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A radio futurologist writing about what happens when radio and new platforms collide
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Radio's main strength: portability

Posted on Wednesday, July 4th, 2007 at 2:29 pm. #


Photo: everjean @ flickr

I’ve just heard Alan Johnston, the released BBC journalist, speaking to BBC staff. (I heard it on BBC Radio Five Live, who are desperately filling with anything they can get because it’s gone a bit rainy for the tennis. I was changing a shower head at the time. Rock’n'roll.)

The text of this speech is not yet reported on BBC News, but Johnston got very animated as he explained his ‘lucky break’: getting a radio.

About twenty days in, he was given a radio to listen to: which he promptly tuned in to the BBC World Service. From there, he heard all those messages of goodwill from his family, from his colleagues, and from people who didn’t know him at all.

He spoke at length of his enjoyment of hearing these messages of support; the support he received on his 100th day in captivity, the real satisfaction of knowing that he wasn’t forgotten, and how his capture was being reported. It gave him immense calm to know that his release was always actively being worked on. He listened to it 18 hours a day (and apparently will be providing the BBC with a programming review!)

Things you might like to contemplate:

Would his captors have given him a computer to listen to the BBC World Service on the internet?
Would his captors have given him a television, wiring it in to an external antenna or for cable?

And, of course:

Would that radio have been less useful had the BBC World Service not broadcast on 1323AM in the Middle East?

It’s probably no exaggeration to say that the BBC World Service saved Alan Johnston’s sanity. It’s a slight exaggeration, but probably justifiable, to claim that it may even have saved his life. And it did it on old-fashioned AM radio. No whistles, no bells, no internet, no DTV.

Radio futurologists like me (I just made that up, it sounds good) are forever saying that radio is going multi-platform. It is. But. The bedrock of radio – and still the place where most listeners are – is old-fashioned, portable, analogue radio.

Radio broadcasters forget that at our peril.

5 comments

Andy
commenting at July 4th, 2007 at 3:37 pm

Couldn’t agree more – radio can be at it’s most powerful when it’s at it’s simplest. Bells and whistles and images and text and all the rest certainly have their place, but the true power (and joy) of radio is in it’s simplicity and portability.

Plus, you can hear through analogue interference. Not quite so easy when packets go missing on digi.

Connor
commenting at July 5th, 2007 at 6:56 am

Good points James. It’s sad that one of the people who needs to be reminded of those points is the director of the BBC World Service.
The focus there is on FM rebroadcasters, who don’t take anything like 18 hours a day, and on the internet. Kidnap victims aren’t going to be given a computer to listen to the radio – because it’s a two way tool of course. And of course, that’s the interactivity we value so much on radio. So for most of us, the newer technology is very important. But for news radio, all you fundamentally need is an AM radio – a crystal set even!

But if you’re jammed or blocked, you best – but small – hopes are for analogue AM or online.

Do keep reminding ‘em for us once you’re in the Beeb ;-)

Martin Stabe » links for 2007-07-05
commenting at July 5th, 2007 at 12:24 pm

[...] James Cridland: Radio’s main strength: portability “Johnston got very animated as he explained his ‘lucky break’: getting a radio. About twenty days in, he was given a radio to listen to: which he promptly tuned in to the BBC World Service. From there, he heard all those messages of goodwill from his (tags: bbc radio alanjohnston) [...]

steve martin
commenting at July 5th, 2007 at 3:00 pm

I agree James and if Connor had read the BBC World Service Annual Review (out today) he would know that the focus of the BBC World Service is not on any particular delivery platform but on serving listeners. The number of analogue outlets for BBC World Service programming is increasing, not falling, analogue audiences are sharply up, several 24-hour BBC FM relays have recently been powered-up in the Middle East alone and I predict AM will continue to be a popular delivery channel for years to come in many places too.

Ralph Brandi
commenting at July 5th, 2007 at 8:43 pm

This is a point that we tried to make quite strenuously to the BBC World Service when they decided to shut down service on shortwave to the Americas and Australia back in 2001. The then-head of the World Service, now Deputy Director General of the BBC, Mark Byford, pooh-poohed our concerns.

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