Who cares about Digital Radio? We’ve already got it. It’s called “the internet”.

Seriously. Why shell out for a new appliance whose only function is to receive a couple dozen local broadcasts when your existing equipment and internet connection can already bring you thousands of live audio streams from around the globe?

Take Apple’s iTunes software. It’s installed on the computers of pretty much everyone who has an iPhone or iPod — that’s one million Australians — plus anyone else who cares to download it. iTunes currently lists more than 3600 internet “radio” stations. The content covers the full spectrum from pop (310 streams) and classic rock (128) to folk (48) and comedy (14). Even US Congress, via C-SPAN Radio.

And that’s just what’s been submitted to Apple’s catalog. There’s many more. All available for free, no extra equipment needed.

Sure, you need an internet connection. But mobile broadband already covers 99% of the Australian population, even without the National Broadband Network and a Wi-Fi tail in your home or office. Data prices trend ever downwards. Compared to the bandwidth used for that full HD copy of Lesbian Vampire Killers you just downlo … um, I mean rented legitimately through a reputable online distributor, an audio-only stream is nothing.

According to 2008 research by m.Net Corporation, Australian mobile phones are more likely than not (53%) to be broadband-capable (i.e. 3G or 3.5G) and 57% of mobile-owners already use it for “entertainment services”.

At home, want to listen via something more living-room-friendly than a computer? There’s already plenty of choice. Digital entertainment players like the Netgear EVA8000 and its many competitors don’t just stream internet radio, they play videos and photo slideshows too — and cost under $400.

Other wireless-capable devices like the Chumby and the cute-as-heck bunny-eared Nabaztag read news, share prices, time, weather, traffic information, messages from your friends — and, yes, play internet radio — customisable for your needs.

On the content-creation side, entry-level computers and smartphones have everything you need to create a radio program. Free services like Shoutcast stream out the audio to your audience.

The same can be said for TV, using streaming services like Ustream and Mogulus — and even Qik video streaming direct from mobile phones. As cheaper bandwidth becomes available, the centralised media factories suffer. First newspapers, then radio, then TV. All will slowly wither away.

Yes, all this does indeed create a serious problem for existing broadcasters. What does Breakfast with Blocko and Narelle really offer that can’t be done by a $160 plastic rabbit?

The broadcasters will fight back. DMG has announced an iPhone application for receiving their digital channels over the internet. The ABC is rumoured to be developing one for Triple J.

But, as I say, why set yourself up with one or a dozen or two dozen channels when there are thousands — including one created by people you know for people just like you?

Or one created specifically for you?

By a plastic rabbit.

Digital Radio is simply too late to save broadcast radio. It’s as pointless as streamlined steam locomotives in the age of the diesel-electric.