May 15, 2015
At the moment that I'm writing this, it's raining. This being Southern California, the arrival of rain is traditionally greeted with the kind of news coverage other regions more accustomed to water falling from the sky would reserve for a major blizzard. That, drought or no, is nothing new. But, as we've discussed here before, the behavior on the consumer side has changed. We get our weather from an app on our phones. If traffic's snarled (which happens here even with dry roads), we'll fire up Waze... on our phones. We used to flip on the radio or watch TV, and now we use our phones. That's been happening so long that anyone who isn't aware of it hasn't been conscious for a decade.
That's something I could wrap up with something like, "Welp, it's over for radio. Don't need us anymore. Goodbye, and turn out the lights on your way out the door." I'm not gonna do that, though, because a 150-word column isn't really a column, and because there's another point to be made.
A lot of what radio has been doing throughout its history has been disrupted in just the last few years. And by "a lot," I mean everything, and not just the part where you can get "radio" through your cellphone. It's about new entrants able to do the same things either better or different. I mean:
Music: Streaming. Downloads. Customization.
Talk: Podcasts. Social media.
News: Websites. Apps. Social media.
Sports: Streaming. Websites.
Heavy spot loads: Okay, that one, we got.
Again, does this mean radio hangs it up, raises the white flag, and floats away to the Island of Misfit Technology, sharing the beach with CBs, slide rules, and Colecovision? No, but it needs a plan to remain relevant. And it needs to decide whether to battle the disruptors, join the disruption, or....
Well, why not do both? Battle means finding things it can do better than the disruptors and doing that. But in considering its advantages, there has to be some realism involved. For example, radio's ease-of-use advantage -- press a button and it's there, nothing else required -- won't last forever, not when those in-dash infotainment entermation thingies are way more complicated than you'd want and just FINDING AM/FM on there requires a learning curve. No data usage? Nah, streaming doesn't really use much data, podcasts even less; some apps use a lot, but unless you use Netflix on your phone a lot, it's not that big a deal to people in the real world. Personality? Key, but radio's not been doing a good job of scouting nor development. And radio's always counted on taking advantage of the human need for companionship, but you can get that without a radio these days; podcasts for talk, streaming for music, you're all set and never lonely, at least in the electronic sense.
Does it matter? After all, define "radio." Is it the pedantic definition of only broadcast, AM or FM or shortwave or longwave (are there any longwave radio stations left?) (Don't answer that, I don't really care) (Besides, I know there are)? Is satellite radio "radio"? Or can we include podcasts and Internet radio and anything else that works? Because then, it all works, but it's just in individual pieces. You get your talk from a podcast, music from whatever service for which you have a subscription, your weather from the widget on your phone, your traffic from Waze, your news from your local all-News station or an app... a button for everything, and everything with a button. Radio can own some of those buttons. Why not?
Which is to say, sometimes you battle disruptors with better content, sometimes you join the disruption, and sometimes you do both. In radio's case, you have to do both. You need to improve the content, and you need to be where the disruptors have led the audience, meaning online and podcasting. Some radio companies are at least doing the latter -- it's heartening to see iHeartMedia and CBS, among others, investing in generating podcast and streaming content, just as NPR showed could be done. It just needs to be great content, better than radio's been doing lately, better than other podcasts. (Yeah, that means competition for my own interests (see Full Disclosure below), but a rising tide and all that.) "Serial" raised the bar, but it wasn't the first podcast hit, and it won't be the last. Radio companies have an opportunity to be part of that, and I hope they succeed. The opportunities -- especially on the sales end, which radio, despite its travails, still has a substantial advantage over new media -- are there.
The TL;DR summary: Even though several of radio's former strengths are now being provided by alternative media, the industry can still be relevant, as long as, rather than ignoring its own disruption or thinking that all it needs is better public relations to tell its story, it embraces the disruption and uses the technology to do what it's always done, only better. The last chapter is far from being written.
Helping you make that better content is All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with hundreds of items and ideas and bad jokes accessible by clicking here, and all the material you need to do a better show. And there's the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item.
Hey, why not 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.
Oh, right, that Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries, which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities. We just added the official "Orphan Black" podcast "Clonecast," if you're into that show, and among guests on our various programs this week were Jon Cryer, Kevin Nealon, and Ingrid Michaelson (who did a great cover of "Creep" on the ukulele), so come on by.
The rain? Oh, it's still falling. We're okay with it, though, with the drought and all. All we need is for it to keep raining for another, say, six months straight and maybe we'll have enough water not to limit showers to three minutes anymore. That can happen, right?