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Monday, July 23, 2012
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What Yahoo! Will Teach the Radio Industry

With immense respect and condolences for the people of Aurora CO, unlike most radio industry trade publications, I'll not be speaking about how radio handled this terrible situation. We'll also not touch upon the "people moves," or the reports about buying and selling stations which these publications rely so heavily on for content.

Let's instead discuss the antithesis of radio: the progessive, forward moving industry of technology.

"There is a gigantic shift not being recognized by those running the radio industry: Companies outside of radio are bending over backwards to appeal to customers." In the considerations of running an industry in this day of rapidly changing business models, amid searches for people who focus more on user experience than the bottom line, let's spend time on what recently happened at Yahoo. It signals a move that needs to be duplicated in radio - handing over control to youth.

Yahoo! purchased Mark Cuban's around the turn of the century for over $3 billion. It wanted to make its mark as a media company and figured this was the fastest route. Yahoo shuttered shortly after.

Over the next decade, Yahoo attempted to expand its core of technology-based products, to move into being a content company multiple times. It didn't work, and the company lost billions of dollars, went through many CEOs, and fell out of favor with investors. Last Thursday it had a rethink and hired Marissa Mayer as its new CEO.

On the radio side, over this last decade, this industry struggled with the creation of content worthy of young ears. It also built up quite a reputation as a platform that cares little for user experience. Examples of this are the numbers and quality of commercials, respectively reaching new highs and lows. In addition, the dispensing of newsrooms, introducing widespread voice-tracking, and forcing individuals to be responsbile for multiple stations (in effect, placing too much work on too few people) have aided in generating discussions on the value of radio.

How this ties into Yahoo's hiring of Marissa Mayer as its new CEO is not as complicated as you might think. Ms. Mayer is a 37-year-old female, who's obviously young, proven intelligent, and a pioneer in her field. Can you name a radio company with anything close to these qualities in its CEO?

Yahoo! is breaking the mold on where its leader comes from. Ms. Mayer's Wikipedia profile reads as a listing of everything any person could aspire to. A former Google executive, "Mayer held key roles in Google Search, Google Images, Google News, Google Maps, Google Books, Google Product Search, Google Toolbar, iGoogle and Gmail. She also oversaw the layout of Google's famous, unadorned search homepage. In her final years with Google, she was Vice President of Local, Maps, and Location Services and, before that, Vice President of Search Products and User Experience."

That last item, VP of "User Experience," is the most important because, as this week's Time Magazine article by Rana Foroohar states, "Mayer's design propensities mirror [Apple's Steven] Jobs' consumer-first tendencies...."

There is a gigantic shift not being recognized by those running the radio industry: Companies outside of radio are bending over backwards to appeal to customers.

Compare technology-based web sites which scream "simplicity" to any number of radio web sites; see if they're the same.

Meanwhile within radio operations, the status quo is prevalent. Every trade magazine concentrates on the aforementioned people moves, buying and selling of stations, and how the industry handles major crises. This time it's Aurora CO, but we've been exposed to accolades each time a storm passes through an area.

If it weren't for bad weather, radio would have a hard time quantifying its community involvement. Unless you count things like last week's book burning, held by WMMS Radio's Alan Cox in a Cleveland Ohio suburb (a radio-sponsored gathering reminiscent of what you'd expect from the Third Reich). "A dozen or so people came out to the restaurant..." to offer their copies of "50 Shades of Grey." Former long-time WMMS Operations Director John Gorman says this about an event by that station which drew so few: "It would have been considered a major failure." He also commented on the event itself: "Book burning is a violent display of censorship."

But, I digress. This is really about the simple lesson that Yahoo is about to teach radio, and it is something that's been mentioned at Audio Graphics numerous times: "The radio industry needs to learn how it can adapt to the internet, instead of trying to adapt the internet to radio."

Marissa Mayer's approach is explained in the Time Magazine article this way: "She's a technologist who understands media, not a media person trying to get technology."

Simplicity, an improved user experience, content worthy of an audience member's time, and respect for those who pay the bills - the advertisers - are what radio needs to regain stature.

For too long now the radio industry has tried moving into digital with smoke and mirrors, on the cheap, and with little to no R&D. The simple act of following directions from people who know digital has been absent.

Continuing as it has is going to expedite erosion of TSL, advertising dollars, and youth interest in radio.

Look at Yahoo, where the Board puts the company into the hands of a smart, young, soon-to-be-mother. Try to uncover any place within the radio industry where something like this would happen.

More important, try to uncover any radio industry trade magazine as a proponent of giving youth more power to shape the future of radio. Or, of even giving power to shape this industry to "a technologist who understands media."

With Marissa Mayer, Yahoo may have found its way out of the hole it dug for itself over the last decade. Radio now needs to find its own Ms. Mayer if it wants to do the same.

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