It’s Not A Buggy Whip, It’s An HD Propulsion Device
April 13, 2012
On this week's episode of the Fox sitcom "New Girl," the character Schmidt, observing roommate Winston, said, "He's listening to the radio and writing with a pen? What decade are we in?"
That pretty much says what radio's image is today. It's not good. Radio is practically the same as using a quill with an inkwell.
That doesn't mean that people don't listen to the radio. It doesn't mean that YOUNG people don't listen to the radio. It just means that radio's acquired an image as "something your dad listens to," or maybe even "something your grandpa listens to." Nobody, the image communicates, goes there anymore.
Yet they do. (Even the "New Girl" episode implicity acknowledges that in a subplot about a boss-from-hell sports radio host -- played by Phil Hendrie -- whose assistant is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- played by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) They listen to radio. They use radio. They're just not all that excited about it, and it has the musty odor of, um, old.
I'm not sure if there's a marketing solution to fix this. Certainly, the NAB's ham-handed "Radio Heard Here" campaign -- Lord, remember THAT? -- wasn't it. Pushing HD Radio isn't it, and no matter how energetically they push that thing at the NAB Show next week, that won't change. Putting FM and/or HD chips in cell phones won't do it, unless anyone truly believes that someone is going to go to the cell phone store and say, you know, forget the iPhone or the Galaxy Nexus, I'm going to hold out for a cell phone with radio. (Especially since the same industry is also pushing iHeartRadio and Radio.com and TuneIn, all of which deliver the same programming without territorial restrictions on every smartphone, radio chip not required)
That's because it's not about the technology. Radio technology is what it's always been, and, yes, people don't go to the store and buy radios anymore, but the transport mechanism doesn't matter to them. The radio in the car, the cell phone, the alarm clock/docking station, the iPad, and the computer are all the same. The device called a "radio" and the industry of the same name that owns antennae and transmitters and licenses have a creaky, aged image, but all that means is that if the industry defines itself by the technology, it's an increasingly bleak picture. But define it by the content and it's a different story. Young audiences are fine with streaming. Podcast listeners think those shows are way cooler than radio. Yet, it's all at heart the same thing. It's all audio entertainment. If it's good -- if it's funny, if it's creative, if it's perceptive or smart or original -- it'll transcend whatever medium it's on.
And the lesson is that good content will find its audience. The biggest failing of the radio industry in the last several years isn't that it's been slow to grasp technology or bet on the wrong technology (and continues to double down on its bets); it's been the inability or unwillingness to invest in and properly develop content. In an era when anyone can internationally distribute the equivalent of a radio show, the actual radio industry had the opportunity to establish itself as the place to get the best-in-breed. Instead... you know what happened. But the game isn't over, it's just... different. Traditional radio has the benefit of an established financial structure (and the problem of debt, but, still, as an operating entity, there's still way more revenue for broadcast radio than for streaming and podcasts right now). And despite everything, it still employs people who know how to create good content. That's where the focus should be. Instead of trying to make radio seem cool again, just make cool content. How the public defines you is out of your hands.
As I mentioned, I'll be covering the NAB Show next week, but I'll still be finding a lot of material for your show, and it'll be posted as usual at Talk Topics, the show prep column at All Access News-Talk-Sports, where hundreds of topic ideas and news stories and kicker items are always available for free by clicking here; all the topics are also linked on Twitter at @talktopics. You'll also find the radio industry's first-best-most complete coverage at Net News, with the top stories tweeted at @allaccess.
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Can you believe that we're only a month away from my annual walk in the Revlon Run/Ralk for Women here in L.A. on May 12th? In case you don't remember from past years, I do this with my wife Fran every year to raise money to fight women's cancer and celebrate Fran's continued survival (six years now!). Go to do.eifoundation.org/goto/pmsimon2012 and give what you can. Thank you!