It was almost like it was just yesterday that I walked into a Radio Shack in a now defunct mall in Lake Park, Florida, and saw my very first computer. It was a large affair, a tower PC with a big old unsightly tan monitor that sort of looked like a TV screen but uglier. I said to the guy “What’s that?” and he said, “It’s a home computer.” I looked at him doubtfully, thinking, “Whatever.” He must have read my mind because he said, and I swear I remember it like it was yesterday, “I predict that within ten years, every household in America will own one of these.” I thought that was about the silliest thing I had ever heard. It was 1982 and I am pretty sure that the computer in question was some kind of a Tandy Radio Shack creation. As a writer, I remember thinking, “Well, I know I would like to have one for writing, but I can’t figure out what other things the average home would need a computer for.”
And now, of course, I can’t imagine life without one. I’m thinking that one day kids will look at transistor radios and ask what the heck they were used for because they get their music and information from the internet and IPods. Of course they do. I’ve met people who don’t own a television set because they get everything they need from their computer. I did away with my land line because it was cheaper and easier to just use a cell phone for everything. Like that Radio Shack guy said, “I predict that within ten years when we hear the word ‘radio’ we will be thinking of online radio, not terrestrial radio.”
Terrestrial radio, of course, is radio that comes to us on the air. It travels around getting picked up by signals being transmitted from a tower somewhere to an antenna somewhere else. Satellite radio, the “next big thing” in radio, is when signals are sent to a satellite way up in the sky and then beamed back down to earth. And now, well, now there’s internet radio, signals being sent around the world via the world wide web.
I can see how internet radio has some advantages over terrestrial radio and satellite radio. For one, virtually everyone has a computer these days and I would bet that kids today get on their parents computers, and later on, their own, before they ever see their first radio. I know that my own grandchildren, ages 6, 5 and 2, have never seen a radio, but they sure know their way around a keyboard and a mouse. They haven’t even seen a radio in their parents (or my) cars because we all have satellite receivers. It seems impossible to imagine, but it’s true. There was a time when entire families would huddle around a big old radio with a scratchy signal listening to radio shows of every kind, from comedies, to dramas, to “soap operas”, so called because it was usually a soap manufacturer who sponsored those daytime shows aimed at housewives, or, excuse me, domestic engineers. This is also where they heard breaking news about the war, economics, sports, entertainment or politics. The president spoke to the masses this way. It was considered mass communication at its very best and nobody ever thought it could get any better than that.
Then came television, and the world went crazy for the moving pictures and sound that came into the big box every night all over America. You were a big shot if you had a color T.V. in those days. And nobody ever thought it could get any better than that.
But then came the computer. And with it came the ability to share ideas and plans and creativity with anyone in the whole world. We can send photos and files and sounds and movies and all kinds of materials in real time across the world. We have entire libraries right here in a small space right in our homes. Entire libraries! And shops! And medical advice! All in right here in our own home! Can it get any better than this? Can it?
Another way that internet radio is better than terrestrial or satellite radio is that is interactive in a way that other radio and even television cannot be. Sure, you can call up a radio host and speak through the phone live on the air on regular radio, but you can’t show photos or video to that host and by extension, the listeners. You can with internet radio. It’s the ultimate show and tell. And there are no worries about the quality of the sound, because internet radio does not rely on geography, weather or other relevant conditions that can bias terrestrial radio. Sure, satellite radio is also not at the whim of geography or climate, but it can’t reach you in a tunnel, under a bridge, or anywhere else there is something other than the roof of your car over your head.
When I first heard of internet radio my reaction was: Well, of course! That makes sense, of course you can get the radio on the internet. Why not?
So my conclusion is that yes indeed, internet radio is truly here to stay because really, can it ever get any better than that?