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Monday, May 14, 2012
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Radio Industry CEO Clamours to "Serve"

I find myself opening Radio Ink with more gusto since Ed Ryan assumed the roll of Editor-in-Chief. It's not always because I agree with what's printed there, but how RI is now presenting both sides of an issue (as any good media should).

Today Radio Ink offers comments from Peter Smyth, CEO of Greater Media. They show his supporting a chip in smart phones.

"The game isn’t lost, but it’s about to take an even more dramatic turn when those multiple buttons on a vehicle's dashboard ... turn into access points for multiple new media." Mr. Smyth is someone whom I have backed in the past, but have seen little in actual movement from. Looking closely at his track record, especially when taking the Chair at RAB's Board of Directors (in 2006), he continually shows much more rhetoric than substance.

I'm not as likely to jump on-board his wagon today, as he claims that "The FM Cell Chip Provides An Opportunity to Serve."

There are two quotes that need to appear here. They set the stage for what follows. These words came from Mr. Smyth during the RAB appointment mentioned above.

1) "It is we who have let radio be reduced to a secondary medium in the eyes of agencies of all sizes across this nation, and it is we who now have work to do."

2) "In the radio industry, we seem to be very good at announcements and new initiatives. This has to be different. This must be a sustained, multi-year education and selling program that reaches each and every station in our company and our nation." (Has anyone been privy to any action in this direction that I’ve missed?)

How's that saying go about "Fool me once..."?

Today, at Radio Ink, Peter Smyth says it is the telcoms that prevent the radio industry from fully serving communities during times of emergency. He also states, "We want to serve. Do you?"

These words come at the conclusion of comments on how radio is being frozen out of smart phones. Here are two sentences in this article that I find important: “For the past several years, radio has been advocating for the voluntary inclusion of a small, inexpensive tuner chip in cell phones sold in the United States.” ... “The wireless carriers appear to have decided to hold their customers' safety hostage to their own self-interest.”

Read the story, then come back and digest what follows, because these are points of contention which relate to what Peter Smyth and other radio industry CEOs now claim.

Ready to move on? Here are observations that I invite anyone in radio to address.

Not to take anything away from times when radio employees have made sacrifices "to make sure that the station stays on the air and the information is broadcast," but Mr. Smyth fails to mention the documented times (at least as many, if not more) when no one was in the studio during emergencies or stations had no means of assembling useful information, or when they simply stuck to format during emergencies.

About his "For the past several years, radio has been advocating for the voluntary inclusion of a small, inexpensive tuner chip in cell phones sold in the United States. In other parts of the world, this is a standard feature of cell and smartphones." Let’s address this in two parts:

1) "Advocating for the voluntary..." needs to be changed to "demanding a government mandate..." - which isn’t going to happen.

2) I'm guessing that by using his "In other parts of the world..." argument, Mr. Smyth is in favor of radio paying performance royalty fees; because in other parts of the world (except Iran, North Korea, China, Rwanda, and the United States) radio pays these fees to performers for music used by the radio industry.

"We want to serve. Do you?" must be rhetorical. Having sliced local staffs to minimums, dismantled news rooms, and being late to nearly every technological party since the advent of the internet, the radio industry is only now realizing how far behind the needs/desires of two generations it has fallen.

As is documented here, when the iPhone was introduced, witness how there was no interest on part of the radio industry to admit that Apple created a “...most important technological development for radio.”

Being "connected" is what this has been about since the mid-1990's, when the radio industry started to abandon youth and consolidated itself into irrelevance - as was so eloquently stated by Mr. Smyth above (“It is we who have let radio be reduced to a secondary medium...”).

It’s not that my advice is ever taken seriously. Having written about how the internet affects the radio industry since 1997, I’m not aware of one time when executives have turned attention to suggestions I’ve made. But, I’m not going to let that stop me from dropping one more.

Stop crying about being left out of smart phones and begin concentrating on creating programming that brings relevancy back to the masses in meaningful ways.

Long ago radio adopted the word “compelling” to describe how it views what’s coming out of speakers. At the same time two generations were locating other forms of audio information and entertainment, because they did not consider eight minute commercial breaks and voice tracking "compelling. This search for alternative audio is now snowballing into a movement.

The game isn’t lost, but it’s about to take an even more dramatic turn when those multiple buttons on a vehicle's dashboard, which previously were devoted to radio stations, turn into access points for multiple new media.

Soon, the radio industry will be given only 2 buttons; one for a broadcast station and the other for a broadcaster app. Then we'll be hearing how the auto industry isn't living up to its public service commitments to keep consumers connected.

What’s missing is consumer demand for radio content. Produce local programs that are desired and this entire issue will vanish. Consumers will leave smart phone audio for radio broadcasts.

Mr. Smyth, until you and your fellow CEOs begin delivering, again, there’s little need to tell people that you “want to serve.” Their ears and minds are telling them “no you don’t.

The other thought that’s growing with consumers is “Now, where did I put my earphones?"

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