By Michael Miner, Chicago Reader
Radio communication has come a long way since World War I, when the tactic of sending infantry forward shielded by an artillery barrage was confounded by the inability of the advancing infantry to tell the distant cannoneers exactly where they were.
By World War II the problem was solved, and a staple of the Hollywood movies of that era is the scene where a crouching radioman whispers coordinates. Today there’s not much radio can’t do: we hop in the car, punch a button on the dash, and settle into the music that puts our minds at ease or the news that tells us what’s going on all over the world and our city. During rush hours, radio reports incessantly on the state of the expressways, allowing us to plan our routes accordingly.
The current state of radio is captured nicely by an award that Ron Gleason, director of news and programming at CBS-owned WBBM-AM, told me about the other day. The Web Marketing Association had just named CBS’s Radio.com app the year’s best radio mobile application. “Our audience,” said the CBS entry, “is anyone that wants access to their favorite radio stations, whether it is sports, news, talk, rock, country or any of our other formats, any time of day no matter where they are.” Say you were in Minneapolis last Sunday, and wanted to hear the Bears-Vikings game as called by your hometown’s Newsradio 780 announcers. A couple of clicks on your smartphone and you were in business.
But apps keep coming and bragging rights are never long settled. HearHere Radio, a Chicago-based start-up, will grant Radio.com its Bears game; but let’s say you’re back home in Hinsdale, it’s Monday morning, and you’re facing the long drive to work in the Loop. Let’s also say HearHere’s Rivet News Radio app works the way it’s supposed to. It’s divided greater Chicago (from the Loop 40 miles out in all directions) into five zones and, thanks to GIS, it knows you’re starting out in the zone it calls “west suburbs.” It gives you the state of the expressways through your zone but spares you all the others, and when your car passes into the “Chicago” zone, its traffic report changes accordingly. Rivet is leading you—in sort of the way field radios let the artillery lead the ground troops pushing west through France.