Radio-free radio

Bites loves radio, can’t get enough of it, especially that portion of the FM band below about 92 megahertz. But things are changing in Radioland. For example, Bites hadn’t noticed anything was amiss down at the left end of the dial until Davis writer (and SN&R theater critic) Jeff Hudson clued us in on some heavy-duty technical difficulties over at the UC Davis, free-form, student-run station KDVS.

The station’s radio signal had gone quiet sometime on May 26, and a week later, the tower was rocking nothing but dead air. Punching up 90.3 on the Bitesmobile sound system produced only static. Well, static with intermittent patches of what sound suspiciously like Christian rock—perhaps from some far off repeater station bleeding the word o’ God over into KDVS’ abandoned wavelength.

According to station manager Neil Ruud—whose first day as manager was last Tuesday, yikes—the problem first appeared to be a faulty amplifier tube, but soon turned out to be full-fledged antennae failure.

When Bites last talked to Ruud, he was still waiting for the guy from the antenna company to come take a look. You never know when those antenna guys are going to show up. “It should be any day,” Ruud explained.

But it turns out that going off the air is not what it used to be. Hudson wrote about KDVS’ transmitter trouble in the Davis Enterprise, noting that some of the station’s frequent listeners “hardly noticed, because they routinely tune in via the station’s website,” and the KDVS Web stream has been flowing quite nicely. And while the station doesn’t track its online listeners vs. its FM audience, Ruud guessed the split was 50-50.

And Hudson noted that public radio is quickly moving away from, well, radio. “The day of the big tower in the cornfield is coming to an end,” he told Bites.

Weirdly enough, while the tower in the field is becoming extraneous, radio in some ways, is getting better and better.

Bites listens to a fair amount of National Public Radio via their killer iPhone app, and has mostly stopped tuning into KDVS’ This Week in Science in favor of the weekly TWIS podcast. The best music on Capital Public Radio is probably on their Off Air program, which is a Web-only program. Every week, the Bitespod is updated with some of the best journalism being done anywhere, in any format, in the form of new episodes of This American Life, Radiolab and Planet Money. (All free for the downloading, but not cheap to make, so support your local station!)

It feels like we must be entering some sort period that is both the golden age of radio and the end of radio at the same time.

And Hudson’s predictions seem to be backed up a day later by NPR’s CEO Vivian Schiller, who said last week at The Wall Street Journal’s “All Things Digital” conference in Rancho Palo Verdes that “Radio towers are going away within 10 years, and Internet radio will take its place. This is a huge change, and we should embrace it.” KDVS just jumped the gun a little bit.