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Memo to group heads: How to "get radio growing again"

Posted on: 02/01/2008

Lots of talk about the perceptions of radio“ at the first-ever Southern California Broadcasters Association/thinkLA confab, in front of 700 pretty passionate advertising and radio people,” Tom Taylor writes today in in his “Taylor on Radio-Info” newsletter.

He continues, “[Clear Channel’s] John Hogan started the ‘View from the Top’ saying ‘performance and capability is not our problem. Our problem is one of perception…’

Citadel’s Farid Suleman… got off tons of funny lines but is deadly serious when he says the problem is ‘how to get radio to grow again.’”

The answer is simple

Fortunately, this problem can be solved more easily than Farid imagines. In fact, it can be solved virtually immediately.

The solution: Redefineradio.”

According to genius consultant Walter Sabo, as recently as the 1970s, stand-alone FM radio stations were not allowed to join the NAB because they weren’t considered “radio.”

If you definedradio“ as AM radio stations back then, radio was in a period of serious decline — far worse than terrestrial radio’s current situation. But once you changed your definition and defined “radio” as both bands, the medium instantly (and honestly) was incredibly healthy!

In 2008, if you define “radio” as AM, FM, satellite, and streaming (both of AM/FM stations and Internet-only radio properties like LAUNCHcast and Pandora and a panapoly of others), then, once again, radio is healthier and more vibrant than it’s ever been.

And of course this makes sense. Tell an XM or Sirius listener that they’re not listening to the radio, for example, and they’ll think you’re a crazy loon.

Fight the future?

The NAB has commissioned “brand consultant” Kelly O’Keefe to help design a national “pro-radio” campaign called “Radio 2020.” (Yeah, me neither. I would point you to the O’Keefe Brands website, but — and I haven’t seen this for years, except on “The Office” — it’s “Under construction!”)

Radio 2020 is supposed to “remind listeners, advertisers and the electronics industry of the important role radio plays in daily life.”

But all of the weight that the NAB and its members can put behind this campaign can’t amount to a tiny fraction of the social and cultural and technological and business trends that are pushing the other direction (i.e., that will lead to the growing take-up of new radio listening alternatives beyond traditional AM and FM transmissions).

Rather than requiring a 12-year campaign, which I would argue might not work anyway, this “perceived lack of growth” problem can be solved within months or even weeks:

Defineradio“ more inclusively (and, by the way, play ball in that larger arena, so you’re part of the action), and radio is a renaissance right now.

Isn’t that the better approach?

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  1. I agree with you, Kurt. Radio is more than just broadcast. It is “all” the radios—terrestrial, satellite, and Internet. This is why my long used textbook, THE RADIO STATION, now has a subtitle—BROADCAST, SATELLITE, AND INTERNET. It’s also why I teach a course called “Soundcasting Media,” which focuses on the development, technology, and operations of ALL of these forms of radio.

    michael keith · Feb 1, 07:16 AM · #

  2. Despite the old cliché, reality is driving perception, not the reverse. Even if you could change radio’s perception (whose perception isn’t clear – the public’s, the ad community’s, Wall Street’s?) radio’s reality would remain the same.

    Here’s a quick dose of radio reality. While radio’s reach has remained stable, radio’s delivery in rating points has not. Radio is bought by rating point delivery, not reach.

    Radio ad spending is slipping – due not so much to perception, but mostly due to the same thing that’s costing it delivery – competition. People have other media options that they didn’t have 10 years ago (Internet, iPod, Wii, Xbox. PSP, Cell Phone, Etc.) and buyers have other buying options – everything from the Internet to wacky, non-traditional media.

    AT+T used to be in the landline business and now they’re in the data transfer business, doing quite well. Radio is metaphorically, still in the landline business trying, to figure out how to enhance its perception.

    Radio’s perception is tied to its reality. If radio will harness its strengths and (still) large communities into some of the areas that are siphoning its audience and revenue, it can become AT+T. If not, it will melt into a fragment of its former self until it’s too late to harness its assets into some other forms of entertainment. That’s where the recorded music industry seems to be now. Radio should ignore the warning signs at its own peril. Spin isn’t the answer. Practical, flexible ingenuity is.

    Bob Bellin · Feb 1, 08:43 AM · #

  3. I agree kurt but cant help wondering how a web only ststion can find a way forward with such high demands for copyright. Until this fiasco is sorted out i dont think any web station can move forward and maybe back. to off if what I read is correct that Hillary Clinton has persauded congress to hold IREA until one year after elections then most stations will be bankrupt.

    mike allen · Feb 1, 08:47 AM · #

  4. The consumer needs and wants different types of programming during their day. From music to talk, education to fantasy, sports, cooking, “how to” and more. The inclusion of Internet, satellite and others would not only increase the “radio” audience, but increase the potential for radio programmers individually and collectively. This, in turn, would increase the listening audience giving direct access to targeted consumers for increased revenue opnions.

    Allen Johnston · Feb 1, 09:11 AM · #

  5. Wow, we really can’t be serious about solving radio’s problem by redefining “radio.” That sounds like Stalinesque Five-Year-Plan doubletalk. Kurt, have you forgotten your own headline of December 17th? “Often-ignored Fact: Internet Radio is a Different Medium.” You had it right.

    Radio is radio is radio. It’s free. It’s time-based. It’s space-based. It flows in one direction (requests aside). Truth: radio as we have known it for 80+ years is in an accelerating decline, and changing terminology isn’t going to change the facts.

    The reality check here is this: “and, by the way, play ball in that larger arena, so you’re part of the action” – sound advice; indeed, crucial. The question is, can big radio figure out how to play ball in the “larger arena”? If they do, they have a chance in the media industry – which isn’t the same as the radio business.

    nick · Feb 1, 11:14 AM · #

  6. Nick —

    Interesting points, but… Hmmm….

    I believe that, by your logic, cable TV would not be considered “TV” — and absolutely DirecTV and HBO wouldn’t be. Yet the person watching “Deadwood” tonight on HBO via DirecTV certainly thinks she is watching TV. Similarly, I believe that “free” and “location-based” don’t have to be defining requirements of what we call “radio.”

    My point on December 17th was that FM can do more than AM (because it can do stereo and has better fidelity), satelite-delivered radio can do even more (because it has a huge amount of bandwidth to play with, plus national coverage), and Internet-delivered radio can do more yet — and that programmers should try to take full advantages of the capabilties of each new iteration.

    Kurt Hanson · Feb 4, 06:04 AM · #

  7. I agree with Kurt’s ideas.

    By including Internet radio within the broader context of radio, as Kurt defines this word, not only would the NAB be
    recognizing the reality
    that new technologies are pushing radio in new directions. More than that, perhaps, by doing so, the NAB would have even more reason to lobby Congress to pass legislation like that of the Internet Radio Equality Act.

    By enacting the IREA all of radio, as generally defined above, would benefit.

    Charlie · Feb 4, 11:41 AM · #

  8. kurt,

    well i have to admit i was asking for it, with my snotty tone and all. but i think the HBO analogy is imprecise – if we received HBO on a separate HBO machine instead of our television, we wouldn’t call it tv. and by the way, all the satellite listeners i know speak of their medium as “satellite” or “satellite radio,” or “XM” or “Sirius,” never, ever the unmodified “radio.”

    anyway, i often fret about the medium we still call radio, which engenders a particular kind of listening, different from the myriad internet-based modes of listening. to introduce my own imprecise analogy, it’s almost like an audio version of the Slow Food movement, with its disadvantages, but also, its rewards (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slow_Food).

    so i was objecting to the notion that by changing the terms we use, we can erase the challenges facing this kind of radio. but i misunderstood – saving radio isn’t the game y’all were playing. obviously, there are still incredible opportunities for programmers on the web. but the web isn’t television, and it isn’t radio.



    nick · Feb 4, 11:47 AM · #

  9. I couldn’t agree with you more Kurt. Radio has always been a mobile media source that can accompany you anywhere. And looking at the fast pace of technology, Internet radio will be fully portable within the next couple of years. Why can’t terrestrial radio get the grasp of the impact that’s going to be on the industry? Gordon Borell of Borell Associates stated at the last Texas Broadcasters Convention, “If I were to tell you that the Internet is at critical mass like TV was in 1960, would you believe me?” With the internet a 20 billion dolalr plus ad revenue gaenerator last year, damn skippy, I believe.

    That being said, let me digress to make mention of the elephant in the room. For radio to see any continued growth, it must engage its listeners with great entertainment and content. Cudos to broadcasters like Dan Mason of CBS who is looking at fixing his product first. Better product brings better ratings brings revenue. Homogenized radio must go the hell away for radio to ever see growth again.

    Scott Kerr · Feb 5, 09:00 AM · #

  10. It’s all about maintaining relevance. Relevance is the key word here. Will our delivery method (AM/FM transmitters) be relevant when the mobile broadband becomes ubiquitous? In my humble opinion, we must examine our relevance and find ways to remain relevant. This goes beyond perception. It means we must think outside of the box and create compelling content which is RELEVANT to the audience we are trying to attract.

    Tom Calococci · Feb 6, 10:37 AM · #

  11. Kurt,
    We’ve been in the business of connecting listeners all over the world, beyond the dial for almost 10 years. Yet just the other day, after explaining in detail the benefits of doing so, the GM replied, “Hey Jimmy, I’m in the business of radio, ya know. This stuff means nothing to me.”

    Radio is a big ship to steer. It’ll fragment itself into niched vessels or synergize itself into something the media world can envy. Unfortunate, technology will allow no middle ground here.

    Jimmy Risk · Feb 7, 08:45 AM · #

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