"Just call it radio."
So, I was told, said Pandora's Tim Westergren recently while in the midst of a conference call discussing strategies for Internet radio or online radio or streaming radio or IP radio or whatever it is that comes to your devices via the internet and sounds pretty doing it.
Radio, Internet radio, it's all the same thing, argued Tim. And he's not wrong, but he's also not quite right.
Obviously, it suits the agenda of Pandora to be considered by advertisers and others to be at the leading edge of radio's transformation – the most forward-thinking member of the radio tribe. Meanwhile, this suits the agenda of conventional broadcasters not at all.
But motivations and incentives aside, Tim's only right if, by "radio," he means much more than "wireless audio."
At its best, radio unites communities. Radio informs, educates, and entertains. Radio moves listeners to go places and do things – online and off – that have nothing whatsoever to do with the radio but wouldn't possibly happen without it. Radio creates demand. Radio makes our lives richer. Radio builds businesses in our local communities, saves us from traffic jams, wakes us up in the morning and tucks us in at night. It makes the workday go faster and brings our friends into our cars on our long commutes.
Today, radio is more than linear audio – it's pictures and highlights and video and blogs and on-demand and personalities and promises.
Done right and done well, radio is about the people behind the radio, not simply the songs on it, whether we personalize those songs or not. Great radio is personal, not just personalized.
Pandora is a terrific service – and a legitimate flavor of "radio." But Pandora must live up to radio's potential.
And so must the rest of the radio industry.