How radio gets smart
by Doc Searls Wednesday, January 10, 2018

(This expands on my comment under “Alexa” Battles “Home” at CES. Radio Should be Watching. in Radio Ink.)

Station identification for ESPN radio shows now include the ESPN app. For NPR stations, it's now "your local station or your smart speaker." So it's clear that radio is moving from over the air to over the Net, and what we (soon) used to call "coverage" is no longer limited by range over geography, but by access over Internet devices.

That's one upside.

Another upside is that radio can now be interactive, meaning the listeners can do the talking as well. They can also sing back, sing along, join in with their own instruments, record streams and create mixes to distribute or share back. Those are all within the technical horizon of smart speakers today.

The downside is that smart speakers, so far, are a form of premium subscription cable radio, and what you can get is limited by what Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Sonos or some other company facilitates. And much or all of that facilitation is in those companies' "clouds," rather than on your own independent device. Worse, those systems are closed and proprietary, meaning they don't get along well with each other, on purpose. That's so you get trapped inside those companies' "silos" or "walled gardens." Worse than that, you have levels of privacy—at least with some of them—that are hardly above zero. (Apple is an exception here, or at least tries to be.)

Another interesting effect of smart speakers (and satellite speakers in, for example, Sonos and Bose systems) is the end of stereo sound outside the headphone, car and home theater environments. Today only audiophiles still care deeply about the science and art of stereo music through speakers.