Too many radio stations

Many decades ago I spoke at length with Ronan O’Rahilly, the founder of Radio Caroline, about where ‘music radio’ was going. This was in the 1980s, when we young people were very limited in our ability to access songs and music. We actually mostly heard about new music in … print! Music magazines dominated and carefully pushed the kids of the day towards this group/artist or that group/artist. The record shop, or the radio delivered us those songs. The latter was a lot cheaper.

Back in the 1980s, there were a relatively tiny few commercial radio stations in the UK, plus the BBC. All were suffering from ‘needle time restrictions’, a restrictive practice from the Musicians Union which forced radio stations to limit when and what music they played. Out in the North Sea there were a couple of pirate ships playing non-stop music. O’Rahilly’s interest was of course ‘Radio Caroline’.

Where should it all go next, was the topic of conversation. More radio stations, we mused, would give more choice. A country and western station, an oldies station, a hot hits station, etc, etc.

“But what if we had 50,000 radio stations out there at sea. What would they all do?” probed O’Rahilly very deliberately and provocatively as all conversations with him ended up being.

“Well, ultimately,” I offered, trying to be cute, “you’d get a radio station per record. Like ‘Radio Hey Jude’ just playing ‘Hey Jude’ all the time. When you get bored with that, you tune to another radio station just playing a different song continuously.”

O’Rahilly liked my answer so much that he gave up trying to unlock my brick sized mobile phone so he could use it to call America, and said, “Let’s do it.”  We didn’t, we couldn’t, of course.

radiodjUnknowingly, I had described what decades later became ‘music streaming’. What we do have now is instant access to every song evah. This way, we play the ones we like over and over again, but we don’t need a dedicated radio station.

However, since the 1980s, with delivery platforms having diversified beyond simple ‘through-air’, we have now reached the point where we have gazillions and gazillions of radio stations. Anybody can start one up, and lots of people do.

But as the numbers of radio stations increases, the number of listeners available for each station decreases. This is where it all gets a bit silly. People who wish they were radio stars will set up a lovely studio, organise a streaming server and ‘transmit’ their live programming to … 4 or 5 listeners.

In reality, despite them saying how unique and different they are, these radio stations sound just like any of the other similar stations set up by other radio wannabes. And they share similar lack of audiences.

I see numerous ‘on-line’ radio stations pushed week after week on Facebork, usually as posts by the person with the sexy studio preparing to broadcast to nobody. And I don’t understand why they bother.

Podcasts are probably a lesser waste of time, since over time, more folk may (just ‘may’) download them and listen, or stream them ‘on demand’. Over time, the efforts put into a single ‘programme’ might reap an acceptable audience, where a ‘live’ radio station has only ever had that 4 or 5, or more usually, none.

It really makes no sense to set up and then stress and sweat for 4 or 5 listeners. It just seems amazingly pointless. Why do they do it? How does it even start to feed their over-inflated egos?