Old School Graduation
September 23, 2016
It was late, just about the end of FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn's talk at the Radio Show 2016 in Nashville on Thursday afternoon, and I was, I'll admit, falling asleep. Blame my daily mid-afternoon crash, blame allergies, blame a long week or lack of sleep or just losing interest in hearing the same people say the same things over and over, but I was struggling, sitting in the very back of the room, leaning against the wall, eyes insisting on closing while I tried to write my coverage. And then I was jolted awake.
The jolt came from a woman sitting next to me, who suddenly stood and shouted a request to ask a question, then proceeded to not exactly ask a question but instead make a proclamation that Clyburn's support of the AM revitalization program was important because AM is important because the small station that allowed her to get a shot on the air is using an FM translator to survive. And she said that this is critical because AM stations -- she stressed the "AM" so insistently that I will be hearing it in my sleep for weeks -- are the only stations giving people a chance to be on the radio, new people, and if we don't preserve AM radio, children will not be able to dream of being on the radio, because there'll be no entry available to them. And after she was done, I noted several audience members nodding at her in approval, or asking for her card.
Okay, where do I start? With the fact that there's nothing about AM versus FM that determines who they put on the air? That getting an FM translator still hasn't gotten her station any ratings? No, I'll start with the obvious: The children, the adult newbies, anyone who wants to broadcast doesn't need an AM radio station to do so anymore.
Anyone can do any show they want. It's called podcasting. And they'll probably reach more listeners that way than a thousand-watt daytimer with a 250-watt translator that you can't get inside a building.
And that incident clarified for me what I see at conventions like this one, where management and sales are the focus: Too much of this industry still sees themselves as being all about the transmitter, the license, the studio building and the call letters and the trappings of Radio with a capital R. They do not see that their industry should not, cannot restrict itself to a definition created in the 1920s. When the woman talked about children needing an outlet to promote their interest in broadcasting, she missed the fact that we are in a golden age of audio, that we -- anyone, anywhere -- can do whatever show they please with no intermediary, no transmitter, no tower. It's not like she, or the besuited people applauding her fervor, have never heard of podcasting, or streaming, or new media, it's that she and they aren't accepting the fact that to a growing percentage of the world, especially to younger people, podcasting and streaming ARE radio. Or, more precisely, they don't care what radio is, how it's defined, or what device you need for it, because they have their device and it's where they get their music, their shows, their entertainment.
You know that I've been on this campaign for years, and I've said it time and again that what we call "radio" is now defined by the consumer and not the CEO or Chief Engineer or government. It's streaming, it's podcasting, it's FM and, yes, AM and translators and those shows Eric Nuzum doesn't want to call podcasts but which are, you know, Internet-delivered original-content on-demand programming that aren't podcasts. It's like television: Netflix and YouTube ARE television to most people now. Even the Emmy Awards have figured that out.
I don't think all of the Radio Show attendees are in that "if it isn't AM or FM, it isn't radio" mindset, not at all, but the fact that there's still a large contingent that thinks so is perhaps the last frontier before the business moves into its next phase. I don't know what it would take to get the people in that room to see it -- further TSL shrinkage, reach dropping below the vaunted, oft-repeated 93%, a critical mass of connected, app-oriented in-dash car audio systems, maybe -- but I'm still waiting for the old-school Capital-B Broadcasters to open their minds. If the biggest operators in the business, the iHearts and Cumuluses and Hubbards, are investing in digital and developing content for it, maybe the rest of the industry ought to be getting the message by now. It's been long enough.
Whatever the medium, if you do audio (or video- we're non-discriminatory!) entertainment, you'll find the latest in things to talk about at All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with news items and kickers and bad jokes all in one place, 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.
I should note that there are always forward-thinking and innovative people scattered around these shows, too, and it was great to see those of you who made it to Nashville. Plus, Nashville is an awesome place for a convention, for the energy, the music, the food (yes, I got hot chicken and BBQ and a Goo-Goo Cluster or three). Kind of like Austin, right? So next year should be worth a trip, too....