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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 September 2005, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
Future looking 'rosy' for radio
By Ian Piper and Chris McWhinnie
BBC Monitoring, in Amsterdam

Image of a digital radio set
It is an evolving but bright future for radio, says the industry
Radio audiences are presented with a wider choice of stations and programmes than ever before, and they are increasingly choosing to access the sound medium without using a radio receiver.

The internet delivers thousands of traditional stations and even more music streams and podcasts - downloads for personal MP3 players.

With these broad changes afoot, delegates at the International broadcasting Convention (IBC) in Amsterdam have been considering what it all means for the future of radio.

They conclude that radio has a rosy future as it enters a new era, where sound is accompanied by pictures, textual information and other content.

Visual radio

According to Reidar Wasenius, of Nokia Multimedia, Finland, radio and mobiles go hand in hand. Many new generation mobiles already have radios in them and more people carry a phone than a radio.

Visual Radio, which started in Europe in March 2005, is a system of direct two-way interaction between the listener and the radio station.

Image of a Nokia phone
Visual radio lets you interact with the radio station
A broadcaster can create other content to display on the phone at the same time as being tuned to their FM radio station. This combines GPRS technology for transfer, data and existing FM technology.

Using traditional FM is controversial however, when part of the radio industry is encouraging and investing in digital take-up.

But the combination of two existing systems appears to be a simple solution. When questioned about the choice of FM and not digital, Mr Reidar said that "FM rocks and it works". Nokia also wanted to use conventional technology so give access to the mass market of billions of FM listeners.

The phone would show the artist and title of the music with an option to buy the track and download it as a track or ringtone.

'Red button radio'?

For the first time this would deliver impulse buying to the radio. It would be possible to see the presenter, check a weather map, read about the current programme topic or take part in a phone vote or a competition. This is the equivalent of TV's red interactive button.

So far a dozen stations across Finland, UK and Germany have installed the additional server the system requires and all users have to do is to have enabled their mobile phone handset. The station will have to update the information.

Its inventors, Nokia, and marketing partners Hewlett-Packard, are very exited about visual radio. They hope to reach some of the estimated 760 million mobile phone users worldwide. Many users upgrade regularly, so it is easy for a manufacturer to introduce a new system.

Michael Mullane from the European Broadcasting Union, Switzerland, said that people wanted more choice and radio-on-demand, alongside additional programme information. According to Mr Mullane, "radio has never sounded so good" and is "a vibrant medium with a rosy future".

James Cridland from Virgin Radio, which is only on AM frequencies in many areas of the UK is seeing a drop in AM listening.

It has clearly decided to treat radio as multi-platform medium. Virgin Radio's various brands are available via satellite, Freeview, and one show alone notched-up 85,000 podcast downloads in a month.

Chris Gould Unique, of Interactive UK, said that the key to making sense of all this radio choice is an electronic programme guide (EPG), a feature more familiar to multi-channel TV viewers.

An example is the Radiotime website. Such guides can offer programme links and is the way to ensure that listeners get "what they want when they want it."

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