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Does Radio Really Need a Makeover?


Recently, Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman was featured in the Wall Street Journal. Pittman has been using every speaking opportunity to promote radio, tout its strengths and convince advertisers radio is still very relevant in the lives of consumers. Whether Clear Channel pitched the story to the Journal or they came  knocking on his door doesn't really matter. He was featured. Radio was the topic. And Pittman stayed on point, letting the writer know listeners never deserted radio. The WSJ headline "Pittman Envisions New Life For Radio" apparently did not sit particularly well with everyone in the industry, including Northern Broadcast General Manager Charlie Ferguson who says radio doesn't need a makeover. We'll let you decide what to make of Ferguson's points.

by Charlie Ferguson
When he appointed himself the Keeper of Cool for Radio, (Clear Channel CEO) Bob Pittman showed more hubris than most of us could take. Bob seems to think hes the only one in the world with a jar of cool hidden next to the big can of Whup Ass under his desk. It also sounds like he, alone, has access to whats inside. Whats bothering me about all this self promotion is it has nothing to do with what we do on free, over-the-air radio! You cant make radio cool again by putting a Pandora copycat service on the Internet. They dont call TV on the Internet TV, they call it video. Radio on the Internet isnt radio, its audio. Only terrestrial radio is radio, and it doesnt get cooler because you put another program stream on iHeartRadio. 

Clear Channel isnt getting cooler because you got rid of the entire species known as Program Director in the local markets.  It isnt cooler to run the same program on 300 stations at the same time when 299 of those audiences wont ever even see a picture of the personality, let alone meet them and shake their hand. While CC is able to aggregate their online audience and cross-promote national things (i.e. Taylor Swifts Red launch) its the power of the terrestrial signals that make it all happen. A lot of local broadcasters were stunned to find out the world wasnt holding their breath waiting to listen to their radio stations as soon as they went online. But were not un-cool because our streaming doesnt generate vast numbers of listeners. 

Were taking a cautious approach because the revenue model just doesnt work and we know were not alone.  Our station websites are contest entry portals, information delivery outlets, and fun places for our audience community with us and each other so were cool there too. The road to success for radio isnt moving our audience online. Its serving them with live, local content they like over the air. 

Our little group of radio stations makes radio cool every single day. Were on the air live and local, interacting with the audiences and having fun! Two of our FM stations racked up a total of over 200 live remote broadcasts and appearances over the past 12 months. Were cool because we take part in every charity fundraising event we possibly can and we sell third-party sponsorships to help our area businesses wear the white hat and be a part of successful events. Were also cool because we take an entirely different approach to covering local high school sports on our ESPN Radio affiliates and there are 56 high schools spread out across our 17-county coverage area. The audience is responding and its profitable.

If youre not doing it on the air using your radio transmitters, stop saying youre making radio cool again. Bob didnt ask me, but if he did Id say that if you want to make radio cool again, bring back real, local personalities.  Get them out doing live remote broadcasts and appearances. Meet the audience face to face, thank them for listening to your radio stations, ask how theyre doing, entertain them, make them smile and shake their hands. 

Then last but not least, sell radio advertising on a dollar for dollar time for time basis because if the dollars spent and the timeframe are equal, radio will get results equal to, or better than, any other medium. We reach 93% of Americans every week on free, over-the-air radio and have the ability to fill the stores, shops, and showrooms of our advertisers with customers every day. We dont need Bob Pittman telling everyone that radio sucks and only he can make us cool again. Radio broadcasters need to stop worshiping at the digital altar and keep pounding on what radio does and can do every day for both our listeners and clients.

Editor's Note: For clarification purposes, there's no record Bob Pittman has ever said "Radio sucks and only he can make us cool again." That may be how Mr. Ferguson perceives the Wall Street Journal article, however it is not a factual statement from anything we have seen or read.

Charlie Ferguson is General Manager of Northern Broadcast, Inc. (WKLT/WKLZ WFCX/WFDX WSRT/WSRJ FM) in Traverse City, Michigan ( and and can be reached at

(2/4/2014 8:30:57 AM)
FxzzRN Appreciate you sharing, great article post. Cool.

- NY
(1/8/2014 8:28:33 AM)
6gNnpn Very good blog article.Really looking forward to read more. Awesome.

- NY
(11/17/2013 11:20:17 PM)
Hlj9fP wow, awesome blog. Great.

- NY
(10/26/2013 12:34:30 AM)
3fHrN1 I think this is a real great blog article.Much thanks again. Awesome.

- NY
(10/24/2012 7:21:30 PM)
Someone needs to tell Pittman that he needs a shave and a tie. Really looks bad. Like a real estate salesman during the downturn.

- Phil

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