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AG News: Tuesday - 2/17/2009

Radio Industry Needs to Ask for Outside Help

There is a must-read article at BillboardRadioMonitor, which you can get to through the link below. Digest what's said there; then come back here and read these comments. What's written at Billboard now explains why radio got into such deep trouble over the past few years. The participants in this "Exclusive Roundtable" talk a very good talk. But action, well, that's something else. (View the names of this panel's participants here.)

There were "elite programmers like Tom Poleman, John Dimick and Buzz Knight" taking part in the discussion that's outlined below. Together they sounded like General Patton, and they would have done some good if their words were not so obviously motivated out of fear of losing the race. Here are some of their views, and my side comments:

Start with the first words in BillboardRadioMonitor's article, "News flash: Technology may not be the enemy." This was a news flash five years ago. Today, it is an indication that the radio industry has to jump on a moving train.

"Radio has been attacked from a lot of sides, but it's held up to videogames, satellite radio and iPods..." "Held up"? As in keeping pace with new media? If that were true, there'd be no discussion taking place, as each programmer would be off building strategy to beat the others and the onslaught of videogames, satellite radio, and iPods. If this were true, we'd be hearing little vignettes on radio about how to get better use out of the internet. We would have started hearing new music on radio in 2001. We would have seen better radio station web sites a long time ago, because the industry would have taken time to compete with iTunes, video, and satrad online. Radio hasn't "held up"; it's been bludgeoned, is staggering, and now is looking to the referee to extend that ten count so it can regain footing.

"We have a willingness to embrace new technology and take risks. We have extreme passion for our brands and what we can do to make them better for listeners and customers." Pardon me? Is this what we've all experienced since consolidation took hold? New technology is not something that radio has "embraced." Instead, the industry has fought it like a wild dog, only giving in once iPods and satrad grabbed the headlines so consistently.

With HD side channels, podcasting and on-demand video platforms, "this is an exciting time for radio. We need to ride the wave." Gotcha! "Exciting time"? Then, why are we not hearing this conveyed on air? Although I'm beginning to hear the disc jockey banter loosen a bit, we're still a long way from hearing substance coming out of the speakers. Anyone want to discuss how often they hear jocks talking about local happenings? In this town (Cleveland, Ohio) we still suffer from a lack of content, if you want to compare it with what radio was known for producing in the distant past. Oh, and is there anyone willing to discuss why we hear the same jock on different stations?

"All of the participants saw rediscovering the joys of daring programming as an opportunity for radio in the context of the HD side channels." And here's the reason why the main signal lacks content: Radio is getting ready to place the "daring programming" on its HD side channels when the conversation should be placing it on the main signal.

"When FM first came on the scene, it was being championed by the guys smoking weed in the back room," WQHT PD John Dimick said. "Those are the kind of people we need to tap now for ideas about making HD work." Right. And how about getting those people involved with the programming on "regular" radio? This point has been brought up at Audio Graphics many times over the past few years. So has this: The audience isn't going to trust that radio is capable of providing quality programming on side channels until it believes it is getting it (quality programming) from what they are listening to today.

"You don't try to educate listeners; another kid does..." The adage "Let the other person find out who you are, they'll remember it longer" is exactly what's being said here. But, how can this be if the next sentence out of the these "elite programmers" mouths is "the selling of HD side channels begins on a station's primary channel, where trusted personalities can lead the charge"? Two sides of the mouth. Which do you believe?

WQHT PD John Dimick suggested that the $200 million the radio industry has earmarked for marketing and promoting HD might be better spent on purchasing radios and handing them out at every remote across the country. That would be true, except the $200 million is in airtime. You don't expect radio to really spend that kind of money, do you?

John Parikhal, president of Joint Communications, "suggested that developing talent remains radio's ticket for success, and starting at the podcasting level is the ideal training ground." Go back to the part about placing "daring programming" on side channels. Is this supposed to come from entry level talent, too?

And, here's one I'm scratching my head over. It comes from John Dimick: "I'm scared about telling a 22-year-old African-American male that he needs to carry around a little black box with a blinking red light all the time-and that if they don't, Arbitron will be calling them." First, is John old enough to remember boom boxes? Next, does he really think that Arbitron calling them is going to be a concern? The average 22-year-old black male's response would be the same as your average 22-year-old white male's - f**k Arbitron!

The last two quotes from the article make sense, which is why they are saved for last. "What we're focused on is what is between the records." Correct. If a town has three AC stations, the one that comes out ranked #1 does so because of what's played when the music stops. This isn't brillance, only forgotten programming.

Finally, think about this. Then ask why? "Radio has never really invented anything-it does a brilliant job of packaging what's already out there..." Right on,
Mr. Parikhal. Now, do something that's new.

What radio needs to do is ask for help from people who are not tainted with today's radio mindset. But, more important than asking for that help is actually listening to what's being said. Industry executives have already shown that doing it their way doesn't work.

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President, Audio Graphics
Ken Dardis
Online Since January 1997

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