January 6, 2012
While I was spending the last couple of weeks in a fruitless attempt to disengage from work and radio and business -- I have to face the fact that I'm incapable of really relaxing -- I thought a lot about the future of media, and radio in particular. It's been a trope of media conventions that "old media" is all about digital now, all about the reinvention, all about trying to convince anybody and everybody that they are not merely "radio" but players in the Brave New Digital Universe. I thought about that while struggling with the digital offerings of many radio stations. Seems that the industry talks a good game, but the reality is something else.
Take smartphone apps. (Please!) (rimshot) (I'll be here all week) I've complained before that there's no single app to get every station I want, because each radio company has its own app and aggregators get shut out of a lot of proprietary streams. And that means I have to know who owns which station and what app has which programming I want. I'm in the business, so I know all of that, and it's a pain to me. Imagine anyone who doesn't know which is which -- that means 99% of the public -- trying to find what he or she wants. Want that all-News station? You need Radio.com, whatever that is. The talker? iHeartRadio. The classic rock station? Who knows? Ah, the hell with it, I'll just use Pandora. Or Spotify. Or my own music.
(A thought: If radio people like to insist "Pandora isn't radio!," why is one of the industry's answers to Pandora called "iHeartRadio"? One customizable streamer isn't radio and the other has radio in its very name? Here's a clue: Actual human-type people don't think of Pandora as radio. They don't think of radio as radio much, either. They don't think of the labels. It's just music or talk or entertainment, however it gets to them. It's Pandora and 102.7 KIIS FM and Rdio and KFI and Spotify and ESPN and, for that matter, Netflix and Redbox and Fox and TMZ. That is to say, your competition isn't defined by the medium anymore, if it ever really was)
And then there are the individual station apps. I wanted to listen to one talk station, and it had an app, so I installed it and fired it up and discovered that all the options it offered were music-oriented. Playlists, favorites, Most Played... how is that appropriate for a talk station? No news headlines, no show Twitter or Facebook links, no interactivity, just... music. It's not the only one like that, and it's simuilar to how some talk station websites have been designed, which is to say the company probably just had someone design a template for all of its stations and ignored the fact that some stations don't play music. Having an app, or website, or social media account isn't enough. They have to fit what you're doing on the air, and complement it, and enhance it. Do you think that listeners who downloads that app will use it if it doesn't do anything, or doesn't do what they want it to do? So why bother?
Oh, there's more. How about Twitter accounts devoted to just promoting contests and whatever the next show is? Or Facebook pages filled with "Joe Host is coming up with your chance to win!"? Social media is interactive; the very idea is not to be one-way but rather to engage your listeners in an ongoing dialogue. How hard is it to put your show's producer on Twitter and have him or her tweet about what's happening behind the scenes, and answer listeners' comments and questions? Same for Facebook. Used right, they enhance the listening experience and make listeners feel like they're more a part of the show, even more than calling the show on the air. In fact, it should be a show in and of itself, running parallel to the on-air show. You're trying to engage those people wherever they are, and make them feel like they know you. Feeding them show promos isn't going to do that.
I could go on, including the large market, major group-owned station that I heard last week with two shows running simultaneously on one stream for a long time for an extended period. But it's a new year, and maybe this one will see the industry fulfill the promise of its talk about how radio companies are no longer merely "radio companies" but are full-fledged cutting-edge digital media juggernauts. We're past the time where talk has to be converted to action. It's time to get serious about radio's digital presence. No more bad apps, no more broken streams, no more half-assed websites, no more social media cluelessness. We can do better.
After a few weeks' holiday hiatus, Talk Topics, the show prep column at All Access News-Talk-Sports, is back and I'm churning out a steady stream of stories you can use to generate radio material, so don't forget to come here for that, and follow the column on Twitter at @talktopics. The year's also starting with "10 Questions With..." WENJ-FM (97.3 ESPN)/Atlantic City-Cape May APD and afternoon host Mike Gill, who talks about building a strong presence in the shadow of major markets. As always, you'll also find the radio industry's first-best-most complete coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess.
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook with my personal accounts at @pmsimon and www.facebook.com/pmsimon, and read the pop culture stuff I write and edit over at Nerdist.com. I put my personal website, pmsimon.com, on a temporary hiatus due to time constraints, but that'll be back shortly as well.
I'll be at the 2012 International CES in Las Vegas next week, so I'll probably be telling you about that and how radio figures into it in next week's column. There will be a strong and active radio presence there at the biggest consumer electronics convention, right? Right?