“Who said radio is irrelevant?”

Joan Warner, Chief Executive Officer of radio’s peak body, Commercial Radio Australia, wants to know. Speaking this morning from the embers of digital radio’s flashy Sydney launch, Warner would conscience no new media piffle about the ruin of her industry.

The large attendance at today’s Radio United Event, she said, is evidence of the nation’s enduring passion for the terrestrial. It was suggested to me via Tweet that “2000+ish” punters witnessed the historical moment unfold in Sydney’s Martin Place. 2000+ish doesn’t seem like a lot of passion from a city of 4 million.

Informal datasets by means of Twitter aside, Warner launched an erudite defence for radio’s future.

At the suggestion that consumers will eventually shun music radio in favour of portable on-demand media players, Warner let forth a salvo of numbers.

Advertising revenues, she says, are stable and robust in this sector.

While no figures are yet available for sales of DAB+ digital radio receivers, these will be monitored and released in the long term by GfK Retail and Technology. Significantly, a “platform of listening” box will be checked in the Nielsen media surveys. This means that digital will soon be included in radio ratings books. Warner supposes that we will start to see trending toward digital listening by 09’s final survey. She predicts that commercial digital radio licensees will show profit from their new, and more expensive, means of transmission within five years.

“Ha!” says my shadowy contact in commercial radio.

For a start, he says, uptake of hardware that costs upward of $150 and destroys, despite its docking functionality, the look of your iPod is likely to be very, very sluggish.

According to Mr Shadow, commercial radio never wanted this pricey millstone.

“Their participation in it is nothing more than an attempt to protect market share. They’re there solely to keep competitors out.”

Under the current arrangement, there are no competitors to traditional providers of radio on the digital multiplexes. It does seem odd that with enlarged bandwidth there are no current opportunities for niche broadcasters.

Expect, he says, no profits and, “automated crap like Novanation”. A current view in commercial radio is that “alternative” talk is the medium’s only future.

“That is, talk for emerging audience, not your established listener of 2GB,” says Shadow. The migration to digital by traditional talk stations will hardly attract new audience. Who, after all, really needs to hear Alan Jones in stereo?

America’s Sirius-XM satellite radio company is holding firm in its conviction that talk, largely in the form of Howard Stern, is the way of the future.

It’s a shame, then, that the ABC is yet to offer anything more than music options. Won’t someone tell the new head of ABC Radio to buy Philip Adams a case of Shiraz and lock him in a studio for five hours a day?

“I’d listen to that,” says Shadow.

Peter Fray

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