Only a few short years ago it would have been inconceivable that there would be as many radio listening options as there are today. It is not just the integration of the computer into our lives, and the logical extension of using those computers as an entertainment option, but rather the sheer volume and choices in streaming radio that have become available. Whatever your taste in music or spoken word, there is an internet radio station that caters to that taste. These days it does not matter if your musical development stops at the Grateful Dead, or that you "live ‘;for talk shows that discuss UFOs, you will probably not find one, but many online stations that program that 24/7.
Several years ago the futurist Faith popcorn talked about the trend toward "cocooning" – building an individual, comfortable space around each individual. She may as well have been talking about internet radio as that is rather what this art form has become.
The holy grail of internet radio is profitability, and very few stations or station clusters have achieved it. To a great extent this has helped online radio gain a stronger foothold than it might have otherwise, as it has helped define that medium. That is, internet radio is essentially commercial-free. That means that those stations doing it that are not connected with a commercial broadcast station are doing it for ego, and the love of producing a program that is different than what is available through AM and FM stations.
It will be interesting to see how these stations and the greater online radio industry develops over the next couple of years. The next most important development will likely be the increased availability of internet access in cars. This will seriously challenge traditional broadcasters who have always held that in-car listening was their domain. In the long run, maintaining "their domain" may be center around producing programming that financially strapped internet radio can not – programs with a high personality or local content.
However slowly or quickly in-car internet listening happens is really irrelevant as the battle lines have already been clearly drawn. I suspect that long term liability of AM and FM stations will hinge more on how fast they retrench as purveyors of personality in its many forms, and leave the wall-to-wall music formats to iPods and marginally profitable internet stations.
When this happens as it must, given the economies and strengths of broadcast over internet-delivered formats, the winner will certainly be the listener, and this is what it should have been about all along!