Memoirs of an analogue broadcaster – digital broadcasting & streamed radio

I remember the first demonstration of digital broadcasting (don’t pin me down on a date, it was sometime in the mid to late 80s … my memory fails me). This is what the future of broadcasting is. I came out of a broadcasting background – traditional, FM, big tower transmitting our analogue signal. Old school. I sat and listened, a little baffled by the technology, but riveted to the idea of streaming large amounts of data through a digital signal. No line of site issues, no static and more exciting was the thought of not being hemmed in by the strength of your antennae. This was pre fibre optic days so it was damned exciting. The seminar was put on by a group working with broadcasters in Europe – Europe was way ahead of Canada when it came to this type of thinking.

After I left radio, I started pottering with computers and made a career there. I remember listening to the first streamed radio cast … for the life of me I can’t dredge up the company’s name. I’m sure they are still around. Everyone used it because they were the only kids on the block. It was a bit shaky coming through dial up internet (yes Bobby, we really did dial in to use the internet). The downside was, it chewed through our allotted online time at record speeds. With the rush of fibre optic, cable and constant connections, streamed content boomed. Now we don’t even think about it – want to listen to radio, crank up the app. Watch some TV? Oh yes, there is an app for that.

It really was a sense of awe. It’s hard to explain to someone who’s surrounded by the tech, and grew up with it. But it felt like we were on the crest of something great. A game changing moment. Not long after that, the music industry got into a pissing match over the use of DAT tapes – digital tapes. They wanted them blocked because they were terrified of pirating. A couple of us sat around over beers one afternoon and laughed at the industry because of their actions. It was our not so humble opinion that the music industry had already lost that battle. They had a choice, back in the 80s, co-opt the tech or fight it and lose. Guess which path they picked? They may have killed DAT tapes, but they lost the digital battle. I’ve over simplified the issue, this old article from the LA Times will give you a bit of background to the fight.

Streamed radio broadcasting today

So, here I sit today – in a café, using their free wifi, writing on my tablet, listening to streamed radio. When I attended the seminar, I didn’t even own a computer (they were horrendously expensive). We had ONE in the station and it was dedicated to our news feed.

What am I listening to? A station from Europe. My favourite RTBF Classic 21 from Belgium. Classic 60s music all day long. Other days I tune into BBC 4. I never listen to FM or AM, I sold my radios years ago. I’m strictly a streamed digital fan. Never had a high tolerance level for static, even when I worked in radio, so digital radio has been a boon. And that’s what was so exciting to me, the thought I could pick a station half way around the world and quietly while away an afternoon listening to it. If I ever get energetic, I may start a podcast. Maybe …