Weâ€™re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat
February 21, 2014
This was going to be a very different column before I had the epiphany. Hang on a second and I'll get to that.
So, I was listening to the Radio Stuff Podcast, and Larry Gifford was interviewing the Southern California Broadcasters Association's Thom Callahan, who was making the case for rallying around radio, and I was feeling those usual blood-pressure-raising moments coming on. It was all about how radio gets an unfair reputation as dying when it isn't even faltering, not even AM, what with all the non-English-speaking people flocking to the Farsi-language station here, and how Pandora's this and SiriusXM is that. And to calm down, I reminded myself, well, that's his job, he's a sales guy, he has to make the case for his industry.
But then I thought some more about his shots at Pandora, and SiriusXM, and their stock prices and how radio compares and something that I've said before suddenly made a reappearance in my mind: Why do we treat those guys as the enemy? Thom has to, because he represents the people with tower leases and antennae and licenses, of course, but hold on for a second. If you own a license, streaming, podcasting, and customized audio are the enemy... except when you're doing it, right? iHeartRadio isn't considered the enemy, is it? Even though it offers customized streams and Internet-only content, just like Pandora and iTunes Music and Stitcher and whatever? But it's not the enemy? Why not? Just because a broadcaster owns it?
And that's when the epiphany happened. (See? I got to it.) We've talked about how, to the end user, audio entertainment content is all the same -- the delivery system is secondary to the quality and desirability of the content. If you're playing what they want to hear, and the audio quality's acceptable (sorry, AM), they'll listen, and as the lines blur and car systems allow all of it to be heard at the touch of a dashboard button or home screen, then audio is audio, Pandora and Spotify and podcasts and satellite are radio, we're in the same business. Some are online, some you have to pay for, some are free, some are on-demand and some aren't, but they're forms of radio. Broadcast stations are competitors with those services, but it's all one thing.
That means something when we're talking about rallying around radio. What the people who say that at conventions mean is that we, the rank and file, the people who work for the holders of the licenses, should fight for the bosses, who will repay the favor by, um, probably by firing more people, because the investors are getting impatient again. And they mean heavy-handed, doomed campaigns like "Radio Heard Here" (oh, Lord, remember THAT?). But we SHOULD rally around radio, if by "radio" we mean ALL of it -- the streamers, the podcasters, the satellite people, the broadcasters. The success of those "enemies" is actually in everyone's best interests, because, ultimately, that's where the real growth is likely to happen, and if streaming and podcasting become economically more viable and stronger, that means a lot more opportunity for talent, for producers, and even for salespeople and license holders, because there's no law preventing them from offering their services to existing Internet content providers or creating content themselves. (This is already happening on a very limited basis, like how some stations have podcast-only extra shows. We need more of it.)
Which is why I think there's something to the idea that we redefine our industry to include those "enemies." There's precedent, from which we apparently didn't learn: pure-play FM broadcasters used to have to have their own trade organization because the established AM broadcasters dominated the NAB and were at odds with the independent FMs. And speaking of the NAB, it's hard to understand how, on the television side, the organization has embraced non-broadcast video content producers to the extent that the Spring NAB Show in Las Vegas is largely defined as serving content producers for ALL platforms, including YouTube, while the Radio Show is still all about AM and FM. If the Spring show has rolled out the welcome mat for Internet video creators, shouldn't the Fall show open its arms for podcasters and streamers? If broadcast and cable and satellite and Internet video and Netflix are all "television" to consumers and the NAB these days, shouldn't the same diversity be true for "radio"?
At least, the conversation should have started by now. And maybe the NAB and RAB and SCBA aren't ready to include "the enemy" (especially, at least initially, the non-dues-paying enemy) in their definitions of "radio," but I would think that the industry would want to get involved in the areas of the business with the highest growth potential. Broadcasters can bring sales, marketing, and programming expertise to the table. Internet audio companies have the unlimited capacity, enormous growth potential, and ability to offer on-demand, customizable content with no pesky government interference or licensing demands. There's no reason to treat these as separate industries. Individually, we may compete for listeners and dollars, but we're all in the same boat, and we're all fighting to grow advertising and revenue for everyone. It's not a zero sum game unless you assume that we can't make that pie bigger.
And after all, to the listeners, it's all the same thing, whatever you call it. It's in all of our best interest to keep all of it -- broadcast, streaming, podcasts, satellite -- viable.
Whatever delivery system you're on, you can use All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with hundreds of items and ideas for segments on your shows, plus kicker stories you won't see anywhere else. It's all here. And the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics has every story individually linked to the appropriate item. Oh, and read "10 Questions With..." Remote News Service founder Lesley Lotto, who can tell you about being entrepreneurial and developing a business that wasn't possible until just a few years ago. Don't miss it.
Friday, incidentally, is my wife Fran's birthday. If there's any question about whether I truly love radio, consider this: Fran and I met when we worked at the same radio station. We're a real radio family. Doesn't get much more personal than that.