A Toast To Radio
October 23, 2015
It's early. You stagger into the kitchen, trying to shake the sleep out of your head. You slap some Fancy Feast in a bowl and set it down for the cat, you get the coffee going, you grab a couple of slices of store-brand whole grain bread and...
Okay, what's missing from this picture?
Your toaster doesn't have a radio built into it.
But, as I learned from a Best Buy e-mail ad Friday morning, there IS a toaster with an AM/FM radio built right into it. (It does not, alas, offer HD Radio, but I imagine the heating coils would make the HD signal drop out anyway. Breathing makes the HD signal drop out.) Seriously, as people who follow me on Twitter found out right away (and if you don't follow me, what are you waiting for, anyway?), there's a two-slice toaster with a radio right on the face of it, digital tuner and all. It has more station presets than adjustable browning settings, too. Radio beats toast! Oh, sure, Jeff Smulyan can talk all he wants about putting radio on devices people use like cell phones, but THIS... this is magic.
Okay, it's not magic. And nobody was asking to put a radio in a toaster. (Insert "radio is toast" joke here and credit Patrick Reynolds for it.) In fact, it reminded me of how things have changed, and how that relates to something that was in the industry news this week.
See, breakfast has changed. Oh, not for everyone, but once upon a time, everyone came to the kitchen or the "breakfast nook" and sat down for cereal, eggs, toast, coffee, the usual. If any media was consumed with breakfast, it would have been the morning newspaper and the radio. Today, for every family that gathers 'round for the traditional breakfast, many more are rushing out and grabbing something at Starbucks or McDonald's on the fly, or just slamming down a cup of coffee and heading off to Dunkin' Donuts for more coffee. And those who DO have time to sit down for breakfast are more likely to be watching "Good Morning America" and checking Facebook on their phones and tablets than listening to the Breakfast Flakes on the local Top 40. Life is not "The Donna Reed Show" anymore. (Oh, go Google it already.) People don't need a radio in their toaster.
The point is, it's not just media consumption that's changed. EVERYTHING's been changing. We saw it coming. For years, we all labored under the idea that every generation would behave the way their elders did, eventually -- you turn 35, you start to worry about taxes and mortgages and family, and you morph into your parents and listen to News-Talk and Oldies on the kitchen portable over your scrambled eggs and wheat toast. The kids, they'd outgrow whatever it is that they're up to and they'd come around to predictable behavior. And then, when they turn 55, they'd become impervious to marketing and therefore useless for advertisers. Conventional wisdom, convenient, and, for many generations, correct....
...Until, that is, it wasn't. Which is now. In which technology has played a big role, not just with the ubiquity of cell phones for media consumption but for social media changing how people interact and the Internet allowing for on-demand everything, from TV shows and music to retail sales with delivery within an hour. The world is a different place than it was not too long ago. And it's not like we couldn't see it coming, because it was right there in front of us, trends forming and attitudes changing on everything from social issues to what constitutes entertainment (or didn't you notice how younger generations consider PewDiePie a bigger celebrity than anyone in Hollywood?).
So when everyone was chattering about the (already several weeks old) news from the Public Radio Program Directors conference on how public radio's broadcast audience is aging fast, generating a little bit of concern (because, after all, that's also something commercial radio will be facing as TSL for younger demos further shrinks), it seemed old news to me. Sure, radio still has 93% reach (93% reach, 93% reach, 93% reach, 93% reach, 93% reach... the industry loves to repeat this one). It still has the greatest reach of all the media. And television's in worse shape with regard to changing habits.
But reach isn't necessarily going to be the currency for revenue growth moving forward. We're not sure WHAT it's going to be -- if it's direct results, we're all going to be airing nothing but direct response ads, and that doesn't seem like it's going to be how it shakes out -- but we're long overdue for the radio industry to take the lead on getting measurement to cover where we're going as well as where we are now. Yes, we need better PPM measurement, we need to be confident that Nielsen has the encoding/detection issue solved, we need to be willing to invest in larger and better sample sizes. But we also need for a unified, universally accepted standard for podcasts, streaming, and customized services as well, because as much as traditional radio may see those as competition, we're all going to have our hands in every one of those categories if we don't already. The sooner we know what we all have to sell, the better.
First, though, we all have to agree on one thing: Practically everything has changed. People don't listen the way they used to, they don't listen where or when they used to, they don't shop where they used to or read what they used to or even eat the way they used to. A radio in a toaster is a funny, cool symbol of where we once were. We're moving further and further away from that now.
Maybe we can put radios in Starbucks lids.
Okay, one thing that HASN'T changed is your need to find things to talk about on the radio. For that, there's All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, where you'll find hundreds of items and ideas and bad jokes for your show prep needs, all up-to-date and conveniently available now by clicking here. And there's the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item. Also, you'll find "10 Questions With..." WMFS and WMC/Memphis Special Programs Producer/Podcast Host/Blogger Greg Ratliff, who offers insight on how to get started in radio in 2015 (from his titles, you'll understand: You gotta be ready to do anything and everything....).
Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries, which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities.
Don't forget -- we're getting the All Access Podcasting section up and running at AllAccess.com/podcasts. Columns, news, and much more to come. See you there....