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Public Radio and Anti-Ipod Rants

Added to my blog/rss roll. Doug Kaye’s ITconversations weblog (which for the moment is easier to navigate than the itconversations.com site itself). I expect with the drupal makeover, that will change. I listen to these talks all the time. Most recently I listened to

Doug Kaye wrote an interesting essay about the future of public radio.

In commercial radio we see the migration to the two models of talk and formulaic music. As others have said, theres no humanity left. Commercial stations will die the same way some of the telecoms bit the dust: Theyre competing for a limited base of customers with undifferentiated commodity products. Its ironic that the broadcast spectrum is a scarce resource yet those with license to use it are writing their own death warrants by using it so inefficiently.

Public radio is on the same path. Sure, its made worse by the facts that the Bush administration wants to rip the guts out of it, and that NPR and the local stations are always fighting over money and control. But the real problem is coming from the fact that listeners want long-tail time-shifted content. They want to hear programs that are more meaningful to them, and they want to listen at their convenience. The entire broadcast-radio system, with its distribution, simply cant provide what the customers want. Its not a flaw of management. There are very good people doing the best that can be done. The problem is inherent and systemic.

Podcasting is to public radio what Garage Band and Pro Tools are to the music industry. Large recording studios are closing left and right because musicians good ones can produce great music in small project studios or even in their apartments. Moby is just one of the better-known examples. But more important than the stars are all the lesser-known artists. Because of iTunes and GarageBand.com, a significant portion of the market is shifting towards the long tail. The traditional music industry can only survive to the extent that it can support these new forms of production and distribution, and the same is true for public radio.

One nitpick with Doug Kaye’s excellent essay. Why the hullaballoo about the ipod? Ipod is an overpriced mediocre mp3 player with crappy recording capability and an unnecessary DRM system that lets Big Media companies sell their overpriced content. (Last I heard, it is fairly difficult for independents to get distribution through itunes). Ipod cannot play ogg files; it requires proprietary software on your computer to connect/access it. Yes, it looks pretty and has stylish commercials.

The podcasting phenomena exists totally separately from the itunes marketing phenomena. By overusing the term “ipod,” we create the false impression that the only way to obtain podcasts and build music collections is through itunes. That’s what Universal and Apple and Warner Brothers want consumers to believe.

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