CRS Preview, Part 4: “Radio As The Insurgent”
January 27, 2016
When you attend Country Radio Seminar (CRS) Monday, February 8th through Wednesday, February 10th, and when you sit down for the session titled “Radio As The Insurgent: What If They Were Here First,” you’ll need to suspend your disbelief for approximately sixty minutes. Notice I said WHEN, not IF. Because this is another in my series of CRS 2016 panels that I have declared mandatory, must-see experiences.
If the title isn’t self-explanatory enough, let me spell out the concept for you, and here’s where suspension of disbelief is such important context: What if radio doesn’t exist yet; what if other emerging audio sources have a years-long head start on it? In what way would this newfangled invention called “broadcast radio” successfully attack Pandora, Spotify, Slacker, and others?
The question was originally posed by media service provider NuVooDoo co-founder, Leigh Jacobs in his blog last March. After stating the premise and challenging readers to imagine the heretofore unimaginable, Jacobs wondered, “How would radio sound? What would we choose to do when a highly-personalizable, low-commercial inventory, un-hosted internet stream was the norm for music listening? Would we attack with six songs in a row, followed by six-plus minutes of commercials when the norm for the online services is five songs followed by a :30?”
Among other things, that’s what the panelists will tackle, and it’s a strong line up: iHeartMedia SVP/Country Programming Rod Phillips and KRTY/San Jose GM Nate Deaton representing radio; Arista Nashville VP/Promotion Lesly Simon from a label perspective; NuVooDoo’s Jacobs, and head of digital media for the University of Cincinnati, Dr. John Owens.
“I think what will emerge is that creativity is going to be a real theme of the discussion.” That’s longtime radio vet Gregg Lindahl, who will moderate the session. “We’ll see some interesting play, as the vets think about this idea of being the disrupter, or the insurgent. And we’ll get some really outside-in kind of thinking from John Owens.” According to Lindahl, Owens enlisted about 75 of his students at the University, unleashing them on the project. I can only imagine what strategies heavy users of the very audio sources this project is attacking will have conjured up to topple it.
“John [Owens] has done a lot of labs with students already, giving them projects to come up with a new radio format to think about radio re-invention,” explains Lindahl. “He’s got an interesting term that he uses that I like a lot, called Radio360, where you need to be an expert in all electronic media channels to succeed in this day. Plus, he’s got that great outside perspective; he’s going to be someone that we’ll lean on a lot.”
If all that technical stuff doesn’t pull you in hook, line, and sinker, Lindahl adds this common denominator: “It’s so out there; I can promise that we’re even going to talk about beer. So, if you want to use that as a teaser, I can guarantee we’ll have some discussion about beer!”
As pop culture icon Homer Simpson once muttered: “Mmmm … Beeeer!”
While you savor your favorite foamy brew, consider the daunting task at hand, as laid out by Jacobs in his original blog: “Broadcast Radio is under attack again … Music streamed from the internet is easy to find and use, carries a sharply-lower commercial inventory than broadcast, and offers wide-ranging, customizable programming. While some worry about eating up their data plans listening to online streams, more don’t care or find the expenditure worthwhile. As more cars become internet connected and/or Bluetooth enabled, we’ll see more erosion of the quarter hours now being used by passive music seekers on the go.”
In other words, the apocalypse is officially upon us. Or not.
“It’s going to be a lot about differentiation,” said Lindahl. “I heard Rod [Phillips] use that word a number of times, and that’s something radio does very well now. But how do we make sure we identify what we have that is unique, and really make sure the focus is there?” Lindahl says for KRTY’s Deaton, the focus is on his audience. “I love the way Nate thinks about things. He just thinks of his audience as fans, and everything he does comes at it from that perspective. That’s more of the outside-in kind of thinking, where you approach everything from the fans’ perspective. Not thinking at all about radio as incumbent, but from a new perspective.”
As the author of the original premise for this panel, Jacobs will serve as the conceptual rudder, says Lindahl. “We’re going to lean on him to tee up the concept and to keep everybody on point with the idea.”
“Radio As The Insurgent: What If They Were Here First” is set for Tuesday, February 9th at 3pm (CT). I think its sequencing in the overall CRS schedule is important, because it occurs just hours after the CRS Research Presentation, which I previewed two weeks ago (The ‘Ville 1/14). Larry Rosin and Megan Lazovick of Edison Media Research will share results and recommendations on how radio can sustain what Rosin described as its dominant position as “The overwhelming choice for audio,” even in the face of serious threats to our well-being from emerging audio sources. The Edison study, paired with this ambitious and creative panel, is sure to give CRS attendees some solid ideas and thought starters to bring home.