Thereâ€™s Someone Else, Isnâ€™t There?
May 1, 2015
It's not you, it's me.
And by "you," I mean talk radio, spoken word radio, radio in general, I guess. And by "me," I mean an increasing percentage of the general audience. And by "it," I mean...
Okay, take Thursday night. There was plenty going on, and I was interested in hearing about it as it happened, especially the NFL Draft, seeing as how I'm a Philadelphia Eagles fan and you know what that meant for the draft. In the past, I'd have put a sports radio station on in the background with the draft on TV while I was working, wanting to hear hosts and callers debate each pick and speculate on what the Eagles were going to do. This year, with all the talk about Chip Kelly trying to trade up to get Marcus Mariota (NOT MUCH OF A SPOILER: He didn't), the HOT TAKES!!!! were flying, and past practice would have been to flip on the radio to hear the arguing and whining and rumor-mongering, because that, my friends, is entertainment.
But I didn't do that. It didn't even occur to me to touch the radio, or even a stream. Instead, the video was streaming on my tablet, Twitter rolled by in a window on my computer screen, and I checked Facebook for stray comments as well. I got all the information I needed, plus comments on other stuff of interest like the #PhillyIsBaltimore protest and the NBA playoffs and random topics and jokes. I even got some of the HOT TAKES!!!! radio hosts were voicing, just in 140 character form. Needs, fulfilled.
This is not because of anything sports radio did in particular, and I still listen to a LOT of sports radio. It's purely because the way I use the media has changed with technology. I use social media because it's more convenient and, often, faster, and I can look at it when I have time rather than having to try to focus on multiple things at once (if you miss what's on the radio live, you've missed it for good). I didn't use a podcast because live breaking news is not what podcasts do well; I'll listen to those for deeper analysis after the fact or previews beforehand. Radio's good at breaking news, too, but when I'm trying to crank out several columns at deadline, I can't pay attention to what I'm hearing, but I CAN occasionally glance at my Twitter timeline and catch the gist of what's going on. Spoken word radio is aggressively foreground; I need something flexible that I can check at will, unless I'm in the car. My needs haven't changed, but technology has adapted to give me what I want, how I want it, when I want it.
And that brings us back to adaptability, which I've mentioned often enough here to make it a theme of sorts for the column. Radio's been through this kind of thing before: In the 1950s, with television taking over the prime time hours and the role of purveyor of drama, comedy, and variety, radio, a dead medium to some at the time, moved to music and, later, all-talk and all-news, and flourished again. It was a matter of figuring out a strategic advantage in programming and doing that. We're there again, at a crossroads, and traditional radio is faced with perhaps a tougher challenge: Technology isn't the only thing changing, it's people's habits and desires, too, and technology is offering them alternatives to what radio does best.
What to do? Damn good question, and I'm not sure I have a good answer. It's too clichÃƒÂ© to rely on the simple "offer compelling content and they'll find you," because many radio stations ARE offering compelling content and people are still gravitating away in increasing volume to alternatives (and as for that "91% of adults use radio" stat that's being thrown around, ask about time spent listening and what time's devoted to alternative audio media. Things ARE changing). I would not suggest that all stations throw everything they've been doing out the window -- especially if the revenue is still enough to pay the bills -- and I am definitely not one of the people who believe that radio is dead, because it isn't. It's still where the lion's share of revenue and listening reside. But when people are increasingly finding other things to take the place of what radio does best, the industry in general and stations and hosts in particular have to step up their games and reclaim some of that lost listening. If I, a radio lifer, didn't think to turn on the radio when news was breaking... that's not a good sign. And although I don't have an answer for you (and you're not paying me to come up with an answer; hey, I can't give EVERYTHING away for free), I have some ideas about how to approach the dilemma to come up with those answers. Maybe I'll talk about those next week.
Whatever your medium, All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with hundreds of items and ideas and bad jokes accessible by clicking here, is where you'll find all the material you need to start a conversation and encourage engagement and maximize whatever buzzword you want to use. And there's the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item. Plus, this week, check out "10 Questions With..." David Gow, who's built quite a sports radio empire down in Houston with the national Yahoo Sports Radio and two local stations. Find out how he did it and what's in store for the future.
If you don't yet do so, follow my personal Twitter account at @pmsimon, and my Instagram account (same handle, @pmsimon) as well. And you can find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pmsimon, and there's pmsimon.com, back in intermittent action.
And as for Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries (a division of Legendary Pictures, your friendly producer of the upcoming "Jurassic World," "Straight Outta Compton," "Crimson Peak," and more coming up), which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities.
Oh, and it was nice to see many of you last weekend at the Worldwide Radio Summit; I know it's primarily a music radio thing, but I'm glad that some of you talky types came by, too. We gotta stick together, right?