Terrestrial Radio

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I heard someone on the radio today refer to radio as terrestrial radio (as opposed to internet "radio"). A quick Google search reveals that this inaccurate term has become fairly standard. Now internet "radio" is not radio but simply music selected by someone else to listen to coming via another medium. People do that over radio waves too, and they just wanted to capture the feel of radio stations but in a different medium. I could understand internet television, since that term is not tied to the medium the signal is carried in. But the word 'radio' is, or at least it used to be before whoever started talking about internet "radio" hijacked the term.

It's always seemed a bad idea to me to call that radio, but I think it's worse to refer to actual radio as terrestrial radio. Something is terrestrial if it is on the ground. Radio waves go through the air. What's worse, however, is that internet "radio" is much closer to the ground than actual radio. Internet cables can run through the air but can also run along the ground or underground. It would thus be much more accurate to call radio by its name, 'radio', and to refer to this thing they're calling internet "radio" as terrestrial radio. It wouldn't be accurate, but it would be more accurate than what they're using the term for now. But I guess people who coin words don't often think about what they're doing, and we've now got a case where terrestrial radio is not terrestrial, and internet radio is not radio. At least they're not distinguishing between AM and FM internet radio.

5 Comments

I've usually heard "terrestrial radio" used to denote radio broadcasted from towers on the surface of the planet. This is in contrast to "satellite radio." And that usage isn't so bad, is it?

I suppose that's better, if the contrast is with satellite radio, but I don't think they mentioned satellite radio at all in the conversation I was listening to.

They ought to call it "tower radio" instead of "terrestrial radio" to be consistent with the misuse.

What about calling "internet radio" something like "internet streaming" or "internet music"?

You really crack me up, Jeremy! But, you are right, that is an unfortunate confusion of the words and their meanings.

This reminds me of the question that so often is offered as a joke or a wisecrack, "Why is it that when you transport goods on land, it is called a shipment, but when you do so by sea, it is called cargo?"

I guess that just goes to show that language is dynamic, and unfortunately words do change their meanings over time and in different cultural contexts. That is why interpreting the Biblical texts and other historical literature can be such a tedious task! And, perhaps that's why some of us enjoy this so much!

Astute observations indeed, but when you get right down to it, computer and internet jargon has added a lot of confusion to our language. Visit, used to mean physically going over to some place, not visit us online. Just one example of many. How about Celestial radio for internet, since it's "in the cloud" (another term I hate).

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