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Radio Is Still an Infant

11-20-2012

by Walter Sabo

You and I have often read that radio is a "mature" medium. Occasionally it's referred to as a "post-mature industry." (Isn't post maturity death?). In the timeline of media evolution, radio is at the toddler stage.  Here are five markers that radio is just getting out of the crib:

1. Radio is a "proven" medium. The General Motors building, a majority of the P&G buildings in Cincinnati and the Colgate Palmolive headquarters were all built when their primary advertising medium was---radio. It has worked for almost 100 years. Since it works today, it is proven and urgently current rather than mature.

2. Consider that microwaves are eternal. Mankind started tapping into them for radio transmissions only 100 years ago. Radio is a green, non-perishable product. It will never dissipate. Its capabilities to sell, motivate, entertain, communicate are just being discovered.

3. The management  of radio has evolved from crawl to stand up in the past 75 years. Walking is the next phase. That's correct.  During radio's first 10 years, the radio business was frequency agnostic. Companies SHARED frequencies. One company would air their programming for a few hours a day, then a different one on the same frequency. There were many reasons for this practice including the challenge of teaching people how to use a radio and vast inconsistencies in browsers---I mean tuners.

From 1928 until 1992 all radio stations were staffed and managed essentially the same way. Radio did not actually evolve, it merely conducted business the same way over and over for six decades. Deregulation rulings permitted radio to start to walk, not run, walk. Toddlers stumble. Then they stand.

4. All consumption is local. Two of the most beautiful TV studios ever built are in mothballs at KPIX San Francisco. Built by Group W, one holds an audience the other was designed for PM MAGAZINE. Stations in towns as small as Des Moines had multiple in-house production facilities and fully outfitted studios constructed for hours of local production.

Almost every TV station used to produce local kids' shows, dance, cooking shows, magazine lifestyle show in addition to news. Those shows have been replaced by national network and syndicated shows. It happened in TV 30 years ago, it's happening to radio now.
The public dictates the pattern: Syndicated TV shows generated the same or more audience than in-house local productions at much lower cost. What choice would you make? The model is the same in radio.

5. MOST RADIO STATION organization charts were designed the same year as a Model A, in 1928. 

The seismic shift that changed the industry was one key ruling: The Telecommunications Act of 1996.  Stations could be bought and sold at any time and financed with debt. Once the financial structure of media ownership changed, management structures had to change. It was destiny. We are now in the THIRD phase of evolution, Toddlers. Toddlers are immature, require safety guards and have the potential for a full life.

These analogies are not presented to be sweet.  Our challenge is that radio is an industry labeled as "Mature"---not glamorous, while suffering from a vicious hangover brought on by profound organizational change and the elimination of thousands of jobs.

This is the time for the celebration of experimentation.  Every new format, sales structure, management initiative tends to be met with derision. That response PROVES to advertisers and the press that radio is a curmudgeon medium run by luddites. When the toddler falls, do you tell her she's stupid for trying?

Walter Sabo can be reached by e-mail at sabowalter@gmail.com




(11/21/2012 4:46:44 AM)
HAPPY THANKSGIVING.

- Walter Sabo
(11/20/2012 4:57:39 PM)
Well management structure HAS evolved just a tad...thank goodness. I remember my freshman year in college when the glossary in my RCA Radio Control Handbook defined the Music Director as, "One who conducts the studio orchestra." In 1974 it had obviously been quite some time since that description was accurate. But hey, the textbooks were free from RCA in exchange for building an "all RCA" studio!!

- Gabe Hobbs
(11/20/2012 4:52:59 PM)
Radio's far from grown and needs to repeat a few classes in creativity, compelling appeal and local service that sells. Given some of the direction that is or isn't being applied, how can anyone call this a "mature" medium. Tremendous potential right now from radio's effective messaging that transcends all media. Plenty of growth ahead!

- Clark Smidt
(11/20/2012 12:07:23 PM)
Walter good perspective. Debt is the primary culprit at Radio, followed by clients moving rapidly to Digital and Social. There are some really new breathtaking ways to generate revenue, without a complete restart and increase engagement. I think once they learn they aren't in the train business, rather than the transportation business. Or not in the Radio business, but the audio publishing and can accept Digital and execute. They have a healthy platform, yet must build-Dave

- dave presher
(11/20/2012 12:07:22 PM)
Walter good perspective. Debt is the primary culprit at Radio, followed by clients moving rapidly to Digital and Social. There are some really new breathtaking ways to generate revenue, without a complete restart and increase engagement. I think once they learn they aren't in the train business, rather than the transportation business. Or not in the Radio business, but the audio publishing and can accept Digital and execute. They have a healthy platform, yet must build-Dave

- dave presher

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