Although I’ve learned something before about the Telecommunications Act of 1996 in another CCT course – “Regulating International Networks: Internet, Television and Telecommunications” which was taught by a FCC staff, this week’s reading helps me to explore an unknown part of the story – radio regulation. Just as the title of the course which I mentioned above shows, when we talk about FCC regulations today, the main focal points include the Internet and Telecom, sometimes TV, but no longer radio. It seems that no one cares about radio anymore in the digital age, however, by no means can we deny radio’s huge impact on music industry in the history.
Looking back at the early years when the technology and medium of radio still belonged to a few amateurs, music sharing used to be one of the primary contents of radio communication. As soon as the technology was embraced as broadcasting, its social and cultural influences, not only in terms of music, suddenly extended from private to public domain. Let’s recall the time when we didn’t own computer and Internet access – where did we receive information about the music we love? Music programs on television were very limited before the launch of MTV; music magazines of course always recommend a bunch of names of artists and albums, but not everyone could afford the records as well as music players. Therefore DJs in radio stations became our “first teacher” of our musical taste.
Nowadays, as far as I know, there are still a large number of radio listeners in China, mainly composed of taxi and bus drivers, students, working classes, senior citizens, etc. Also, music radio is undoubtedly still a crucial part of broadcasting services at both local and national levels. More and more people today use mobile devices to listen to radio on their way to work or home, and music programs are definitely the first choice as “travel companion”. Many DJs still have strong popularity and credibility, which to some extent determines artist promotion, record sales and even the trend of the whole industry. In Hong Kong, for example, three of the “big four” music awards are hosted by one public and two commercial radio stations, with better credibility and reputation than the other one hosted by TV station.
Since the United States has always been viewed as a successful model of media convergence, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 also serves as an important reference for Chinese government during the last decade of Telecom Reform. In fact, the promotion of the so-called “tri-network convergence” currently in some major cities of China is exactly the same thing which the US did before. But the results are quite different due to many complicated factors including regulation: telecom and broadcasting sectors in China are basically state-owned under strict control by the SARFT and MIIT, while the FCC encouraged free market access and competition through deregulation – although it turned out that competition was reduced while monopoly was expanded.
The transformations occurred in the radio industry affected the music industry significantly, mainly in a negative way. Then how about the digital era? “Piracy is the new radio”, claimed by Neil Young at the Dive Into Media Conference, seems to be the new reality our generation is facing. But traditional radio still matters, especially for people in less developed areas and local communities without access to broadband or digital devices. Moreover, for specific genres and niche formats such as jazz, classical, and folk, small radio stations are still essential to help keep a diverse musical culture.