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AG News: 4/22/2010

When Credit Is Due, Give It

I began writing about how the internet affects the radio industry in 1997, never shying away from calling leaders to the carpet for their failure to lead (read: being complacent). Another item my fingers have always been quick to type about is the failure of radio industry trade publications to educate, when they missed opportunities (there have been many) to guide readers in ways to embrace the future.

Let's step back from that approach. The sands have shifted and there is credit due to Radio Ink Publisher, Eric Rhoads. To understand why, schedule an hour to view the video of Eric's "Radio Reinvention," a presention made at a Cumulus Media corporate meeting. (Credit also goes to Lew Dickey for allowing these wise words to be accessed by all in the radio industry.)

What I witnessed in this presentation is what I will call the "reawakening of radio." I feel that radio does not need reinvention, but an evolution. If Eric Rhoads wants to call it the former, please accept that. We will end up with the same results.

At long last we have a person in a position of credibility who is actually mouthing concepts that have been pointed out here since 1997. He will hopefully have a profound effect on the radio industry because leaders will now listen. For that we need to extend to Eric Rhoads the credit due. (Let's take a moment and also give credit to Jim Carnegie, Radio Business Report Publisher, who has also voiced these concerns.) What makes the comment from Eric so compelling is that his words are spoken not with a "sky-is-falling" undertone to a group of Cumulus Radio executives but with "the past is dead, move on" conviction.

Start with Eric's opening line: "I'm on a mission. My mission is to change the mindset of the radio broadcasting industry." Bravo! A long-needed step it is, something I've failed to accomplish after repeated efforts.

Before you grow a perception that this is a whitewashed commentary on his presentation, though, see the statements from Eric with which I disagree:
  • "We've all been told that the ipod is going to kill us." (15:30 into video) Not so, at least from people who understand both mediums. iPod picks up where the radio industry dropped the ball on being relevant to youth. It can be overcome.
  • "Radio is dying because the internet is cool and radio is not...." (17:00) No. Radio is losing revenue and listener respect because it's not offering local programming to any degree of responsibility, which inspires cool. Nobody who understands both mediums has ever said radio is going to die.
  • "We have to make them [media buyers] believe in radio...." No. Radio needs to deliver the same accountability being found in new forms of advertising.
One comment from my perch: Eric fails to mention analytics and metrics - which I consider to be the new currency of advertising. He does briefly talk about search engines, and clients doing research by typing in "advertising, radio, Austin." I'll disagree. Clients do not type in that last, geographically-connected part of the keyword (Austin). Most search queries are done with a two-word combination. If a geographic specification is tied to a search in radio, it is to find stations from which to choose and not for locating the mechanics of how to do an advertising campaign - which I believe is what many small business owners are first seeking when considering spending money on radio advertising. This ties directly with Eric's comment about advertisers now doing "research."

Eric Rhoads exhibits candor in this talk which is extremely refreshing, needed, and deserving of being heard by anyone in the radio industry who is concerned about adjusting their attitude for today's competition. Here are a few moments of brilliance (quoting Eric Rhoads - video timestamp in parenthesis):
  • "What are we doing to really repackage ourselves and make ourselves look good?" (27:45)
  • When he instructs attendees to study companies outside of radio: "Who has problems similar to radio? Who has inventory they can't sell? Airlines, hotels...?" (40:00)
  • "Everybody's commercials were playing at the same time. How stupid is that?" (42:30)
At 51:36 into the video, Eric sums it up nicely with a phrase I consider courageous to say to a roomful of radio industry executives: "Our copy writers don't know how to write copy. Part of the problem in the radio industry is 'we don't know how it works.'"

Another part of this video points to how far radio has yet to go. It's when an audience member asks, "Where are our competitors going?" This gentleman mentions TV and newspapers, but not local internet advertising - which should be the first competition to consider today.

Early on in this clip, Eric Rhoads talks of his neighbor, a business owner, whom he quotes: "I was spending 15, 20, $25,000 a month on radio and newspapers. Then I discovered search. I spent $3,000 on search and got more business than I got off of radio and TV." Search, especially Local Search, is radio's new competition. To ignore its potential for eroding more radio ad dollars is to continue keeping your eyes on the wrong ball. Balls play a minor roll in this "Radio Reinvention" video (though, we'll keep that as the mystery). Let it just be said that the black ball represents radio's failure to uncover new media's advertising offerings, not negativity.

The video is 53 minutes long and at the start I mentioned scheduling an hour for it. This is in part because of the need to rewind a couple of points in the presentation; some you need to hear twice.

Another minute is needed for an action on your part. Take 60 seconds to congratulate Eric Rhoads on making this video public, and for the keen insight it exhibits. Use this link; his address and the subject line are filled in for you.

It's not often we hear a radio industry Captain call the cards that are actually on the table. When it occurs, as it does here, the leader needs to be told that the message was received - and he should be given thanks for having the guts to say it out loud and in public. Eric Rhoads' video is one of those opportunities.

View the presentation at

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President, Audio Graphics
Ken Dardis
Online Since January 1997

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