Is there a future for local broadcast radio? Will it include local news and public affairs? Without serious regulation and enforcement, the answer seems certain to be “no.”
In fact, without the rejuvenating effect of the reintroduction of licensee requirements to deliver local news and public affairs (also called “localism”), AM and FM broadcasting are doomed to a premature demise decades before any true replacement for radio’s potential usefulness to the American society at large.
Unlike news and public affairs delivered by paper and ink, television delivered by coaxial cable or satellite, or hypertext, video and audio delivered via the Internet, local journalism via broadcast radio relies on use of a limited natural resource called ‘electromagnetic spectrum,’ (also known as, ‘The Public Airwaves’). To say that this very limited natural resource has been poorly shared and managed is a matter of fact, not opinion. To argue over this point is to support a desire for control opposed to sharing a resource to provide service to a community.
Broadcast radio is unique. It is an exceptional communication tool compared to all other media delivery types. Radio receivers are inexpensive, portable, and ubiquitous. Electricity is the only expense. Radio is free; there are no monthly subscriptions required to listen. Think about it: Broadcast radio is the only truly universal communication system. It is the most natural Internet partner… radio can dramatically help drive broadband adoption... and the system is already built!
Now think very seriously about this: Neither wired nor wireless, the Internet will never replace radio when communication counts the most. After any destructive weather emergency, natural disaster, or terrorist attack that knocks out the power grid, the only communication service to reliably continue functioning will be broadcast radio. Shouldn't we be more careful about how we use this precious mass communications tool?
In the future of news.. does radio have a role? Yes, absolutely. Let's talk job creation... There are more than 14,000 radio licensees across the U.S. today. But, under the current system, most stations have no actual people in the communities they are supposed to be serving. Canned (and occasionally live) programming comes from elsewhere (“repeater-broadcaster” headquarters are in San Antonio, New York or California). If the presentation of real local news and public affairs were required of each radio licensee, local people would populate empty newsrooms and re-establish the basic infrastructure of journalism.
Real local radio promotes local communities raising small and medium local business profiles; building economies and creating jobs. Establishing a reputation as a part of critical infrastructure in support of community safety will only happen if local people come to trust local radio. That will only happen when listeners are given valuable (Local) reasons to listen.
The centennial year of radio broadcasting is 2020. What broadcast radio will be on its’ 100th birthday depends on decisions made today by citizens and government.