FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, October 08, 2004

More Disruptive Radio Technologies

Yesterday the radio world was abuzz with the news of Howard Stern moving his controversial morning show to satellite radio in January 2006. However, the King of All Media isn't the only one shaking up the airwaves...

A project in Minneapolis called Radio Re-Volt is distributing "microradios" to people in that city, and teaching them how to build their own transmitters, according to an article in Wired. These tiny transmitters cost about $20 each and can broadcast for about 200 feet -- a step up from the novelty transmitter kits that Radio Shack used to sell when I was a kid. The limited reach allows them to comply with FCC regulations. But in a densely populated area, even these can potentially reach lots of listeners. About 500 people in Minneapolis now have these transmitters, and plan to coordinate a mass "broadcast-in" on Oct. 28 along Lake Street, one of the city's main drags. If you'll be in Minneapolis that day, tune in to 97.7 FM and take a listen.

The project is less about technology than it is about free speech and a rebellion against commercial radio... and that message seems to be resonating among the young people participating in Radio Re-Volt. In his essay "F*** Big Media," Mark Pesce takes the microradio concept a step further, suggesting that microradio transmitters can be networked in a peer-to-peer manner, so that they can share content, and cover a wider area the way that cell phones do now.

Microradio is clearly in a very embryonic stage of development. The tools are all in place, Pesce points out, but it's only now that people are starting to realize their potential. This makes it a classic disruptive technology, even more so than satellite radio. It provides users with a tool they didn't have before, it's relatively easy to use and deploy, and it's dirt cheap.

Pesce is concerned that lawmakers will attempt to stamp out microradio, much in the way that they've acted against P2P file sharing. Indeed, mass-market radio doesn't take kindly to competition, as illustrated by this chilling story on an upstart rap station in Oakland, CA competing with the market leader, owned by media giant Clear Channel. This is what differentiates microradio from other disruptive technologies like the Internet; often, market leaders fail to recognize disruptive technologies for what they are until it's too late. But in this case, "big radio" appears to know what it's up against, and may be taking aggressive action.

On another level, microradio could have an impact in developing nations that are "leapfrogging" past the traditional broadcast, phone and electrical infrastructures. Souped up with higher broadcast ranges, battery-powered microtransmitters could be made practical even for remote areas, allowing people to share local, uncensored information.

Source: unmediated