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Are You Going to Be A Leader or What?


You and I are living in perhaps the fastest-changing times in history. While much of the "old media" business still exists, the new world of media is vastly more powerful and more influential -- and it's moving so fast that even the experts cannot track the rate of change. From the perspective of my friends in Silicon Valley, you and I are employed in dinosaur media. They respect what we have done, and they want to steal our audiences and advertisers for their online audio services, but they think we're being silly when we cling to our transmitters. After all, the concept of "broadcasting" one signal to many radios is so very 1920s. They believe our model is broken, and it's just a matter of time before we lose our audiences and our advertisers -- to them. What do you believe?
Is Radio Immune To The Changes?
Many broadcasters I speak with think the radio industry is immune to the sea change that has been seen in other industries. They feel that, because it hasn't happened yet, audience loyalty has saved our industry from its digital downfall. But maybe we've just been lucky. Many buy the argument that radio has weathered the storms of other past attacks -- 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, cell phones -- so it will weather any new attacks too.
The newspapers believed they were safe, too. And though they pretended to embrace digital and were among the first to launch websites, the mistake they made was trying to create a "hybrid media." They should have fearlessly cannibalized the print papers and developed the next big thing so they could control it. Newspapers should have put newspapers out of business, rather than allowing others to launch competing services and take their businesses away.
When you live with one foot in the old world and one in the new, the tendency is to approach every decision based on the way things have always been done. For far too long, newspapers refused to allow their news to hit their websites until after it had been in print. Is radio acting the same way?
Are You Willing To Cannibalize?
What you believe matters now more than ever, and radio's success as an industry will rely on our willingness to cannibalize ourselves. You can try to maintain the status quo, or assume that your station website is your digital insurance policy, but the real danger for all of us is ignoring facts and trends. Are you writing off Pandora, saying it won't last? Or are you looking to invent something better -- not a copy, but something consumers will embrace even more?
Though I think aggregation services like TuneIn and iHeartRadio are important and believe every radio station needs to be a part of one of these services, we also need to follow other listening trends. Though an aggregated player allows the listener to pick from a variety of station types, that's still re-purposing a broad product in a narrow, personalized digital world. The only reason we have broad formats is because there is a limit on the number of signals we can have in a market. Radio needs to be reinvented for the personalized experience of a digital environment.
Can You Say Audio?
My passion for radio began as a kid who was fascinated by stations with entertaining personalities and my favorite music. To me, radio is audio entertainment, and whether it comes from a car radio, a home radio, a tablet or mobile device, or a transmitter is irrelevant. If you're clinging to your transmitter or have an idea that you don't want to stream to out-of-market consumers, you're missing a lot of opportunity.
Are You Admitting the Game Has Changed?
I continually hear complaints about change, about how big radio companies are cutting out local personalities and changing the way they do business. Though it's sad to see so many displaced radio soldiers, the reality is that this environment, this economy, and improving technology will increase this trend. Those who are caught in the crossfire need to realize the game has changed, certain positions will never return, and you'll have to keep reinventing yourself in order to stay employable. You don't want to be an out-of-work telegraph operator in a smartphone world.
The Past Will Return. Sure
I'm a nostalgic guy, and I love to think about the days when radio personality was at its peak and we had 15 share radio stations. They were fun times. I appreciate them, but I don't pine for their return, because there is no force in this industry big enough to make that happen. Big companies are not finally going to come to their senses and add back what they've cut out over the last 10 years.
It's Time To Become Relevant Again
Every industry is facing tremendous change. Every industry is seeking efficient ways to survive through technology -- and that results in jobs lost. Those of us in radio who have seen jobs eliminated, and those who have lost jobs, should not just try to shift to another station, we should realize that change will follow us all of our careers, and the only way to remain relevant and employable is to stay ahead of change.
So what do you believe?
Though I embrace change personally, I also find myself fighting it daily. It's human nature, and overcoming it requires a personal plan to embrace and make change for change's sake. We cannot wait for our companies to implement change. We cannot follow everyone else. We as professionals need to step up and force ourselves to reinvent, time and again. The way you reinvent yourself today may become irrelevant in another year. As Bob Pittman said, "Change is in our DNA." It should be in your DNA, and you need to force it to occur in your career.
Are You a Follower Or A Leader?
 I always used to think radio people were trendsetters, and some still are, but it seems that many today are no longer leading the pack. The same people who put radical FMs on the air, spat in the face of traditional AM programming, and changed the world are now the people protecting their turf rather than inventing the next radical change. Even though it's frightening, history tells us that someone else will reinvent us if we don't do it ourselves. It's happening all around us. You can't prevent it, but you can embrace it.
Radio -- audio entertainment -- will change, and if we don't each individually embrace and seek change, we will never catch up. We'll be remembered like the newspaper industry: changed, but by someone else.

Let us know what you think. Leave your comments below.




From Alan Shaw
Media history shows that it is far more likely that new technology will co-exist with traditional technology rather than replace it. Television did not replace the movie theater or ligitimate theater. The CD did not replace live music concerts. Cable and sat TV did not kill the networks or their affiliated stations.
There is little evidence that iPods, smartphones, Pandora or Sirius/XM is going to replace broadcast radio. To date, 92% of the American Public agrees with me. Broadcast radio is free, local and requires no effort whatsoever from the user. It is a very efficient way to distribute audio content to the masses. We should certainly embrace the new technology but should never discount the magnificent simplicity and effectiveness of a local radio radio station serving its community and its advertisers every day.
In short, I think radio has a very bright future. There! I'm not afraid to say it.
From Mike Green:
Radio has two sets of customers: listeners and advertisers. To stay strong, we need to do a good job for both. In my experience, what's kept Radio so popular is it's local flavor, well programmed music and contesting. People love to win stuff ~!
For our advertisers, we need to generate good creative ideas, and be expert in scheduling radio campaigns, both of which maximize their opportunity for ROI. Radio is still an extremely cost-effective medium, whether for building positive brand perception, or promoting events.
As long as digital assets are used per the above, they're another effective arrow in our ever-growing quiver ~! But our core business remains the same, and that's important to remember.
Again, all questions and no answers. And your most credible industry source to quote: Bob Pittman! C'mon Eric, are YOU a follower or a leader!

As radio continues to evolve, maybe one way to think of it is Digital Audio. Television is a simple model to use, first they tried to treat cable as different, then it was satellite, then it was pay per view. Ironically things went the oppositie direction, cable with two sources of revenue is in much better shape than Television. Comcast bought NBC for their cable networks as much as NBC network.

Now with Network Radio able to geo target ad delivery and update copy in real time the commodity model of network is going to become a much bigger player.

The real big players aren't likely to be Pandora or Terristeral Radio, it's likely to be someone who controls audio on demand. Be it ATT, Facebook, Apple Spotify. google or something we don't know of yet.

Thinking of Audio as publishers who really sell advertising through their digital side, nationally, not their on-air commercials is the long term play. With targeting and tracking digital will offer better advertising solutions long term and with stronger delivery systems, cars wireless etc, the stations themselves will only be relevant for local news, weather and talent which can simply be intserted by market.

The two big opportunities Radio has is to build new portals and social platforms and use their current abilities to grow for the long term. Of course long term is an oxymoron for Radio. Still they can drive people to portals and create social media solutions. If they get off the brand extension, they could become really powerful long term.

Will they adopt to something which is obvious from the outside and counter intuitive on the inside....I suppose after CC and others go Bankrupt.

(10/24/2013 1:05:56 AM)
yGUBe0 I really liked your blog post. Cool.

- NY
(7/13/2012 7:23:49 AM)
Awesome piece Eric! I'm reflecting back to the mid-90s when radio went through such a turbulent period of change following passage of the Telecom Act. Many of us thought that bigger would be better and that finally the industry would have enough clout in the hands of a few progressive leaders to snag more share of media spend. What we got instead was a progression of blood-letting, Stepford Wives-style formats and sales dictates that kept both sellers and managers chasing numbers for the re-forcast of the last re-forecast. Oh…and whatever happened to that long-standing 8% share of media spend that belonged to radio for decades?

While our energy and vision was focused on the here and now, most senior leadership barely glanced at what was emerging in the media ecosytem or how we might effectively exploit it. In management meetings, we’d have casual chats about digital and sometimes even had expert presenters come in to talk about the brave new world of digital. But if solutions emerged from those talks, they were usually retrofits that looked more like radio all over again. It was a bit like dropping a Kia engine into a Lamborghini. I often wonder how we allowed Groupon to emerge and grow to the point of billing $3-$4 billion in 2011 right under our noses when it was radio that had built-in love and credibility from bazillions of consumers. Instead of figuring out how to leverage our fan relationships through digital media, what I constantly heard from senior managers is, "Digital is less than 2% of our business, so let's not go crazy focusing on it."

I have seen some impressive steps by SOME groups to attract bright digital minds to the radio industry, but I think it's been a bit like bringing your star quarterback into a game at the two minute warning when you're already down four touchdowns. The earnest attempts at transformation are admirable and bumpy for sure. I'm watching to see if it makes any real difference in advertiser perception, listener habits and total revenue. The leadership that the industry needs today isn’t from among us. I believe it has to come from a new generation of strategic thinkers who see the business in ways those of us who are in love with it are unable to. I just hope that the big dogs are willing to sacrifice some sacred bulls in order to advance the ball.

- Larry
(7/13/2012 5:51:21 AM)
Just realized that in my previous comment I kept referring to "Ed" mistake, Eric...not enough coffee yet this morning.

- Craig Hahn
(7/13/2012 5:47:28 AM)
Great comments so far in this discussion...evidence that our industry still has a foundation of great & passionate professionals! Let me add my perspective as someone entering his 31st year in radio (the last 17 focused on integrating digital into our programming & sales tool boxes). Ed, you're dead on: radio has changed dramatically and is now changing almost monthly at a blistering pace. While it's simple to look at technology and say that we're changing because of streaming or Pandora or Ipods or, or... I believe we're changing because the communities we serve are changing dramatically. Their fast-paced lifestyles mean that they're consuming ALL media differently...taking advantage of the easiest ways to get what they want. As we look at our arena today, I think that there are several important points to consider: 1) "Radio" is not going to die. I've never subscribed to the belief that the Web is going to kill radio. I believe that radio will continue for years to come. The real question is that as part of that survival are we going to be signficant or an industry garnering an ever-shrinking part of the advertising & audience pie? Over 100 years ago Union Pacific was the Google, the Microsoft, the Facebook of the industrial world. Look at any Union Station still standing in your city...marble, brass, 50 foot ceilings...and look at the homes built by the railroad magnates...palatial to say the least. They were the leaders! But then cars, airplanes, buses and more came onto the transporation scene. Union Pacific didn't go away, they're still a successful company today; however, they're not the center of communities like a century ago. Do we in radio want to continue to reach 90%+ of the people in the country or will we be satisfied with fewer $ or smaller audiences in 20 years? 2) What is radio really? Are we transmitters, towers, streams or Facebook pages? I don't think any of those define us...they're just delivery vehicles to accomplish our primary purpose. Those could change completely today and it wouldn't affect who we are. Radio is about connecting to our audience in our communities and building a relationship with them, whether that relationship is for entertainment, music or information. Our listeners don't care if they tune a radio to 1060 or access a stream...they want their favorite radio station. I know it's popular to say that corporations are killing radio and it's no longer local. Have you seen the latest study by USC on the Katz site? 75% tune in because their favorite personality is on; 72% talk with friends about their favorite personality; 82% consider that they have a real relationship with their favorite radio personalities! If corporations have killed our all of our local stations, who are these people connecting with? We have in excess of 10,000 radio stations in America with less that 20% owned by major corporations. Radio is alive and well at the corporate stations and the one-owner stations. 3) I do strongly disagree with those who say we are underserving our audiences and our advertisers. If we are, then we only have ourselves to blame. Look at radio stations around the country today: In Colorado Springs the Clear Channel, Cumulus & other radio stations IMMEDIATELY jumped in to serve their audiences during the recent wildfires with vital evacuation information. When the immediate danger passed, they all are now working to help rebuild their communities. Super audience service. Last year when tornadoes devastated Alabama, stations in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham (part of large corporations) stayed there for their listeners even when they could see the twisters ripping across their cities less than 1/4 mile from their studios. A music station in Springfield MA dropped music to cover the rare tornado that cut through downtown. Listen to the tearful calls from listeners thanking the radio stations and you won't see anything but superior service. As for our advertisers, I've taught my AE's, my managers and our advertisers that our job is not just to run a spot schedule. Our job is to connect those advertisers with our audience in the most cost-effective and powerful way possible beginning with an idea that meets their needs. Now 90%+ of those solutions are going to include on-air because it's our loudspeaker, but if I can provide an advertiser couponing via mobile SMS messages that deliver 786 people to one Dairy Queen on 1 day or if I can create a 2 minute video for the local cable company and host it on our site to drive hundreds of inquiries into their business services or if I can reach our listeners during our At Work Daypart (streaming) with a custom message that reaches businesses or if I create an online contest that gives a bank in a small New England community hundreds of people interested in opening an account...shou

- Craig Hahn
(7/12/2012 11:20:10 PM)
Historically and comparatively, radio has always been the medium to suck hind teat. Contemporary times have only added to the mix of media under which we still hold bottom rung.

And yet, the boys and girls of radio still thrash around fire off missiles towards the foreign, invading platforms - as if there was enough ammo to make even a dent. We don't and it is because we are firing BB's.

There is no one reading these or offering their own comments who cannot 'fess up to the fact that we are in the business of under-serving our audiences and cheating our advertisers.

Even while corporate monstrosities continue to do their best impression of Godzilla stomping out Tokyo, there is an internal fear and desperation in the business that one day the locals will figure it out and obliterate the beast.

Audiences will, at some point, figure out they are being patronized and exploited with shoddy programming along with insulting commercial messages.

Unless we address our whole model of delivering radio with contemporary knowledge and understanding of our electronic medium, we are doomed to having to settle for the dregs.

Now, for the elite, even the dregs can add up to a nice chunk of change, the accumulation of which, I'm told, is a worthy and, apparently, acceptable ideal. "At least, I've got mine," they say.

What can be said about those who reject any form of responsibility for improvement and the betterment of all concerned - staff, audience, advertisers and yes, even shareholders?

How about "These are not people worthy of respect." - for starters.

- Ronald T. Robinson

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