, tells us that a major thrust for them is specialty podcasts.

“I came to WBEZ because they’re renowned storytellers.” he says. “And right away I discovered that there was no place for making everything text-based. If we were going to play in a digital space we were going to have to play to our strength, which is audio.” So they’ve developed a suite of podcasts about food, beermusic and one that meets popular and nerd culture.  And unlike podcasts of a few years ago, the faster phones and 4-G broadband make them very convenient to listen to on-demand, so they’re gathering sizable audiences.

But Hansen asks an important question. “Where does radio journalism go from here in terms of who’s a journalist?”

Meyerson answers right away:  “This is the promise of the first amendment delivered. The First Amendment doesn’t say journalists have freedom of the press. It says everybody has freedom of the press. And there are some people, some journalists, some professionals, who believe this is a bad thing. I think it’s a great thing that everybody who chooses to be, can be a journalist. ”

But, as we often ask, in this utopian digital future, where is the news shop that hires and nurtures a team of investigators to dog one or two stories for weeks at a time? Who unearths the next Hired Truck scandal, pet coke travesty or Koschman case? Well, says Meyerson, despite the doom and gloom, it’s still happening because the audience wants it.

“A friend emailed me and said – I have someone who’s looking for an investigative freelance reporter, do you know anybody? And I thought long and hard, and it occurs to me that all the investigative reporters I know are still employed.” (If you’re one who’s not still employed, maybe you should give Charlie a jingle).

Despite the the discussion about a potentially rocky future for classic radio stations, all three panelists strenuously agreed that the future for audio as a communication medium is strong, and maybe getting stronger.

“Everybody’s got headphones in,” asserts Akimoff. “I can’t talk to my kids any more. I have to actually text them when they’re doing the dishes, because they’ve got the headphones in, listening to music, listening to podcasts…”

There’s much more, and if you’re in the journalism field, you’ll probably be fascinated by this discussion. And you may learn something about Tim Akimoff. He confesses that he likes to listen to traffic reports just to know that other people are suffering, too.



About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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