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Thursday, May 10, 2012
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The Radio Industry and Its Chip in Smart Phones

You're either on one side of this fence or the other. There is no riding the middle.

You believe that an FM chip in a cellphone will save lives, or that the radio industry shouldn't be shoving something that's market driven down the throat of a distant-cousin industry - telcoms.

Here were yesterday's headlines:
From Radio Ink - "Do Consumers REALLY Want an FM Chip in Their Smart Phones?"
From Mark Ramsey Media - "Do People Really REALLY want FM on their Mobile Phones?"

Both laid out the concept in easily digestible terms, and questioned the value of pursuing this further. Then, I turned to Clear Channel owned Inside Radio and read "Survey: Cell phone users want FM."

You can't make this stuff up. Nor can you expect a radio industry trade that's owned by the largest player in the game to color this story in any way other than how Pravada would write about the Communist Party.

"Fast forward, and today we have a radio industry that continues to use outdated logic in its call for equality..." Back to Radio Ink, where this publication gives good coverage with a follow-up commentary today from consultant Alan Burns. His conclusion is that the industry should put more energy into this pursuit because consumers want it: "They very much would like to have had the ability to find out from their local radio stations such things as who got hit, is another one coming, when the lights and phones might come back on, where can they get ice to preserve food."

Two points to draw against Mr. Burns' comments. 1) What happened to battery-powered radios? 2) With a few exceptions, It's been documented on more occasions how terrestrial radio failed at conveying this information.

If the sole reason for putting a chip in a smart phone is to connect during emergencies, it's a very weak reason that the public won't buy.

But let's spin the clock backwards. See if this push at getting an FM chip into cellphones isn't more of an attempt at recovering from a slip-up by radio industry management, during times when they should have been paying attention, than it is concern for the public's safety.

The warnings began more than a decade ago; the internet is coming! I am not the only person who raised the flag on "change," that the broadcast industry needed to get into this game "now" or risk taking a back seat in the future (today).

Radio industry leaders just weren't interested; not in streaming's potential, not in the upcoming dashboard war, not in accountability of ad campaigns, not in what youth were doing with those new things that all of them were carrying around - cellphones.

Fast forward, and today we have a radio industry that continues to use outdated logic in its call for equality - where it used to cry "let market forces determine direction."

Where was anyone who represented radio broadcasters when performance royalties where being formulated? How many in radio management asked if they could better serve advertisers (prior to seeing bushels of money moving into new media)? At what point were radio titans concerned by commercials saturating the airwaves?

The quality of radio's product - to audience and advertiser - has diminished to where it's now meeting the rise of acceptance to all things new (read: digital).

Old technology that doesn't develop remains old technology. The radio industry could have avoided this quagmire had its leaders given care when the public began its morphing into what's all around us today. Instead radio peppered everyone with 8 minute commercial sets, shut down local news rooms, removed live jocks from studios, and gave no thought to how a commercial message should be revamped.

The radio industry decided to put its eggs into an HD Radio basket - telling about "stations between the stations," with no explanation of what those stations would offer, and no effort to create new programming worthy of a switch. Worse, radio still has not let go of this albatross.

Here are words stated ten years ago which are still valid: Watch what the public is doing. Ask what people want. Respond with an attitude that you do give a damn about them.

Like HD Radio, a chip in a smart phone is a solution for a problem that doesn't exist.

Do consumers want an FM chip in their smart phones? You'll never get the true answer by asking leading questions, like those that appeared in the NAB backed survey. But you will get all of those people who were sleeping through the past decade to use the survey's data as their reasoning of why radio needs to be in smart phones now.

Yes, it's money that created a telcom industry apathy to the radio industry's cry. When the tables were reversed, radio did exactly the same thing.

Now, fear is just beginning to set in. And it's going to grow worse as the dashboard war heats up over the next five years.

The realization is hitting home that the radio industry let the big one get by, because it didn't care about its future at a time when many people where telling it to look out for the oncoming train.

As a BTW: That train is much bigger than a chip in a smart phone.

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