Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Interview with James Cridland

James Cridland

James Cridland is an english radio expert and a conference speaker, he's managing director of Media UK and he blogs at James Cridland's blog.

I had the chance to interview him.

1) When and where you born?

I was born in London in 1971: the year that the mandatory radio licence was abolished in the UK. It was another two years before commercial radio started broadcasting.

2) How and when did you discover your interest in the radio?

I saved up vouchers from a box of breakfast cereal, and sent off for a free radio. It arrived (in the shape of a box of breakfast cereal itself). I used it for a few hours on the first day I got it, and was very disappointed as I went to sleep: I thought it had ran out. "How does the latest news get in there?" I wondered. "How will it get the latest music? I'll have to buy a new one." The bug had bitten me: and from then on, I was determined to work in the industry.

3) When you were growing up, which radio stations were you listening to?

Radio 4, like my parents - it's a serious news and speech radio station and I felt very grown-up listening to it. Then I listened to a small local private radio station, Signal Radio, when it first launched: and I was hooked on the idea that this station was coming from just down the road.

4) What is your opinion about the transition towards digital radio (DAB,DAB+,DRM, etc)? Do you think that FM-band should be switched off by law (like the british government suggests)?

It's helpful that the government has indicated that simulcasting between FM and DAB should cease. However, in my opinion, the only people who should decide whether analogue radio should be switched off, I believe, are the radio broadcasters. It is not the government's place to commit mass-murder on an ailing commercial radio industry by forcing them to switch off their FM frequencies.

My post in the blog has more on this.

I believe that the future of radio is a multi-platform future: one that includes FM, DAB, and the internet. I also believe that broadcasters should take far more of an interest in the receivers, since it is in their interest to ensure that these are "platform-blind". The listener should not care whether their favourite radio station is on FM, DAB, DRM or the internet: they should just be able to listen. It's silly, in this era of content, to expect listeners to know whether their favourite radio station is on FM or DAB: it should just appear, by name, on their radio.

Apple, Sky, Canal +, Freeview, and many other broadcasters and content providers are working hard to ensure a standard, simple user interface to access their content. It appears odd that radio broadcasters are not doing so.

5) How do you imagine the future of radio?

The future of radio is a multi-platform future.

We have to have broadcast radio to reach hundreds of thousands of people at the same time: the internet can't do that.
We have to have more than one broadcast standard to offer the choice people expect.
We have to use the internet to deliver on-demand content and personalisation; and niche, out-of-area content.
And we have to have all this in one, easy-to-use, device that we'd like to call a "radio".

The future of radio isn't on-demand over live; internet over FM; personalisation over a linear stream - it's all of these things. That'll help keep radio fresh and exciting.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Interview with Marshall T. Poe

Marshall Poe (1961) is associate professor of history at University of Iowa. Last year (2010) he wrote the book "A history of communications. Media and Society from the Evolution of Speech to the Internet" (the book is "not yet published" in Cambridge University Press site but it's available in Amazon)

I had the chance to interview him.

1) When did you start using the Internet?

That would be about 1992. I remember because I'd just come back from a year in the Soviet Union.

2) We've seen the crisis of music industry, the crisis of rent of home video (and other similar examples) and do you really think that Internet changes nothing?

Since the 19th century, we in the West have had a deep bias for new technology, and particularly media technology. We think it's going to save us, to fix us, to make a brighter future for us. We fill it with our hopes, and therefore exaggerate its potential. If you read what pundits of the 1950s wrote about, say, television, and compare it to what pundits of the present say about the Internet, you get an eerie sense of deja vu. Television was supposed to "change everything" and the Internet is supposed to do the same. But the former didn't, and the latter won't either. The history of modern media--mass newspapers, radio, TV, and now the Internet--is strikingly continuous. Each provided (and continues to provide) news, entertainment, and commerce, and each is funded primarily by advertising or the state. That later media are "better" than earlier media is some technical sense is important, but not important enough to "change everything." Like its modern predecessors, the Internet will change some things and not others, and the system in which it is entrenched--modern liberal capitalism--will remain unaltered.

My sense is that many people don't know this and some don't want to believe it. If I were to write an essay called "The Internet Changes Everything," few people would pay any attention to it and those who did would probably agree. But if I were to write an essay called "The Internet Changes Nothing" (which I did), it would get a lot of attention, most of it negative (which it did). Why the radical difference in responses? The reason is not empirical: "the Internet changes everything" is just as false as "the Internet changes nothing." No modern medium changes everything or nothing. Rather, the split has to do with ignorance and investment. Again, many people don't know that the history of modern media is continuous (they believe the hype) and many others are committed to the idea of discontinuity (they create the hype).

So, in direct answer to your question, no, I don't believe the internet changes nothing. When I called my essay "The Internet Changes Nothing" I was trying to make a point about about our tendency to exaggerate the impact of modern media technologies in general and the Internet in particular. What I believe is that like mass circulation newspapers, commercial radio, and broadcast TV, the Internet will change some things and not others.

3) Don't you think that Internet may probably need longer time to change social structures of the society?

I'm reminded of that famous quip attributed to Mao. A reporter asked the Great Helmsman what he though of the French Revolution. "It's too soon to tell," he responded. The history of media shows that it sometimes takes centuries for the implications of new forms of communication to work themselves out and reach a kind of equilibrium with the other institutions and values in a society. This was the case with writing and print. But I'm not sure that it will be the case with the Internet. Writing and print were quite different than the media that came before them, so they were disruptive (though they took a long time to disrupt). That's not really true of the Internet. It looks and acts a lot like a TV. What do you use a TV for? Mostly for news and entertainment. What do corporations use TV for? Mostly to sell you stuff. What do you use the Internet for? Mostly for news and entertainment, though you can also look things up and chat with friends. What do corporations use the Internet for? Mostly to sell you stuff, though they also use it to store and communicate data. Nothing really set the stage for the reception of writing and (mass) print; TV set the stage the Internet, at least in the Free World.

4) You think that Internet won't change everything but don't you think that Obama wouldn't be president if Internet had not been existed now?

No. The reason Obama was elected has much more to do with the two-party system than the Internet. Nothing about the Internet favors Republicans or Democrats. Internet or no, a Republican or Democrat is going to occupy the White House. This time it was a Democrat; next time (some next time) it will be a Republican. The Internet won't change that, at least anytime soon.

5) What do you think about sociologists like Manuel Castells who built an entire theory around network society (a kind of Internet-society)?

I don't really like the the phrase "network society." It's redundant. All human groups ("societies") of whatever size, shape or purpose are made of networks, that is, non-random (structured) links between people. What's interesting to me is that different media technologies enable people to create different kinds (sizes, shapes, purposes) of networks. Speech makes speech networks, writing makes writing networks, print makes print networks, audiovisual media (TV and the like) make A/V networks, and the Internet makes Internet networks. Once writing was invented, none of these media-enabled networks was "pure," that is, existed in isolation from other media (and here I mean in place with writing). The first writing network was really a speech + writing network; the first print network was a speech + writing + print network; and so on. Today we in the developed world live in a speech + writing + print + A/V + Internet network. This being so, it doesn't seem sensible to speak of "Internet society," for there is no such thing. There is an Internet network, structured by the capacities of the Internet medium. But it's embedded in other, earlier media. Because it's embedded, it's hard to study the internet network in isolation. It's not impossible, though, and sociologist like Castells are doing their best.
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