This morning, I flipped a switch on my clock radio. From now on, instead of being jolted awake by Jordin Sparks singing "Tattoo" for the kazillionth time, I'll be gradually woken up by nature sounds.
Normally, such things aren't very noteworthy. The only reason this stuck in my head is that it represented the final nail in the coffin of my terrestrial radio consumption.
That's right. Over the past few years, my relationship with terrestrial radio has slipped. I used to listen to terrestrial radio all the time -- on my clock radio in the morning when I woke up, in my truck to and from work, while I was working. All of that terrestrial radio consumption has been gradually wiped out.
This morning after switching over to nature sounds, I got ready for work and jumped in my truck. On my way to the train station, I listened to about 10 minutes' worth of XM's uncensored comedy station. On weekdays, I drive for a total of about 20 minutes per day, and I trade off between listening to my iPod through a hardwired iPod dock and listening to satellite radio. There are probably hundreds of choices available to me on satellite. I listen to only a small handful of channels -- liberal talk radio, comedy, a couple of music channels and sometimes baseball when it's in season. The iPod gives me instant access to all the good stuff in my CD collection, so there's a tremendous amount of choice there, too.
After boarding my train, I plugged in my iPhone and surfed around Flycast. No, not the old ad network that some of you old-timers worked with back in the late '90s. This Flycast is a streaming service with nearly 1,000 channels of audio content. While it's true that some of the content consists of simulcasts of terrestrial stations, I stick to genre-specific channels that don't exist in the terrestrial space. Instead of rolling my eyes at the notion of hearing "Tattoo" again, I listened to about 10 heavy metal bands I'd not previously been exposed to and made a mental note to review the tracks in my history -- maybe I'll purchase some of them on iTunes at some point. The rest of my commute was spent getting caught up on podcasts I missed.
At work today, I'll be cranking away on internet strategy while listening to anything that's in my record collection that suits my fancy at that particular moment. I might also hook in to a couple internet radio stations during the course of the day. One thing's for certain: While I've got standalone music players and mobile devices laying around my office, as well as software players on my computer -- all of which I can use to listen to audio content anytime I like -- I no longer have a little box radio on my desk. I'm in my office for up to nine hours a day. That's nine hours of potential consumption that will go to digital media and be taken from terrestrial radio.
My evening commute will probably look a lot like my morning commute, except I might be plugged into my MacBook Pro instead of my iPod or iPhone. (Yes, Apple runs strong in my family.)
By no means do I consider myself an early adopter of many of these technologies. As I look around at my fellow LIRR commuters, I see that almost everyone has a digital music player of some sort. A few have other sorts of devices like CD players or small radios, but the trademark Apple white headphones tend to dominate.
Not to project this microcosm of digital media consumption to the general population or anything, but it did occur to me that I just cast myself into what Adam Gerber and others have called "media potholes" -- the people you can't reach via a specific medium because they don't consume that medium. Unless I happen to be passing an electronics store with a stereo blaring, it's highly unlikely that you're going to reach me with a commercial message via terrestrial radio.
How many more like me are there? Perhaps a better question is, "How many more like me are there likely to be in the near future?"
I think it's important to look to other media that have seen marked decreases in consumption and advertiser support. Newspapers are in trouble. While everyone else was innovating and content consumers were abandoning the channel, there was this eerie quiet period where the product became homogenized and control became more centralized.
See that happening with radio? I do. How many of the rest of you will scream loudly the next time you hear Jordin Sparks? How many of you will simply change the channel?
No, terrestrial radio won't go away. It will just be de-emphasized to the point where it will never be as powerful as it once was. Sure, there will be things that will grant a temporary stay of execution (HD Radio?), but the slide toward the inevitable will not be denied.
Tom Hespos is the president of Underscore Marketing and blogs at Hespos.com.