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Pandora VS. Radio. Tons of Comments.

February 16, 2011

Mary Beth Garber has watched...and watched...and watched as readers posted over 7 pages of comments about a letter to the editor she penned. In her letter she made reference to investors in Pandora being "suckers". Some of you agreed, others did not. A lot of you are very passionate about where you believe new and innovative Internet creations fit in our lives. Now Mary Beth has her turn to get back in the ring, take off the gloves and straighten some of you people out with the the facts.

To Radio Ink Readers

I'm glad to see that passion is alive and well in our business.  Thank you for the supporters of what I said and to those whose comments added facts to my statements and expanded on my opinions.  As for those of you who will never friend me on Facebook and insist that your inner circle is representative of the entire United States, let's revisit some facts. 
First of all, let's address the personal attacks.  I own a Smartphone, have downloaded and use apps, I have an ipod in my vehicle (though not a Touch, so I don't have internet access), I train radio sales people, I go on sales calls with them and have actually helped sell many accounts on radio every year.  I speak at (and ask questions at) several colleges and universities every year, and I am constantly researching any and every aspect of radio and audio entertainment.  I also have a great working relationship with Arbitron and Scarborough, and I pay attention to Nielsen, PEW International and about a dozen other resources.  I base my statements on facts and authenticated observation. 

You may call me anything you wish (except name is Mary Beth), but it won't change the facts generated by Arbitron and Scarborough and other reliable, non-perception based research resources.  I have not been to CES or Detroit recently, but my counterpart in Detroit loves to relate the story about the ad exec from C-E Advertising who spoke recently at a Detroit ad club meeting and declared radio was dead.  To prove his point, he asked everyone in the room to raise their hands if they listened to radio.  And promptly had to eat crow as about 9 out of 10 hands went up.  Oh, and I did watch the Grammy Awards.  Did you know that the band that won Album of the Year played live on KROQ here in LA in the process of using radio to build its name and fan base?  And did you hear about the Clear Channel promotion with Lady Gaga as she performed on the Grammy Awards that set new sales records?
Pandora, Sirius/XM's primary channels, iPods, MP3 players, cd players, tape decks (remember those?), Muzak (remember that?), and all "pure play" internet "radio" sites are national music delivery systems.  Some of them (Pandora and many Sirius channels) provide commercials.  Except for one of the options on Pandora, they all charge people for access to the music (itunes, cds, upgrades on Pandora, subscription fees on Sirius/XM).  But they definitely provide audio entertainment, and sometimes, just music is what one wants.  But unless the figures from PEW International and Apple and other resources are wrong, none of those have 93% penetration.  Not even smart phones (now up in the 30% range of cell phone owners).  Unless Detroit has announced a recall of 239 million vehicles to replace the radios with internet connections, or that they are going to include internet connections in all the cars being manufactured next year and they plan to sell 100 million or more of them next year, we aren't going to see easy internet access in a significant number of vehicles anytime in this decade.  Bridge Ratings tells me that even now, only about 20% of their several thousand person data base says they use an ipod connection in their vehicles -- and the technology has been around for more than 5 years.
Radio is a unique entertainment experience.  Does it need to keep realigning itself with and capitalizing on new platforms -- yes, unless it does have a death wish.  Does it need to keep listening to its listeners and giving them new means of access to the brand, or virtual neighborhood that is a given radio station -- yes.  Is anyone in radio closing their eyes to the technological developments surrounding us, or ignoring how people of different generations chose to be entertained and communicate -- probably, but I bet they won't be in radio for long.  One of my stations told me that Ando showed them that 50% of their internet streaming listening was coming from mobile phones.  You think they didn't respond to that by altering how they service mobile phone listeners?  Really? 
Now, let's deal with facts beyond your personal experiences and those that your kids admit to.  Arbitron created a portable people meter that behaves just like human ears -- if your ears hear it, so does the PPM device.  It is carried in 48 markets by about 100,000 people on a daily basis, day in and day out throughout the year.  It doesn't ask you what you think you did, it knows what you did and reports it.  (Fortunately for some people, that only involves radio listening).  I know Sirius gets (but doesn't share) Arbitron ratings.  When will Pandora so we know what the listeners' ears are hearing rather than the sites their phones or computers are visiting?  In any case, those electronic ears tell us that radio reaches at least 93% of the country (more in most major markets), and every single demographic segment comes in at 90% or more.  That leaves about 7% to 10% of every market that actually eschews radio listening.  For whatever reasons.  Obviously many of the people who responded to the article were among them.  But please don't make the mistake of believing that "everyone is just like me" when you evaluate the power of radio or any other medium. For example, in response to one of the naysayers, every home does not have a DVR (only about 4 out of 10 do according to Nielsen) and those that do don't DVR every program.  Nielsen says that nearly half the people who DVR a show actually watch the commercials and apparently never learned how to use the fast forward button. 
See, that's the thing.  We just don't want the hassle.  It's so easy (and free) to turn on the radio, feel included, listen to localized stuff you didn't know or want to know about and be entertained.  As one of the responders said, Radio is what happens between the music on the stations that program music.  Many of them don't carry music, they carry talk, news, sports, comedy....a variety of formats. 
Ah, last point, variety.  Any station that has personalities offers variety and unique content.  As for the music, most of that is determined by a talented programmer and/or music director who get constant and continuous input from their listeners, via many platforms.  If there were no variety, Arcade Fire wouldn't have had a chance at Album of the Year.  Lady Antebellum would still be unknown.  Bruno Mars...maybe we shouldn't go there.  But the list of new artists making their names on radio goes on and on.  None of these were on the air in 2009.  Could Pandora play something that is too obscure to make it on air at a radio station, even an HD version of one?  Probably.  If your favorite radio station doesn't provide the variety of music that you crave, you will turn to something that does. That's why there's a place for Pandora in audio entertainment.  Definitely.  But not one that supplants or causes the demise of local radio.  They are different entertainment experiences.  Local radio just has a role in the lives of far more people.
So put away the shovels and your personal opinions and go look for authenticated, credible facts before you think you're getting ready to bury radio.  The listeners won't let you.
Mary Beth Garber
Southern California Broadcasters Assn             
1849 Sawtelle Blvd Suite 543
Los Angeles CA 90025


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