On a freezing night in January 2002, a train carrying hazardous materials derailed in Minot, North Dakota. The accident happened in the middle of the night, and citizens weren't alerted for hours, due in part to the fact that all local radio stations were owned by conglomerates and none were staffed overnight. The gas killed at least one person and injured around a hundred more.

With text alerts and other means of communication now, it would be much easier to alert people in times of disaster and possibly save lives. But aside from that, not much has changed in the radio landscape in the wake of the tragedy -- if anything, the consolidation that led to the situation has gotten worse. Flip through the dial of any terrestrial radio player, and you're likely to encounter content that's programmed in a central office and syndicated around the country. For a long time, people continued to listen to terrestrial radio because they wanted to hear sports scores and the local weather and traffic, but now those are all easily accessible on our phones. Why waste time listening to commercials only to hear a traffic report that may or may not help you when Google Maps and Waze will update your exact route in real time?

Paradoxically, it's online radio that might be the best thing to happen to local music scenes in a long time. Programming rotations on commercial radio stations are limited, as anyone who has listened for a few hours and heard the same tracks over and over knows. Because online stations don't have the same sales pressures as commercial stations -- experimentation doesn't really sell cars and jewelry -- they can program more niche content, and offer more variety. A terrestrial station can have one or maybe two channels in a market at most, assuming they offer an HD channel, but an online station has no such limits or boundares. If an online radio company wanted to launch a channel that only played black metal from the upper midwest, there's nothing really stopping them.

This also goes the other way -- as people have more access to online streams, they can discover content that's not local at all. It's totally possible to be in a car in Portland, Oregon, and be listening to a great set of music from Lagos, or London, or Lima. And while those DJs can't give you the local weather forecast, they can tell you about their daily lives half a world away -- something that's always an interesting learning experience, and something much more localized than any terrestrial radio station today.

The big terrestrial players are still strong, and a huge percentage of the population is still listening to the radio and using that as a primary source of music discovery. But technological advances, including better dashboards and wifi-enabled cars, are going to change all of that. People still want a lean back experience, especially in cars, and there are plenty of folks who love the idea of Sirius/XM but don't want to pay the subscription fee (and the content is tailored for an older generation). There's space for all sorts of stations, too -- no one thinks the hit pop stations will ever disappear, but folks who want to target one niche or genre will have opportunity for equal distribution as well alongside them. The future of broadcast radio is bright and we are in the infancy of its revolution.