Who’d be an early adopter? Don’t these people ever learn from their
premature enthusiasms? Their attics must be fascinating, stuffed to the
rafters with Sinclair C5s, laser disc players, Philips 2000 video
recorders, squarials and boxes full of remote controls that have long
since lost the tool they were assigned to.
But, of course, they are already off in pursuit of the latest novelty,
never questioning the astonishing expense of being a pioneer. Successful
new technologies have a habit of getting cheaper quite quickly if you
have the patience (which the early adopter doesn’t). I understand, for
example, that the cost of computer power has come down by a factor of
8000 in the past 30 years. If the equivalent were true in the car
market, by the way, a Jaguar would cost pounds 2 and go 1000 miles on a
thimble of petrol, but that’s another story.
The early adopters of digital television may be wondering why the more
circumspect, ’late’ adopters are being given their set-top boxes for
nothing, but on second thoughts, they are almost certainly out there
scouring the high streets for a digital radio. Never mind that there is
nothing to listen to, or that a digital radio will set them back pounds
500, it is the early adopter’s buzz to get in there at the head of the
These tunnel-visioned nutters must, however, give the consortia now
bidding for the digital radio franchises a faint glimmer of hope.
Goodness knows, there is little else to get excited about in digital
radio at the moment.
But radio has come a long way in the past few years. The number of
stations has grown rapidly to more than 270, and the medium, astutely
marketed, now accounts for pounds 5 out of every pounds 100 spent on
advertising in the UK.
Isn’t it ready for the digital revolution just like its colourful big
I wonder. The great strength of radio is its simplicity: no pictures, or
- as Radio Luxembourg used to sell it - ’pictures in the mind’.
Astonishingly, one-third of all listening is to AM and long wave
stations, so superior quality reception doesn’t seem to be a
prerequisite for listeners.
Then there is radio’s other great defining quality: it’s happiness to
take second place to driving, eating, ironing, cooking, chatting,
reading, gardening - whatever. The average household has five radio sets
already, instant accompaniment to life. One of the greatest benefits of
digital is interactivity: but will listeners really want to interact
with their radio sets?
The other great difference between radio and television in the digital
stakes is that while digital television really will extend choice for
many, the radio listener is already well-served. What role for digital
Of course the truth is that the bidders for digital radio aren’t
expecting an instant explosion of consumer interest. They are putting
down seed corn for the future - probably the ten-year horizon rather
than the five-year one. When the opportunity eventually comes, and
digital radio sets are a fiver a piece, they will be best-placed to reap
This is the sort of early adoption I can relate to, but for radio
advertisers in the next few years, the best advice is probably not to
hold your breath.