iPod Nano: Rekindling FM

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nanoThe age of the portable MP3 player has long been heralded as the “death of radio.” Then again, so was television, and that was over half a century ago. We all see how that worked out. Today, I’d like to point out how these devices, and the iPod Nano in particular, herald the rebirth of radio.

It’s no secret that the iPod has been way out in front as the leader in portable music players, which is why I’ve always been slightly puzzled by their lack of an integrated FM receiver. That has changed with the advent of the new model Nano, and it’s a change that I welcome with open arms.

Seth Porges over at Popular Mechanics puts it beautifully:

Something odd has happened recently in my music-listening life. Two weeks ago I received the new fifth-generation iPod Nano. Since then, my once-rigid playlist of personal standards has suddenly been infiltrated by daily doses of NPR, college radio and the occasional classic rock riff. Yes, Apple has pushed me back into FM radio.

While the convenience of having total control over your personal playlist is a wonderful thing, it lacks surprises. It lacks that moment of discovery when you hear a song that grabs you by the lapels and shakes you, even though you know you’ve never heard the band playing it before.

I remember well discovering The White Stripes while sitting in the passenger seat of a VW Thing driving across town for a production meeting. It was like a breath of fresh air. Neither the driver nor I had even heard of the band at that point, and we sat eagerly waiting for the DJ to come on and back announce the name of the group. Since then I’ve added several of their discs to my collection.

That, my friends, is the truly powerful side of radio: the DJ who acts as music concierge bringing you new and exciting sounds that you would not have known otherwise.  Sure, Pandora is wonderful — I listen to it a lot as well — but its strength is in bringing you music that has similarity to what you already listen to. With radio, you can be blindsided by musical epiphanies from outside your usual spectrum and therein lies one of its greatest strengths. In addition, to return to Mr. Porges’ commentary, there is another significant aspect that cannot be ignored:

Radio has another important thing going for it. In an era of mounting monthly bills, radio is one of the last truly free forms of media. Radios themselves are very cheap, and they require no subscriptions or fees of any sort.

Will the new Nano’s radio provide a significant boost in Arbitron ratings? Maybe not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it helps introduce a new generation—and reintroduce an old one—to FM radio’s unique listening format.

As to Arbitron ratings, since most portable players are used with headphones, I doubt that their Portable People Meters (PPM) will register much change. What I am curious about is what happens to ratings in the markets using Nielsen for their metrics. Will we see a shift there as the new Nano becomes more and more widespread?

Image: fhke / CC BY-SA 2.0
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