The Future of Radio

In 1962 a cartoon called The Jetsons premiered on American television. The premise was simple: what would life look like for an American family in 2062? 

The protagonist, the family patriarch was named George Jetson. This is George Jetson’s commute to work. This is how George jetson walked his dog, Astro. How he brushed his teeth. How he got his news.

This is George’s wife, Jane Jetson. In the 50s, the men who created The Jetsons, and they were men, imagined a future with flying cars, video conferencing, smart watches, electric toothbrushes, But they couldn’t imagine a future where a mom worked outside the home. I mean, Jane had a robot maid, what exactly what was she doing all day?

All this to say, as futurists we’re very good at dreaming up new technology. But we’re not so good at predicting all the ways the technology we build might change us. 

That’s what I want to talk to you about. You’ve likely been hearing all about new technologies that might change the way you reach your audience. Now, I want you to challenge you to imagine how that same technology might affect your newsrooms and the work they do from the inside out. Come on this time-hopping journey with me. 

I love this tweet. It reminds me that humans have been telling each other great stories as long as we’ve been around as a species. Our reptile brains didn’t evolve to read and write. They evolved to tell each other stories. The earliest examples of literature, like The Odyssey or the Epic of Gilgamesh, were oral traditions meant to be performed in front of a crowd. 

In the 1890s when Marconi created his radio, the crowd you were performing in front of suddenly got a lot bigger. It was world changing technology. He unlocked the story’s potential to travel across the air. All of a sudden you could broadcast your voice to people miles and miles away. 

Radio is magic. It captures our imagination and inspires us to consider experiences and perspectives other than our own. We gather around it in our living room. That was true in the 1930s, and it’s true today. The research we have shows that families gather around smart speakers in their living rooms, kitchens and cars. 

And do you know what’s one the most common things that people ask their smart speakers to do? Tell me a story. Like Marconi’s radio, this technology is world-changing. Think about it. We have these affordable, high fidelity speakers everywhere that make all the audio in the world searchable, and they actually understand what we say. It’s amazing.

But it’s still VERY early days. The world of audio looks the way the World Wide Web looked in 1996 – this was the Wall Street Journal’s home page. It’s clunky: no links between stories, it looks bad, not user friendly, we don’t really know how it’s going to shape out. Here are problems that technologists say they’re solving for right now: 

  1. Giving creators new tools and platforms to tell better stories
  2. Getting the right story to the right listener at the right time. 

But I want to fast forward to the future, let’s imagine what the Radio of the Future might look like once these problems are solved. This is what I see when I close my eyes and think of the future. Radio that’s more on-demand, data-driven and interactive

What you see when you close your eyes might be a little different, that’s okay. I just want to show you how I go from the technology to its creative implications, and like a science fiction author, I want to invite you to do the same with the technologies you’re most excited about. So let’s hop in to my imagination. 

You might ask yourself, why are tech platforms obsessed with audio all of a sudden? Radio has been around forever. Here’s some context. In the last few years, improvements in machine learning have powered automatic transcription that’s cheap, quick and accurate. That transcription makes it possible, with enough computing power, to treat mp3 files like text. Before ML, mp3 files were like black boxes. Now it’s possible for computers to know what an mp3 file is talking about without the use of metatags. 

If we can treat mp3 files like text, we could link between them. What might it be like to fall into an audio rabbit hole? What would it look like to have programming that expands and contracts depending on how much time a listener has or where they are in their day? With better personalization what’s news to me might be slightly different than what’s news to you. It used to be that you had one giant antenna for your whole audience. Now, as a broadcaster you have many antennas for many audiences

In a future where you don’t just have one big audience, but many, I think having a diverse newsroom is more important than ever. Look around your newsrooms right now, what talent are you overlooking? Who could you start developing right now? I think you could future-proof your newsroom by hiring more people that look like your audience and training them today! 

In the radio of the future, the role of editors might change. They’ll still be really important, Editors are the ones who decide what’s news. But it used to be that one of the main functions of an editor was choosing which stories went into the circular file – the trash can. You only had so much air time. But with dynamic on-demand radio, they won’t have that problem. In this version of the future, I think the best editors won’t be the gatekeepers. They’ll be the champions. The advocates. And they’ll have an incredible tool in their tool belt: data. 

With data, we can overcome our personal biases to make better informed editorial decisions. It’s no longer I like this, I don’t like that. A savvy editor could learn about their audience and what works for them. We can use data to tell better stories. With second by second analytics, we’ll make better choices about our craft. We could A/B test a lead, for example. We can question everything! 

Lastly, in the future, I think listening to a great piece of audio will no longer be a strictly passive, linear experience. We have platforms that speak to back to us and understand what we say. 

Here’s another example I mocked up. My friend and colleague Lewis Wallace’s beat is LGBTQ+ issues. He’s found that when he’s telling a story for his own community, he tells it one way. But when he’s talking to a general audience he simplifies it, changes it. What if he didn’t have to? What if when I didn’t understand something, I could interrupt him and ask, just like when we have a conversation in real life?

Now, I don’t want it to sound like I’m reinventing the wheel. The idea of interactive radio is not new. Think about the ubiquity of call-in shows. They’ve been around forever. The first interactive radio show in the U.S. was called America’s Town Meeting of the Air. It aired in 1935. 

Go ahead and listen to it. You might feel like the topic of the show sounds familiar: “Will the Machine Dominate Man?” Will the Machine automate man? No! It wasn’t true in 1935 and it’s not true today. Great storytelling isn’t going anywhere, because the art of telling a story hasn’t changed for thousands of years. We are about to enter a Golden Age of Radio.

If you’re someone who is creative, intellectually curious and game for experimentation, I think the future of radio is going to be great for you. I know because we are going to build it together. 

 

 

 

 

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Press: Google’s Thoughts On The Future of Audio

Salinas

I was thrilled to be a feature speaker at Radio Days Europe in Lausanne, Switzerland this year. Radio Days Europe is the largest radio conference in the world.

Get the full story at Radio Days Europe.

“Everyone has been talking about Google this year, this afternoon it was their time to take to the stage.

Brenda Salinas, from Google News, eased delegates into her thoughts on the future of bringing audio to audiences with a hilarious and informative presentation.

She outlined three fundamental aspects of radio in the future: on-demand, interactive and data driven.

Firstly, Brenda talked about how Google is using data to customise radio for individuals. She reminded delegates that radio was designed for an antenna that would broadcast to many people, so one programme would be designed for a large and diverse group. However, with the internet serving people at an individual-scale, this homogenising is not necessary and, actually, is a barrier to connection.

Brenda went on to explain how interactivity will likely be central to the future of radio. Interactivity can be thought of in the context of how radio has traditionally “interacted” with audiences. However, in the future interactivity could literally provide an opportunity for audiences to converse with a voice coming through their speakers – interrupting and asking questions. This might sound scary but actually it is exciting, as listeners can supply the answers to live questions right there and then.

Brenda leaves the auditorium with a positive thought: “Radio isn’t going anywhere because the art of telling a great story has stayed the same for thousands of years”.

Another insightful and practical example of what audio might look like in years to come.”

Some News – 60dB joins Google

60dB has some exciting news. From techcrunch.

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“Short-form podcast app 60dB will be shutting down next month and its team will be joining Google in an apparent acqui-hire.

“Today, we’re announcing we’ll be shutting down 60dB on Friday, November 10th, and we’ll be joining the team at Google,” a Medium post signed by the 60dB co-founders read. “As we considered next steps for 60dB, we came to the conclusion that to accomplish our goals we’d be better positioned if we joined someone with scale who shared our vision for what was possible with digital audio.” The note was first spotted by Business Insider.

Tiny Garage Labs, which created the app, launched its podcast platform for iOS, Android, Alexa and the web last year, allowing users to access personalized short-form audio pieces inside the app. The team said it worked with more than 80 media institutions to produce “hundreds of audio stories in the past year.”

What does that mean for me? I’ll be showing up to work at Google’s Covent Garden offices in London. I am so excited to see what this journey means for me creatively and professionally. Stay tuned!

Press: Nieman Lab

NiemanSo happy to have gotten a Nieman write-up for the Texas Standard.

Here’s an excerpt:

“As a first-of-its-kind effort, if Texas Standard works, it will set a standard for a number of larger states, and perhaps attract the kind of new funders that public media needs. To be sure, many of the top public radio stations have built their own collaborations. What distinguishes Texas Standard, says Oregon Public Broadcasting general manager Steve Bass, is “having a group of stations on board before they launch.”

Press: Current Magazine

curent

It’s awesome to be the cover story in the latest issue of Current magazine.

An excerpt:

‘“We see Texas Standard as a collaboration among stations within Texas, as a Texas platform for stories that are coming out of communities all over Texas but have impact on residents beyond the community in which the story is taking place,” said Stewart Vanderwilt, KUT g.m. “It’ll serve that role for our state similar to how Morning Edition serves that role for the country.”’

Want to know more? Check out the full Current write-up or follow @TheTexasStandard on Twitter.

Press: “Demand For New Media Experts In Women Of Color

latinitas

I’m pleased to have been featured in an article by Gabriella Landeros for Latinitas.

Some excerpts:

“The evolution of how we communicate with people has passed all boundaries. From e-mail and social media, to online advertising. Today, people are taking in information in more creative and tech-friendly ways, especially the younger generation. The new media industry is growing, and in more dynamic ways than ever before. With this growth, many women of color are joining the new media force.”

“Social media and advertising provide an outlet to voice opinions at a much larger scale than one can do alone to a group of people. It also serves as a tool to connect with like-minded people who share your same interests. Brenda Salinas, Associate Producer for NPR Latino USA, stated, ‘Latinos use social media in more way than any other ethnic group. Social media helps communicate with family in other parts of the world. There is also a different relationship with people on Twitter vs. real life. Many of us are so used to being the only one in the room, and we don’t have that feeling on social media.’

“It’s revolutionary that the second I’m interested in something, I can get the information in seconds – 20 years ago, we couldn’t do that! You can instantly connect with people that have your same interests, without feeling alone. The fact that other people are like me, is very comfortable. You can connect with people who have shared your same cultural experiences,’ continued Salinas.”

“’There is no such thing as a radio producer, you’re a multimedia producer.  If it airs once, you are wasting your time and only reaching a fraction of people you can be reaching.  To do social media well, you have to be ahead of the curve and do it right. Elements of storytelling don’t change, but social media always changes. It’s always on the go and a learning process,’ stated Salinas.”

Press: Dispatches From #LATISM

I’m pleased to have been featured in this post for NPR’s Code Switch blog as one of the faces of #LATISM.

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An excerpt:

“We grew up listening to our Moms catching up with our tias Sunday night on the telephone. We don’t do that,’ says Brenda Salinas, social media producer for LatinoUSA. Salinas and her LatinoUSA colleague Kaitlin Archambault are here recording stories as part of a new segment, using #LatinoProblems. Latina Magazine advice columnist Pauline Campos is also helping out. ‘We use social media especially Facebook and Instagram to stay in touch with our extended family. And we’ve discovered we can use social media also for activism and to have our voices heard.”

Agree? Disagree? Let me know!