The Folly Of Transmitter Salvation (Or Radio's Double-Meaning)
September 23, 2014
I've always been struck by the double-meaning of the word "compromise" in the context of politics. On the one hand, it has a positive connotation:
"Leaders from both parties came together to compromise on comprehensive reform."
On the other hand, it can also have a negative connotation:
"The Senator compromised his beliefs by voting for that bill."
The word "radio" also has a double-meaning. When somebody says, "I am listening to the radio," they are actually saying two things. First, they are using the word "radio" to describe a technological device; a radio is an object that transmits sound by way of transmitters and tuners. But the word is used to describe not just the physical device, but also the audio content that is transmitted. "Radio" is the curated mix of music, deejays, production elements, and other audio that comes through the speakers.
This is an important distinction, because only one of these two things -- the device with the tuner or well-curated audio content -- will be around when Haley's Commet returns. (Hint: it won't be the tuner.)
That shouldn't be a problem, right? All we have to do is focus on the part that we're really good at -- creating great audio content -- and finding new ways to deliver and monetize it. Easy!
But as an industry, we're not doing that.
In fact, we're doing the opposite. Instead of using new technology to deliver our great content, we are modifying our content in an effort to force people to use outdated technology. It's like saying, "We're going to make an awesome movie...but only release it on VHS!" In the process, our content suffers, and our efforts aren't slowing the audience's move to new technology. Soon, we'll be left with inferior technology and inferior content.
Why do we do this? No surprise there: Money. We don't know how to generate revenue from our audio content unless it is delivered through a transmitter. Moreover, we have an entrenched ratings and sales system that discourages us from trying to learn. We may need to develop new revenue streams in the long run, but our focus is on the short run, which means getting more people to listen to us with their tuners.
Think about it: most of the proposed solutions to the industry's ailments in the last fifteen years have really been attempts to salvage our transmitters.
- HD Radio? Transmitter salvation.
- Tighter rotations? Transmitter salvation.
- PPM? Transmitter salvation.
- Jack FM? Transmitter salvation.
- Two-minute songs? Transmitter salvation.
- The Next Radio App? Transmitter salvation.
As an industry, our capacity for self-denial is impressive. We keep going to great lengths to avoid the obvious course of action: Everybody's on the internet, so let's just put our audio content there and figure out how to monetize it.
In other words, the question radio keeps asking is, "How can we change our audio content to get more people to listen to us with the old technology? when we should be asking is actually, "How do we find new ways to deliver and monetize our great audio content?"
The word "radio" means two things. Only one of those things will survive. That's the one we should focus on.
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