During the next decade, U.S. radio audiences can look forward to satellite receivers in their cars, voice synthesizers as morning deejays and newscasters--and at least 2,000 more AM and FM stations.
According to a major new study of high-technology use among the nation’s radio stations, released here Thursday at a broadcasters convention, the granddaddy of the electronic mass media is in the throes of a great leap forward.
The next 10 years may see a 20% increase in the number of radio stations, a continued proliferation of satellite-delivered radio networks, new radio “superstations” for cable-TV systems and the increased use of computers and compact discs, a study by the National Assn. of Broadcasters said.
The study was released by John D. Abel, executive vice president of the Washington-based trade association that represents most of the country’s commercial radio and TV stations. He spoke at a morning session of the group’s “Radio ’86" conference at the huge, new Mississippi Riverfront Convention Center here.
“In the recent past we have seen a dramatic growth in satellite communications and an increasing use of digital technology that is leading to more and more creative possibilities in programming and production,” Abel said.
Among the results of the study, which included a survey this summer of 500 radio stations across the country, were:
--Radio’s use of satellites will continue through the 1980s, but by 1995 newer fiber-optic transmission systems may be in wide use. Advances in technology are leading toward the development of flat home rooftop satellite-receiving antennas and, even, satellite receivers for automobiles.
--Growth among AM radio stations will be especially strong. Current efforts, including plans to expand the number of frequencies allocated to AM broadcasters, could result in more than 500 new AM stations by 1995. The association estimates that the country will have nearly 12,000 radio stations by the mid-1990s.
--By the end of the decade, most music stations will be using compact discs, played on machines capable of handling as many as 100 discs at a time. Computers will allow station programmers to select playlists and lead to highly automated station operations. Nearly 20% of the country’s radio stations already use compact discs, the association said, and one Washington station has a 3,000-disc library.
--Increased use of computers among radio stations, including perhaps voice-synthesized announcers and news readers, will significantly alter the way radio stations operate. One of the more startling parts of the association’s presentation was the demonstration of a seven-voice $5,000 voice synthesizer performing a happy-talk newscast.
--Audio services offered by cable-TV systems will become major competitors with independently operated radio stations for advertising dollars. There are currently 17 national cable and pay-radio services offered, the report said, including three radio superstations--KKGO-AM, the Los Angeles jazz station, and classical music stations in New York and Chicago--reaching 2.3 million subscribers. More than half of the nation’s 3,900 commercial FM stations are also carried on local cable systems, the association said.
“Technological advances have enhanced and expanded what broadcasters could do even just a few years ago,” Abel said.
QUOTED & NOTED: Association President Edward O. Fritts made a pitch for the broadcasters to contribute to the industry’s Television and Radio Political Action Committee. According to Fritts, broadcasters can expect even more bang for their bucks than can most special interest groups.
“More than 50% of (political) contributions go to the media,” Fritts told his membership, “so those dollars flow right back to our industry.”
A quick calculation shows that a station owner in the 50% tax bracket who contributes $100 of campaign funds would receive a $50 write-off and expect $50 in new business. That cuts the cost to a broadcaster for a friendly senator or congressman to almost nothing.