I’m sure most Radio Survivor readers have already heard about the passing of Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple. Jobs will be rightly celebrated for how his company’s products, directed by his unique vision, changed the way most of us make and consume media. This includes radio.
Whether intentionally or not, the introduction of the iPod and iTunes in 2001 almost instantly created a fearsome challenge for traditional terrestrial radio. As the first elegant and user-friendly portable digital music player, the iPod helped create a perfect storm for the commercial radio industry, especially the nation’s largest radio owner, Clear Channel.
It’s easy to forget that at the turn of the century Clear Channel was riding high with mammoth profits brought on by its program of aggressive consolidation whereby the company vacuumed up stations, fired staff, and consolidated operations and programming in order to drive down costs. By 2001 the public had started to become wise to the fact that their local stations no longer sounded the same, with more repetition and fewer recognizably local personalities. As listeners started to tune out, Jobs’ Apple stepped in with a desirable alternative, the iPod.
Sure, folks had mobile CD and cassette players for years before the iPod. And many models of MP3 players had been on the market since the late 90s. But for most people the iPod offered the first user-friendly device that could supply 1,000 songs in a pocket-sized package.
Steve Jobs didn’t invent podcasting, but the integration of podcast management with iTunes in 2005 made the new medium accessible to new listeners who might never have sought out a specialized “podcatcher” application. The iTunes store almost instantly became the default directory for finding audio programming from across the web, which otherwise required many Google searches to sniff out.
While the iPod and iTunes are not exclusively responsible for the declining fortunes of commercial radio–I’d argue the industry deserves most of the blame–the impact of these technologies cannot be denied. So today I remember Steve Jobs for how he changed the landscape of radio and audio programming for the better, by making it easier and fun to find and listen to programming from around the world, helping to foster a whole new medium that sounds a lot like radio.
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