The Death of Radio? Stop it.

    I am really disgusted by the radio industry's latest bout of self loathing. I will never understand why there are so many in our industry that think we are on the brink of collapse, regardless of the fact that the amount of radio listening has never decreased. I have been in radio for 12 years now, and every single one of those years I have heard the latest expert reading radio's last rites. But since the latest economic downturn, it seems that those in the actual industry have started to believe them! Layoffs have gone into the double digits, slashing long lists of sales and programming. Every trade publication and consultant firm has created special web pages, erecting walls to the fallen. Its not just those who are under performing. Its people who have large ratings and bring in buckets of revenue. Radio companies just slash without any consideration for the quality of the product, insane with panic because the industry will never be the same.

    Stop it! Are you people serious? The most puzzling thing about the radio industry in general is its own insecurities. The people who are in radio seem convinced that we are the "other" media. We aren't as solvent as television or print, that we are on the brink of collapse at any time. Have any of these people actually done some research? Study after study shows that Americans consume more radio than ever before. Of course the faces on television and print belittle the radio industry, they have motive to! They are competing for the same advertising dollars that we are! Yet when President Obama identified his voice of opposition, was it a blogger, columnist, or pundit? Nope, Rush Limbaugh because he is the biggest name in conservative media. He arguably created conservative media, but we set that aside. Has this industry been going out of its way to create the next Rush who created a format that didn't exist before he started? Of course not. Part of radio self loathing is as soon as a star is born, we think there can never be another. So we slash, eliminating the up and comers to make sure there will be no more profitable stars.

    Radio is a media unlike the others. Its the only one that is completely one dimensional, and the easiest to consume. Radio doesn't ask you to stop what you are doing, commanding your full attention and patience. Radio can be with you when you drive around, do housework, play video games or exercise and its the only media that can do all of that. Radio is designed to be enjoyed however you like, and however much commitment you give it is how much enjoyment you get out of it. If you leave a station on in the background, you will have noise to distract you. If you wear headphones, you will hear a produced quarter hour of carefully selected music that a professional stressed hours over. If they did it right, the mix will give you a better experience than any random internet stream will give you. If you are listening to a talk show, you can also leave it on for noise, but you can also get up to twenty minutes of free wheeling discussion that will either make you laugh, think or make you angry. No other media at all gives you twenty commercial free minutes of entertainment, and there are thousands of radio stations that are doing it right now 24 hours a day with absolutely no cost to the listener.

    Yes, ad revenue is down. Of course it is, we are in a recession.
But we still have a huge audience that we can give to our advertisers.
Now is the time to cultivate relationships with advertisers and we
can't do that when we are radically changing the product that we are
selling. Remember, its not the 60 second spots we are selling, its the airtime. Radically changing the product does not help at all in getting
revenue up.

    But yet we slash. We try to figure out how to cut corners, assuming that the industry will never be the same. Network TV numbers are way down, so they are cutting costs. Newspapers are cutting like crazy, because less people read newspapers. The number of radio listeners actually went up in 2008, but..

    Why are we looking to other media whose numbers are declining for leadership? Why don't we point out that you must pay for digital TV boxes, you must subscribe to cable, you need a subscription or a website account to view periodicals. Why can't we point out that we are the industry that thrived during the real great depression, and we have the audience that has never gone away. Why don't we point out that the rise of the Internet actually adds to radio, because it the one media that you can enjoy at the same time as surfing the web? We don't point that out, we just slash. We assume that if television and newspapers are doing it, we should too. These are the same outlets that excoriate our business, calling us "shock talk" and look down their noses at us. They shame us, call us names, put labels on us, have less of an audience than we do, compete for the same advertising dollars that we do, and yet we follow their lead.

    Don't you see that now is the time to act? Our industry is not hurting, it is thriving. The Internet has given us the one thing we never had: a visual element. We can take this one dimensional media and our listeners can enhance their experience if they choose to. Plus, we can save huge amounts of money on promotions cost by using free Web 2.0 services like Facebook, Twitter and Plurk. We can reach listeners now and remind them to listen in ways we never had before, and we think this industry is in trouble?

    But still we slash. We devalue how important we are to the audience. We forget that our industry is still a dominant media, and people on TV have every reason to say we are less than that. Yet still we slash, as if the radio side of the economic downturn will never end, regardless of the fact that the audience still wants and needs us. The death of radio? As with the most tragic cases of self loathing, we're committing suicide.

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6 Comments

  1. Eric,
    Thank you!
    Your post The Death of Radio? Stop it is right on!
    We are making headway with this idea with a community owned non-profit commercial AM station in Bennington, VT
    WBTN AM 1370
    All the best,
    BTN BRI

  2. Eric, I so feel your pain. But don’t be lulled into believing that in this case, the past is an indicator of the future. That borders on a complacency and false sense of security that got us into this situation. While you are absolutely right about the strengths of radio, what has been largely ignored for the past 30 years is the evolution of technology and how it would forever change the channels of distribution for entertainment and information. Consumers (and therefore marketers) have far more options for getting news, information and entertainment than ever before. That reality creates a shift in dollars from traditional media to new media as the progressives show others the way. Radio is here to stay, but the business model has to change dramatically in order for those who remain in it to be financially viable (remember that in business, you’re either growing or dying and radio hasn’t been in a growth mode for a minute). Operators have no choice but to cut expenses to the bone or eat massive losses while they run to play catch-up with technology. Learning to integrate their assets in ways that are meaningful to advertisers has to be the foundation to a revitalized business plan. Once the industry re-tools itself with 21st century knowledge and practice, it should hire managers and sellers who are prepared to leverage that knowledge in behalf of the clients they serve. Only then will the blood bath stop and the vitality of radio will return for the companies that remain.

  3. I am really disgusted by the radio industry’s LOVE of cheapened content cloned on multiple channels. While radio’s cume remains strong, time spent listening is declining. Plus, youths radio’s next generation have unplugged. Every stations sounds the same, FM’s are mostly computer driven jukeboxes with voice tracked personalities, and AM’s are wingnut blow torches. Radio is losing the relevance war, as other portable computing devices consume listening time.
    She ain’t dead yet, but the ship she is in need of some repairs,
    and so long as the consolated Captain Queegs are in charge she’s a gonna.
    Man the lifeboats and grab the kool-Aid. You’re gonna need it.

  4. Eric, your comments on the strengths of radio – and the undermining of those strength by the cuts in programming – are dead on. What you don’t address is the failure of management. Corporate radio generally overpaid for the radio stations that they now own, and are drowning in debt. They “forgot” that recessions happen, and that radio’s most important product was the relationship that it had with listeners.
    Technology was supposed to help talent perform better, not replace talent. Technology was supposed to provide decision-makers with timely information, not replace decision-makers.
    Radio has been treated as if it’s a widget manufacturer instead of an entertainment business. Those who told corporate owners that relatable programming content was an “expense”, not a “revenue generator” have been promoted to the highest level of management, and are now reaping the rewards of their lack of understanding.

  5. Eric writes..
    “Have any of these people actually done any research?”
    Have you?
    More than 18-hundred people cut loose at Clear Channel..more at Citadel..more to come from other companies..
    Ever hear of debt loads that can’t be dealt with? You need to be reading Jerry Del Colliano’s “Inside Music Media” on a daily basis..he operates from a basis of hard cold reality…
    Something you, Mr Thomas, seem ill equipped to deal with..
    You write
    “Radio doesn’t ask you to stop what you are doing, commanding your full attention and patience. Radio can be with you when you drive around, do housework, play video games or exercise and its the only media that can do all of that”
    Wrong Mr. Thomas..
    Ever hear of an I-Pod?
    I can put whatever music I want on it, in whatever order I choose and listen to it whenever I want..
    You write
    “you need a subscription or a website account to view periodicals”.
    Ever hear of the Drudge Report? Look to the left hand side of the webpage..you can read pretty much whatever you want..for free..
    You write
    “Our industry is not hurting, it is thriving”
    You are so completely and totally full of shit that I can’t believe you wrote that scentence with a straight face..the vast majority of the radio stocks that are trading now are penny stocks..which means you can buy thousands of shares of a dead cat stock for pennies..
    This industry is dying a slow death..many of my friends are now out of work..and at the New England AM I work in now, we openly talk about how we can get out of here as fast as we can..

  6. Ditto all of the above. If radio people were running the radio industry, then we would have a chance, but that no longer is the case. When we start worrying more about broadcasting instead of shareholder returns, then we may be getting somewhere … but bleeding business instead of building it is a malady shared with every industry in America today and why we are in this pathetic state.
    Only when we get back to making things instead of parceling them out and squeezing them of life will we be in a position for recovery.

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