Breaking the Silence
July 15, 2016
What I'll remember most from the Conclave this year was the Moment of Silence.
It wasn't silence in solemn memory of anyone or anything. It was the silence from a panel of top industry figures when they were asked for examples of innovative programming things their companies had done in the past 6 months. Given another chance with a longer time frame -- the past 12 months -- there was more silence.
I laughed. It was involuntary.
It's not funny to me that nobody in commercial radio can cite a single example of something they've done recently that's truly innovative. And, yeah, I get it, the biggest players are in financial distress and beholden to investors who don't like to see spending on "inessentials." The problem is that innovation IS essential.
Think about this: What is the typical radio company's R&D budget? I'm not talking about how much they spend on ratings and music research and focus groups. I mean spending on creating and developing new products. I'll wait while you check, but you know what's happening.
Where would Apple be without the kind of R&D that develops new products? What would Google's growth have been had they not invested in the development and/or acquisition of things outlandishly afield from their obvious primary business -- would Google be Google without trying things like autonomous cars and augmented reality? Do car companies just keep making the same models year after year with no thought about what to build in the future? Even fast food places have R&D labs developing the next Chalupa.
Commercial radio? We're too afraid to even move stop sets to different parts of the clock. Is there anything significantly different about your station now as compared to what it was last year, 5 years ago, 10 years ago? Sure, your morning show now has a Facebook page, and maybe you freshened up the imaging, but if someone from a decade ago hopped in a TARDIS and showed up today to tune you in, would they know it's 2016?
And there IS innovation going on, but much of it is coming from public radio, which has developed its own app -- NPR One -- that's way advanced from what commercial radio is offering and generates some very interesting data on listener behavior that the commercial apps aren't. Public radio is also way ahead of commercial radio in developing talent and programming that a) is specific to new media like podcasts, and b) is becoming more and more diverse in talent and sensibility, reflecting societal and demographic changes. They seem sold on the idea that it's not business as usual anymore and they need to evolve. "Serial" is not something that you'd have heard a decade ago. Neither are "2 Dope Queens."
But commercial radio, with a few exceptions, is averse to new ideas. A top 40, or country, or talk station today sounds like the stations of 2006 and 1996 and 1986, same formats, same everything. Adding an Instagram account is not innovation. Coming up with new formats, new talent, new shows that aren't exact replicas of what came before them IS innovation. I'd like the same question to be asked at next year's Conclave, and I'd love for the silence to be broken.
Show prep isn't innovation, but it's critical no matter what show you do and on which medium you appear. And for that, All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with news items and kickers and bad jokes in Costco quantities, is available by clicking here and at the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item. And there's the Podcasting section at AllAccess.com/podcasts.
Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries, a division of Legendary Pictures and Legendary Digital Networks, which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities.
The Conclave, by the way, was a good time, and Lori Lewis and the crew did a terrific job with it; it's a great networking opportunity and a worthwhile gathering of the radio masses, so you really should drop by next year. And thanks to Brendan Regan of AudioBoom, Steve Nelson of Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media (and soon to be of NPR), and Derek Madden of 93X/Minneapolis for doing a great job on our podcast panel and balancing out my own idiocy.