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Ramsey's wrong that Haley was wrong: Radio CAN be delivered unchanged online

Posted on: 02/15/2008

In RAB head Jeff Haley’s impressive keynote speech at the RAB on Tuesday morning in Atlanta, he made an observation that researcher/consultant Mark Ramsey objected to strenuously in his “Hear 2.0” blog yesterday.

But I think Mark misinterpreted Jeff’s point, which I believe was perfectly valid and is important to consider.

First, here’s what Mark wrote in his blog:

A lesson for RAB’s Jeff Haley

The RAB needs to learn more about its industry.

In his comments at the RAB this week, chief Jeff Haley said this about radio’s translation to new media:

Print and video are different experiences when they move to digital –- Radio is not. The Rolling Stones sound like The Rolling Stones no matter the channel.

This is not just wrong, but shockingly so.

Jeff, any time you move from one medium to another you change the message. This is Marshall McLuhan 101.

The issue is not whether the Rolling Stones sound like the Rolling Stones across media (although it’s interesting that you picked a band best known for its output in the 60’s and 70’s), the issue is what it means to be “radio” when you exist across media and where each medium has different potentialities that extend well beyond audio alone.

A book is different from a movie is different from a play.

What is “radio” in a medium with pictures and video?

What is “radio” in a medium where consumers create the content?

What is “radio” in a medium where community and social interaction are part of the product rather than simply part of the audience?

What is “radio” in a medium where almost any company or any individual can string together their own playlist that is equal to yours?

The folks at RAB either need to take a class in Media — or talk to a few 12-year-olds.


Why Haley was right

I believe Mark has the context of Jeff’s comment backwards.

What Jeff was saying was that the experience of AM/FM listening can be delivered perfectly and unchanged via the Internet. And that is absolutely correct.

For sitting on your sofa listening to the local Smooth Jazz station, it doesn’t matter if the radio in the room is an FM radio or a PC playing the station’s stream. The listening experience is identical. Close your eyes, and you can’t tell the difference.

This is not true for print. If one wants to curl up the sofa with one’s sweetie, drink coffee together, and read the Sunday New York Times, flipping through some sections quickly, savoring others, etc., you can’t replicate that experience using NYT.com.

Similarly, watching TV is a much different experience online. You’re not going to be watching an HD picture in surround sound on your 54” plasma TV — at least not in 2008.

Enhanced, yes

In all three cases above, it’s true — and this is what Mark was talking about — that the online version can do more: More choice, more control, and in the case of print, better search capability. (For example, in a good online version of a Smooth Jazz station, I could theoretically increase or reduce the percentage of soft R&B and/or mainstream 1950s jazz that I hear.)

But Jeff’s point was something different. He pointed out, correctly, that the Internet is a perfect delivery method for AM/FM radio programming — it delivers the experience verbatim.

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  1. I think Mark is more on point that the keynote speech delivers the wrong message. The keynote takeaway is wrong … radio is unchanged on the net. Yes, your point on RAIN is true that listening can be the same; however, “the same” falls short of the interactive potential the net brings to radio. The same isn’t good enough. Radio needs to be better.

    Steve Poley · Feb 15, 08:23 AM · #

  2. Kirk, well reasoned.
    Thank-you for your continued good work. Kind regard, Andy McNabb McNabb Broadcasting

    Andy McNabb · Feb 15, 08:29 AM · #

  3. But, Kurt, I think you are forgetting that radio will more and more than ‘your’ passive listening. When you have a lot of tools in a web page associated to the live show, how can you ignore that? How can you ignore, when DJs will push you to the web page (to buy the song, to give your opinion about the song or even to see a new video clip about this old song – maybe a mashup done by a fan? Listen passively will be more and more a rarety.

    joao paulo meneses · Feb 15, 10:26 PM · #

  4. I’ve heard this arguement that internet radio will be interactive to the extreme, with listeners shuffling playlists, chatting via webcams and creating mashups of what they hear. Yes, there will be some of that… but will you do that when you’re driving in your car? How about when your alarm clock goes off in the morning, or in the shower, or while you’re eating breakfast, or while you’re at work, or when you’re winding down at night? There have always been “interactive” listeners who called in requests, won prizes at remotes, and brought brownies to the station. However, many of us have been satisfied to find a channel that entertains us, and go about our daily business. Don’t count passive listening out yet!

    Gene Savage · Feb 17, 12:37 PM · #

  5. Kurt,

    Agree with your take. Further, our research has indicated people are, in the majority of cases, satisfied simply listening to a stream of choice and when offered the ability to “interact” most often elect to pass. This seems to suggest online listening is just that – listening.

    David Martin · Feb 19, 09:27 AM · #

  6. Kurt, you’re both right, and that’s what so great about this opportunity for broadcasters. On-line Radio listening can be as passive as regular radio, or as interactive as anyone can imagine. Depends on the listener, and why not serve as many cohorts as you can? One point I haven’t seen mentioned, however, is that a station’s advertising value may differ on-air vs. on-line, because all on-air listeners are local, and on-line listeners may not be. The numbers on this are interesting — some show that most broadcast radio listening on-line is still local. But some tailoring of ads specific to on-air or on-line might be worthwhile in the future.

    Skip Pizzi · Feb 20, 06:49 AM · #

  7. «will you do that when you are driving your car?», asks Gene. In-car we will be not so active, but don’t think always be the same. I’m not talking about iPods and multimedia centers, I’m talking about our present passive listening. Systems managed by voice will transform this idea, as we know it (and don’t forget about what iPods will do: they will share the listening in-car and reduce the market to thin numbers)

    joao paulo meneses · Feb 21, 10:35 PM · #

  8. Sorry to insist, but let me recomend this two links (they say a lot):

    joao paulo meneses · Feb 29, 10:05 PM · #

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