Back in September, Radio World published a column titled “The Problem Isn’t Demand, It’s Bandwidth” by veteran broadcast engineer, Frank McCoy. The title was a bit of a non sequitur, because of course if there was no demand, bandwidth wouldn’t be a problem.
McCoy notes that:
… There are dire predictions that radio's best days have come and gone. Who can blame the pundit who sees only a simple consumer choice between listening to what some radio program director predicts that I (and 20,000 other people) want to hear, and choosing for myself exactly what I want when I want it? …
… Should we all be concerned that the days of the 1,000-foot tower are gone and that anyone with a computer and an Internet connection is a possible new competitor? Will radio as we know it become just another feature of cell phones? Will in-car Internet give commuters millions of station choices? ¶ The answer is no. …
He arrives at this “comforting” conclusion by comparing the bandwidth required by IP audio streams in a real-world situation vs. available bandwidth, finding that IP audio just won’t scale up enough to be a threat to radio broadcasters.
The exercise is interesting, but it would be a mistake for us to draw much comfort in it – at least if your goal is to stop worrying about other platforms.
 Distribution technology isn’t a static thing. For example, one of the commenters to his article points to a new broadcast-friendly technology called Multimedia Broadcast and Multicast Services (MBMS) now being rolled out in certain cellular telephone networks. Other multicasting* efforts are also in development or available.
*NB: IP multicasting has a different meaning than does broadcast multicasting. Rather, it is a way to achieve one-to-many bandwidth scaling without having to have to “home run” each stream back to the original server. In other words, IP multicasting is roughly comparable to what we mean by broadcasting.
 Other technology components aren’t static, either. Better compression and error correction algorithms are being developed all the time which enable more and better services in less spectrum. And, for music stations, there is already the profound effect already felt from digital music players like the iPod, which in turn benefit from improvements in mass storage. Moore’s Law posits a doubling of data capacity every 18 months. One might ask, why take up valuable spectrum to repeatedly retransmit bits that can be more easily stored in a listener’s purse or shirt pocket? Or, as Pandora, Slacker and other streamers-that-learn have done, why not, if you’re going to retransmit bits, at least customize the radio experience on the fly? Smart radio operators in the future will learn how to stitch value into, and thereby extract value from, these customizable streams.
 IP streamers and broadcasters aren’t the only games in town. Digital TV broadcasters are about to get into the act with the ATSC-M/H standard in this country as DVB-H and 1seg have done so elsewhere. While billed as mobile video services, they also do mobile audio much more efficiently than the IP streaming most stations use now, so look for some of that traffic to migrate to the television spectrum.
 Ever since the brainy actress, Hedy Lamarr, co-invented frequency-hopping radio in 1941, our notions of spectrum as protected real estate have been under challenge. Some feel that spectrum as we know it is an obsolete concept – that smart receivers and smart transmitters can much more efficiently utilize the spectrum than can the geographically-allocated transmitters and dumb receivers that we now use (a huge amount of existing spectrum is un- or under-used due to the need to protect cheaply-made receivers). I posted back in June about efforts to raise a public debate about this from the New America Foundation, which had just published four papers on the topic. I doubt that either the economics of the consumer electronic industry or the requirement for the FCC to maintain a detailed and accurate database of transmitters in use will favor this idea any time soon, but these conditions, too, are not static and will likely become more favorable to more spectrum-efficient technologies in the future.
 Lastly, we broadcasters shouldn’t think of this as a complete migration of broadcast listening to mobile IP platforms insofar as its economic consequences. To be consequential to us, these services have to only skim the cream off our listening to harm the thinning margins that most stations are experiencing. So these new services don’t have to capture the full broadcast load of listener attention to do damage to legacy broadcasters.
Some 50 years back, radio faced another challenge as television decimated its previous programming model. Needle-drop radio replaced it and a new business model was born. We need to be at least as agile in adjusting broadcast service and business models as technology has shown in its ability to evolve over time. As the old joke’s punch line goes, one doesn’t have to run faster than the bear, just faster than you.
As always, opinions expressed here are my own. --Dennis