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Wednesday, January 10, 2013
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Down the Radio Industry Rabbit Hole

There's reality. Then there's what happens within the radio industry as reported by trade publications and industry chiefs. Often, reality and what's reported don't jive.

Examples continue to flow.

Sprint saying it will make FM available in "select Android and Windows smartphones" is announced with "Smulyan Convinces Sprint The FM Chip Is Cool" at Radio Ink. Read the fine print, though, and we find it's really a case of radio offering promotions to Sprint. So get ready for an HD Radio style blast of commercials saying, "FM means 'Find Me' on your Sprint smartphone."

Those who have watched this closely also know there's a hint of Sprint getting regulators to back away in this deal because now it has signed something with a radio company - regardless whether that something is worth anything in real world currency.

Those from the radio industry who don't closely watch the issue make inane comments, like "Radio properties will triple in value [because of this]."

It's another case of radio folks talking about what's coming and not about what they have accomplished, because that field is lacking.

"How many more years will pass before we see a radio initiative that competes with a digital ad marketplace?" 2013 is replicative of 2012, which is mirroring 2011, that reflects 2010... and we still don't have movement within the radio industry to upgrade itself beyond talking.

One positive point is the term "CES" finally making its way into radio trades; Fred Jacobs gives reasons.

I was invited to talk at CES 2001. Afterwards, these words were printed here: "CES is all about capturing your listeners' time. Look at what's being offered at this year's event. Start planning ways to compete." 12 years later Fred Jacobs writes, "There are still so few radio people here."

At what point will the radio industry understand it's not alone in the world of audio entertainment in the car anymore?

What's run as radio industry news today is no more than a slew of personnel and format changes which mean little. A station in Boston bounces between formats for a few days, then announces 30,000 songs in a row is as hot as radio gets with headlines today. Here's news: Many music services constantly deliver 30,000 songs in a row - and they are increasingly available in the car.

And then we have apps, a buzzword meaning "my station is showing how technically advanced it is." How many local fans will actually use an app to access a single station is a question nobody wants to address, though. Also, there's this radio industry problem...

Come January 15, I will have penned columns on how the internet affects the radio industry for 16 years. During that time, radio's been in a continual slide away from "today" with a nearly constant mouthing of "radio is OK" from the people who've dismantalled what was once a great and respected industry. Newsrooms? Don't need them. Local talent? Truck them in by VT. Production quality? One production director can handle all six of a cluster's stations - who cares what it sounds like.

Has radio tried? You be the judge by wading through this list of radio industry initiatives - all quite similar to the latest FM chip in a smartphone. All are dead or near-dead today.
Network Radio Compliance Council
Radio Communicators Group
Radio 2020
Radio Heard Here
The HD Radio Alliance
Radio. You Hear It Here First
Less is More
Radio Creative Resource Group
Format Lab
HD Radio University

Why radio, indeed? Amid a technology sector that concentrates on improving the consumer's experience, the radio industry is fixated on cutting costs and keeping profit margins at 35%-40% while alienating the generations it needs to move into tomorrow.

The term "local" has been redefined to mean delivering weather and traffic. And radio trades (either owned by Clear Channel or so dependent on having radio people attend conferences that they are afraid to report the real changes) are milking this time for every second until radio resembles a typerwriter or Kodachrome memory. When eyes finally open, radio will look and sound exactly like a decade ago, only with another drop in TSL.

What went on at CES in 2013? You have only a slight idea if your nose never left a radio trade publication.

How many more years will pass before we see a radio initiative that competes with a digital ad marketplace? Triton Digital announced a behavioral marketing push today, but that means little if radio leaders don't change.

How many more times will Pandora be asked to explain how it can call itself radio? Beyond the hundreds of hires it's made over the past years, this is what "P" is looking for this week.

There's no hiring being done in the radio industry even remotely close to any of this.

Radio has gotten to be very painful to watch, and not very interesting.

I've turned my attention to indie artists and online radio of late, and that very well may be where things stay focused. After 16 years of trying to be the foghorn for "radio meets digital," I'm finding most in the radio industry are deaf.

There's no desire to change when you don't spend time looking around you. And if there is one thing radio executives seem to have done best since the whole digital craze started, it's to have a fixation on staring down the radio industry rabbit hole. It is a place where reality is suspended, and a constant echo resounds: "Let's just create another radio industry initiative, and everything is going to be OK."

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