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Thursday, April 26, 2012
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Youth Need to Lead Radio, Again!

It's best to get this out of the way. I'm an older guy who was present during the radio industry's "golden years." One doesn't like to admit something like this, but a phone call from a young man who is working on his post-graduate degree got me thinking about "youth," again. He called to ask my opinion for his dissertation about the effects of the internet on radio.

Our discussion turned to what's described as "compelling content" today, which brought about comparisons of what that term meant long ago. Names like "Chickenman" were revived and compared to what's currently heard on radio. You can guess at how that word "compelling" degenerated into "adequate."

Compelling content is often used by older radio industry executives to describe all that's needed to make radio relevant again. Only, the degree of difficulty in producing "compelling" audio is never addressed. That radio has multiples in competition (times 10) in our modern world makes this act even more daunting.

This young fellow who called sounded particularly smart. Fact is, he's not an only child in the arena of youth having significant brain power.

"Now that Robert Pittman controls Clear Channel, how many youthful programmers - with power - does he employ? The chance he was given is not being offered within his empire, which leads one to question why." Bob Pittman was 23 when given the programmer's chair at New York's WNBC. Prior to that he programmed stations in Chicago and Pittsburgh.

John Gorman, one of the pioneers of FM Radio, was also 23 when he began building "The Buzzard" into the most recognizable name in radio along with Telos GM Denny Sanders and a group known as the "Nuclear Army."

At 23, I was given a shot at co-directing a cabaret for Club Med in Kauai, Hawaii - and ended up as an assistant radio programmer by the time I was 27. (And, yes, that gig at Club Med is a story in itself.)

Take a look at this video to drive home that there are youth with brains who only need a shot at greatness. It's produced by 4 young people who have been empowered to lead a new concept of the TED Talks ("Ted-ed"). Brilliant is the only word I can use to describe what they've come up with. That word is also applicable to the older people who let the younger ones have a go at "owning" a concept like this.

So where in the radio industry are our young leaders? I'm not talking about those who are given a title yet held to corporate restrictions. Where are the young minds in radio who have total control over creating the product and integrating it with the internet? I can only think of two names. Suggestions for others are welcome.

It's been stated many times at Audio Graphics that the radio industry is controlled by a group of old white men who have no concept of youth's needs, or how youth view what is presented as "radio" today. Their knowledge of how to integrate new media within radio is lacking. They castigate telcoms for reluctance on putting FM chips into cellphones. Yet, broadcasters ignored the concept when the cellphone industry was growing up. (To think the telecom industry is going to open its arms to this concept is wishful thinking at best, and stupidity in its rawest form.)

My guess is that if we had youth controlling radio a decade ago, they would have seen the importance of approaching telecoms back then. But no young brains were given the backing, so the radio industry is now backed into a corner.

Over the past few years we've seen consolidation throw thousands of experienced people out of radio. Many of those who remain cry they are the cream of the crop. I'll take the other side and say they're the ones willing to do far more for much less, which helps the balance sheet. But what does it do to the product? And where, if anywhere, have the older white men given up control of the product to smart youth?

Now that Robert Pittman controls Clear Channel, how many youthful programmers - with power - does he employ? The chance he was given is not being offered within his empire, which leads one to question why.

Go chase higher shareholder profits. Create programming that resembles the old automated systems of yesteryear. Keep youth away from the decision making arm of radio because, God only knows, they might have an idea that costs a little money. Do it all and all you do is devalue radio.

To radio old farts: Get out of the way. To youth: Become more assertive. It's time that working in the radio industry becomes fun again, and this will only come from pushing new concepts which those in control currently waive off as "too expensive." ("Chickenman" wasn't cheap to produce.)

I'm not looking for a rebellion. I just want to see the radio industry, once again, being led by young people with great ideas. Great radio was built on this, and it's why today's radio lacks the foundation for building great programming.

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