October 13, 2015

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Talking Tech (03/10/08)

He knows the ins and outs of every gadget and gizmo on the market: what they can do, what they can’t, and — most importantly — how tech-challenged users can make them actually work.

Every weekend Leo Laporte helps his listeners figure out what all of those buttons do, what those error messages mean, and how the dizzying array of new technologies hitting the market each day actually can make their lives easier. His program, The Tech Guy: Leo Laporte was launched into syndication this year by Premiere Radio Networks, and is heard weekends from 2 to 5 p.m. ET on nearly 50 affiliates, including KFI/Los Angeles, KGO/San Francisco, WMAL/Washington, DC, and KOGO/San Diego.

Like most of us, Laporte carries around a few favorite devices he just can’t live without. While many industry watchers expect consumers will soon be carrying around one device that gives them phone, Internet, and music player capability, Laporte says he isn’t all that eager to embrace the one-size-fits-all mentality, noting that most people like to have the best device for each job. And if a combination device can’t do everything exceptionally well, he questions whether people will embrace it.

While the shape and function of tomorrow’s digital devices remain to be seen, Laporte believes today’s radio business has the goods to exploit all of these emerging technologies and expand on the industry’s key strengths. “We know how to make great content, how to build community, and how to create interactivity,” he says. “We’ve been doing it for years.”

Looking ahead, Laporte adds, “We’re in the business of creating audio content. The good news is that there’s gonna be a huge and growing demand for audio content.”

RadioInk: How can radio move to the forefront of digital technology?
Leo LaPorte:
I’m going to get a lot of hate for saying this, but some of the things that radio focuses on miss the point. Stations should think about why people listen to radio, and respond to that. People don’t listen to iPods because they sound better; they listen to iPods because they can choose and control the content. In fact, a lot of times they're listening to commercial radio, which has done really well with podcasting. Podcast time is radio listening, just on the listener’s schedule. If you’re gonna win back that iPod generation, you have to look at the negatives that drove them to the iPod in the first place — repetition, lack of variety, too much advertising, too much talk. You’ve got to respond to that, and some of that is a technological response. Stations that aren't yet podcasting ought to be. The question comes down to: What is your business? Many radio people think it has to do with a tower and electricity and a transmitter. Really, your business is creating content and delivering that content to a big enough audience that you can sell it to advertisers. If you start thinking of yourself as a content creator and distributor, podcasting and the Internet provide a really great resource. The good news is that a whole new generation of listeners is being created; people who like listening and are interested in audio.

RI: What do you see as traditional broadcast radio's strengths?
There’s never going to be a replacement for live news radio and live talk, because you can’t put that on a portable device and listen to it later. You don’t care what happened in the Tuesday election on Wednesday; you want to know what happened Tuesday night. Radio has a real advantage in that regard.

Talk radio is the first and only interactive broadcasting. We’ve been doing this since before the Internet. Successful radio stations create communities. A web page or a podcast isn't about creating a show or a site; it's about creating a community. Radio has done that for years. I would say 90 percent of the skill set that radio broadcasters have applies really well to the modern age — we just have to look at our distribution channels and be flexible about the ways people listen to us. We know how to make great content, how to build community, and how to create interactivity. We’ve been doing it for years.

RI: Should radio be doing more original content for podcasts?
Yes, but it doesn’t need to be original. Re-packaging existing content is fine. NPR has done very well just taking their existing content and putting it on iPods. It works because a lot of people who listen to NPR can't listen to Morning Edition live.

The failure of podcasting has been that we’ve got 100,000 people who have no idea how to create audio content creating real crap. So a lot of people listen and think podcasting is terrible. One of the reasons that I got into podcasting is because I know how to make audio content. We’ve been very successful taking podcasting existing radio shows, as well as creating new content just for the Internet. There’s a real audience for that. It’s a huge opportunity for radio.

It’s that old story of the people in the railroad industry who thought they were in the business of trains, not transportation, We’re not in the business of radio towers, we’re in the business of creating audio content. The good news is that there’s gonna be a huge and growing demand for audio content.

RI: As technology makes telecommuting feasible for more workers, doesn't that audience dwindle away?
Telecommuting comprises only 3 percent of the work force. It may go up, but there’s still about 145 million people getting in their car every morning. The commute isn’t gonna go away; the average commute is 20 percent longer than it was in 1980. Three million people commute across state lines now, and some super commuters spend at least 90 minutes each way. These people are listening; there’s no competition in that car except for the cell phone and the guy in the rearview mirror. That audience is a huge opportunity for people who create audio content, and nobody does that better than radio.
And even if you work at home, you’re not watching TV, you’re listening to the radio. In a way, people who are telecommuting are easier to reach because they can listen to streaming radio. Broadband penetration in this country is now 65 percent, it’s huge. You’ve got to get out of the mindset of: I bought this big transmitter and I have this big tower, so I need to use them. You need to start thinking about what you could do with all this content.

RI: What do you think of the prospect of in-car Internet access, and the possibility of listening to in-car streamed audio?
Technically it's very difficult, and I don’t see the demand for it. This is another case where you can go down a real rabbit hole. We’ve got satellite, we’ve got broadcast, I don’t know if we really need streaming in a car. Frankly, people who want anything but live news or talk are listening to their portable devices anyway. But it is an interesting challenge. If you’re doing live news content or sports that you can’t get via broadcast, streaming is the only option for you.

RI: Are you concerned about how the ongoing royalty debate might affect the future of streaming?
I think the whole royalties debate will go away sooner than later. The record industry is the poster boy for a business that doesn’t understand what’s happening, and is fighting tooth and claw to preserve its old model. But they’re starting to suddenly get it. They have to realize that radio is the best promotional vehicle they’ve got. Talk about greed — they’re killing the goose that laid the golden egg! A record company that wants to penalize streaming radio and radio broadcasts is gonna lose its artists, because the artists are going directly to the audience and putting this stuff out on the Internet. If they see the record companies stymieing them, they will turn away from the labels.

Radio should be careful not to get in that position. If you think about it, radio is the original social network. The opportunity is stunning, and that’s when the artists come to you. MySpace succeeds because independent musicians go there to get the word out. They’re bypassing the record companies, they’re bypassing radio. The thing we’ve got to realize is that it’s a new world, it’s a new landscape. With broadcasters it's traditionally been: We talk, you listen. But radio has always been community focused. We know how to listen to our listeners. We just have to do more of that; listen to what they’re asking for and give it to them. That’s the beauty of it — we have the skill set, no one else does.

RI: Do you expect MP3 players will go the way of Walkmans, especially as on-demand content becomes increasingly available?
It’s a vain hope to think that once people get control of their content, they’re ever gonna give it back. I think people are going to carry portable audio devices for a long time and, frankly, we'd better hope so. Look what happened with the transistor radio — it transformed radio. It took radio out of the livingroom. That’s the kind of transition we’re seeing now.

But there’s always a market for somebody who says: I’m sick of everything on my iPod, I wonder what’s new. Or someone who wonders what happened last night in the election. Those are opportunities for radio. Those are needs the iPod can’t fill. But I think it’s futile to think people are going to get tired of carrying them, because iPods are going to get smaller and smaller. They’ll be in your earpieces, they’ll be in your eyeglasses. That problem will be solved.

RI: Can the digital radio platform give people that kind of control through on-demand offerings?
Sure, that's possible. But, if a subscription on-demand service has to compete with a $5-a-month, all-you-can-eat service or the listener’s own record collection — which he’s already paid for and has on a device the size of a pack of cards — it’s a tough sell. Music radio has a tough row to hoe, but there are opportunities. If you listen and you’re open, you’ll find them. Introducing new music or re-broadcasting live concerts are places for music radio to succeed. But the notion that music radio with on-demand or something else can replace the iPod by giving people what they want? I don’t know. That’s a tough one, because you're not only competing against other terrestrial radio stations in your market, you’re competing against iTunes and Microsoft and every website in the world that wants to offer music. It’s a much more competitive landscape.

RI: How can radio bridge serving traditional listeners with those who demand more?
The nice thing about this new technology landscape is the incremental cost. It’s not like you have to reinvent yourself completely. You can continue to do what you’re doing while also looking at ways to repackage and reuse what you’re already creating to appeal to that younger audience. My kids never, ever listen to the radio — never — and I think that’s pretty common. Teenagers have changed a lot, and they’re the future audience, right? When I was their age, radio was everywhere. That was our community. They don’t need radio to do that anymore; they have MySpace, Facebook, IM. They’re not on the phone either, by the way. Sometimes people grow up and out of things; I don’t think this particular behavior is going to change, so radio is faced with a graying of our traditional audience. The good news is that we can continue to do what we do best; we just need to think of other ways to deliver that so it appeals to a new, younger audience. And it’s totally possible. Focus on the one thing that we can deliver that an iPod can't: a sense of community. That’s what people want; they’re desperate for it, frankly, and radio is very good at it.

RI: Do you think consumers will eventually carry around a single device that does it all? Phone, e-mail, audio?
What you often get with a device that does everything is the best of nothing. I prefer to use best-in-class devices, so instead of trying to type on an iPhone, which is a pain, I use a Blackberry because it’s got a keyboard; and I still carry an iPod because I want the best-in-class music player. My cell phone is a lousy music player. I don’t think consumers will give up all the features they want just so they can carry one device.

RI: What’s the next big thing?
It’s really hard to predict because technology is very discontinuous; there are sudden shifts that nobody could predict. But you can make some pretty clear statements: Internet access will be everywhere, and that means interactivity is everywhere — and not only the ability to stream. This is really good for radio in terms of advertising, because what’s going to change technologically over the next decade is how advertisers reach an audience, and what they expect in terms of numbers and response. Radio is in a good position to deliver something that television networks can’t deliver: an engaged audience and true interactivity. That’s where we’ve got to pay attention to ubiquitous Internet, because that’s what gives us interactivity. It gives us an audience that can respond back everywhere. When you look at Google and Microsoft's effort to acquire Yahoo, it’s all about online advertising and location-based advertising. And radio is the original location-based advertising: I’m down here at the carpet store, come on over.

Let's face it: It’s a scary time. Media is changing. Devices will get smaller, more portable. Many of these devices — not the iPod unfortunately — are coming with built-in radios. The fact that Apple with its 80 percent market share has decided not to include radios tells me there’s not a lot of demand for a radio in these things, but we can hope.

Interestingly, though, cell phones are becoming audio devices. A lot of people have approached me interested in offering podcast streaming on cell phones. I think that’s an opportunity for radio. In some ways the cell phone is the new transistor radio. That will become an important platform for us, and we have to think about ways to use that. Let’s create content that engages an audience, gets them to listen, and takes advantage of these new technologies. We’ve been doing interactivity for a long time; let’s step it up and go to the next level. Interactivity is absolutely what’s next for media, and radio is in really good shape to take advantage of that.

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