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Monday, July 30, 2012
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Change or Be Changed

This will probably have more impact if you are a member of LinkedIn than if you are not; but it stands as such a good example of something that's holding the radio industry at bay today that I thought it important to address.

LinkedIn, described as a "professional's social network," just had a facelift. It wasn't that long ago that Facebook did the same. You know that neither has been around long, relative to the radio industry.

Though you may not realize it, Google is in a perpetual facelift; most all is a behind-the-scenes enhancement designed to improve a user's experience. You can go through a long list of online destinations that regularly update for this same reason.

Then there's the radio industry.

A story this morning is behind the thoughts that follow, and - again - we see that leaders aren't really concerned with providing a better experience for the users of radio.

"Evolution cannot be stopped. Neither can degeneration when one sits content with where they are at." Ladies and gentlemen, let me direct you to another radio leader's comments as testament, this time coming from Caroline Beasley, CEO, Beasley Broadcasting. I'm not sure where I read it (and it doesn't matter), but the essence was that in her quarterly financial call, Ms. Beasley took time to emphasize that more effort be placed on HD Radio and in getting FM chips in cellphones.

Now there are more than a few people who will claim this as evidence the radio industry is "changing." Though, where there seems a conflict with this constant beating of a dead HD Radio horse and the other nuisance of attempting to get access into a non-radio industry device is that neither is going to result in improving the user experience.

It's arguable that HD Radio - if it ever really provides "stations between the stations" - could offer unique programs. We've just not seen an increase in the quality of programs on regular broadcast radio, so why would anyone expect there to be an increase in quality of what's been promised on HD Radio? It's not been delivered to date.

And this issue of forcing an FM chip into cellphones. If ever there was something that's draining the resources of the radio industry, it's in trying to get cellphone manufacturers to place a chip into their own device - unless we see the radio industry waltzing in with its wallet open. Claiming this is not a call for a government-mandated chip is offensive to one's intelligence. And if that's the case, the issue has no business being discussed in Washington DC.

Over a decade ago I (and others) began calling for change within the radio industry. The writing was on all walls: The internet was coming!

Google came to the radio industry around 2002 with a digital effort and was rebuffed because radio leaders did not want to hand over internal control to an outside company. (Sounds much like why radio is receiving resistance with that attempt at an FM chip.)

Compared to pre-consolidation, today we have the same style of radio programs broken up with the same style of commercial clusters, containing the same - or lower - quality of commercials. Fewer people are on-air communicating with the public. Each person has far more responsibilities, leading them to not do any with excellence.

There is far less effort being placed into creativity within the radio industy, and there remains the same - exactly the same - style of selling this product as existed in the 1970s with Arbitron-based audience boasts.

If what's occurred within radio since 1996 is considered its equivalent of the change that people see when they go online, it's no wonder we have difficulty in gaining revenue or loyalty from listeners - especially younger ones. The competition changes regularly. The radio industry induces change that only a CEO with no understanding of how to produce content can relate to.

LinkedIn changed not because there was a call from its user base, but because its technicians and content managers found better ways to present it to the public. Facebook's going to argue the same. Though we may find the addition of its Timeline less to the liking of users, it is there to better the experience FB offers advertisers.

Google is just on a roll. It won't quit until it's tried everything that its extremely bright and highly compensated staff can imagine to benefit users and bolster the bottom line - actions that at least they're doing in tandem.

The radio industry needs to change - not by forcing an already outdated HD Radio technology onto station owners and the public, nor by stamping its feet that placing an FM chip in a cellphone will guarantee public safety (a questionable statement at best). But by improving the quality of programming to the audience and giving a more accountable advertising system to clients, both of which the audience and advertisers are finding online.

Evolution cannot be stopped. Neither can degeneration when one sits content with where they are at.

Thinking this great ride will never end was a mistake investor groups made when they bought up radio stations and started "lowering costs" by firing radio's highly compenstated creative people.

That last action caused the only real change within the radio industry over this past 15 years. You be the judge if it was for better or worse.

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