No Static at All: High-Tech Radio

There are an increasing number of ways to record radio programs, zap commercials and enjoy your favorite shows at a time that's convenient. New York Times technology columnist David Pogue talks about new digital radio broadcasting and recording technologies.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

On Mondays, the business report focuses on technology. Radio is becoming a lot more like television, except, of course, for the pictures. There are many ways to record programs, zap commercials and enjoy your favorite shows at a time that's convenient for you. Joining us now on this particular radio to talk about what's new in radio is David Pogue, the technology columnist for The New York Times and a regular guest here. Hi, David.

Mr. DAVID POGUE (The New York Times): How are you?

INSKEEP: OK. Used to be if you wanted to listen to the radio, you--well, you turned on a radio. What are the things you can do now?

Mr. POGUE: Well, all we're talking about is new ways to get audio to you. Some of the ways are just blossoming: satellite radio, a hundred different channels, most without commercials. Digital radio is coming. This is exactly the same AM and FM radio, and you do without the hiss. There's Internet radio stations so you can listen around the world to regular radio stations at your desk. And, of course, there's podcasting, which are personal, very personal little radio shows made by amateurs and professionals. A lot of NPR shows are now being released as podcasts. But you can listen to it at your computer. You can download it to your iPod. And some of them are just so specific, they're hilarious.

(Soundbite of "Let's Go Curling")

Unidentified Man: Welcome to "Let's Go Curling," the first and, to my knowledge, only podcast that's going to be devoted to the sport of curling, generally considered an amateur sport...

INSKEEP: Now we also have the radio equivalent of TiVo, I guess, something called radio SHARK. How's that work?

Mr. POGUE: Oh, it's a little $70 dollar thing that looks like a shark's fin, and it sits on your desk. You can schedule it to record your favorite radio shows, and then you can pause live broadcasts and rewind them.

(Soundbite of music; of music being rewound; of music)

INSKEEP: What do all these technologies have in common?

Mr. POGUE: Well, I think the main thing they have in common is that they're reactions against commercial radio. Commercials--I think they reached at one point 22 minutes out of the hour, and the ads are for baldness remedies and herbal remedies. It's like spam on your radio, and a lot of people were reacting against the sameness of it, the lowest common denominator-ishness of it, and the amount of commercials on there. These are all different ways to make it more personal and less commercial.

INSKEEP: Is this added competition causing commercial radio stations to change in any way?

Mr. POGUE: Oh, my gosh. They're losing their hair. They're pursuing every avenue. They're pursuing some practical steps; for example, some New York area stations have agreed to cut down on the number of commercials they're broadcasting. And in Washington, the lobbyists for the over-the-air radio networks lobbied the FCC very hard not to allow satellite ever to get into the business of local programming, local news and weather and traffic. Of course, what's really funny is the satellite companies agreed to that, having in mind a sneaky work-around, which is like, `You don't want us to broadcast in local areas? Fine. We'll dedicate one of our 150 channels nationally to the Dallas traffic,' so anywhere in the country, you can tune in to the traffic reports from anywhere else in the country, because they're using one entire national channel for each local broadcast.

INSKEEP: Well, if I'm driving to Dallas, I might want to know in Minnesota. Do you think that people will still be listening to the radio in five or 10 years and, if so, how?

Mr. POGUE: Well, I have this theory in technology. Things never get replaced. They just get added on. I mean, video did not kill the radio, and the VCR did not kill people going out to movies. In fact, just the opposite. So I believe in five years, it'll just be satellite radio, digital radio, podcasting, Internet radio. It'll be whatever people want at the time, and they will all have evolved. I have a sinking feeling they will all have commercials in five years, but I think people will just have more choice.

INSKEEP: David Pogue of The New York Times, thanks.

Mr. POGUE: My pleasure.

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