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AG News: 9/1/2006

Coming to Grips With Radio's Faded Respect

Ask any radio industry executive how the industry is doing and you'll hear a remark about the promise of HD Radio. You might also hear them go on the offensive with examples of the wide array of programming that's being produced today.

But do this little test; go to the news aggregator sites of Yahoo!, Google, and MSN. Look at the number of stories on radio across the US. Search under the following terms by clicking each link:

Yahoo! Google MSN
radio programs radio programs radio programs
radio industry radio industry radio industry
radio advertising radio advertising radio advertising
local radio local radio local radio
HD Radio HD Radio HD Radio

What you'll find, which is the real story about today's radio industry, is a lack of articles on anything positive.

Though there are a few mentions of radio stations taking a stance on local issues (two examples, KKLZ's attempt at promoting a decision by Las Vegas politicians to stop feeding the homeless in its parks, and Hot 96.3 sponsoring an Indianapolis anti-violence forum), not much is being written that speaks of radio's positive impact on the community it serves.

What is prominent are stories cast in a negative light about radio, like Canton Ohio's Q92 producing a contest that has its audience singing songs "as if they have mental retardation and listeners tried to guess the song to win a prize." Dumb! But it's not alone. Another headline reads "Alcohol ads air on radio during youth programs." Still, another headline claims "Talk Radio Is Becoming Big Brother's Voice."

As you peruse the listings from each news aggregator above, you may also notice the distinct absence of names like Clear Channel, Cumulus, Entercom, or CBS Radio. The exception is in the announcement of how many HD Radio stations each group is putting on air.

The trend to denegrate radio started about the same time consolidation tightened its grip and forced thousands of professionals into other occupations. It coincides with a drop in radio's ability to produce creative local progamming that bolsters the confidence - or corrects the problems - of a community's residents.

Radio's loss of respect by listeners and advertisers fell full steam ahead as the industry disregarded critics' voices, especially when they shouted about the demise of quality local content.

You can claim anything you want about radio, but you'll not be able to say this is a vibrant time that's producing quality programming which is reaching out and grabbing listeners. You'll also not be able to claim that, today, out of 13,000+ radio stations, the industry is having an impact on its audience relative to political, economical, civic, or even music-related issues.

Radio has lost the ability to lead. Instead, it is now entrenched in a game of catch-up, and its using none of the tools that are required to push itself back to respectability.

Here's an example that I dread giving you, but it reinforces this comment: "For the second time in three years, Cleveland, Ohio, has been named the poorest big city in America." Clear Channel Radio CEO, John Hogan, was made aware of this city's plight six months ago, in a conversation where I rallied for him to take the lead in improving our town's self-esteem. One suggestion was to bring back the local commentary once heard on nearly every radio station, to make the public aware of the current state and future options. His response, "People don't care."

I could not get him to understand that people won't care if you don't push them into caring. Or, that this was a great opportunity for Clear Channel to establish itself as a positive force in the city. (In fairness, none of the other radio station owners in Cleveland are taking a lead in this concept either.)

The opening was there, six months ago, for a radio chain to start a local campaign which would help a severely-stagnated city by using the power of radio for creating awareness, forward movement, and solutions. Instead, all we've heard is how people should "discover" HD Radio. Or, on one Clear Channel station, a daily "Name the Whore" contest.

Until radio stations realize that their future is tied directly to the amount of work put forth in promoting its town of license, or speaking about injustices within, radio will continue to be ignored.

And HD Radio is not the answer, because its programs will only show the low-cost route of playing all music.

There's very little coming from radio stations today that's positive, even though hundreds of communities are in desperate need of having them get involved.

Until the radio industry takes a step towards its civic responsibilities - as KKLZ and Hot 96.3 are doing on their own - it will continue to suffer from a lack of respect. Radio execs need to accept this simple fact.

From: Joe V.
Excellent article.
In my opinion. Radio must return to "Main Street"
and move away from "Wall Street".

From: Joe V.
Excellent article.
I read your article about the state of radio and how the industry is not responsible
for providing local programming and truly addressing community needs.
I agree 100%. Very few stations seem to care about the area they are
licensed to serve and they prove that to be true 24 hours a day.
I have listened to the online offerings from various HD stations. I realize most
of them are commercial free for the moment but I feel that in the long run,
HD radio will be more of the same. Music with no announcers and if their
are any, they will be voicetracked from a remote location far away from the
actual twon or city where the station sits.
It's interesting to note that the very people that said formats like oldies,
country and standards can not work on regular over the air radio are putting
the music on HD channels. They are talking out of both sides of their mouth.
Radio has to get back to promoting itself with better programming and quit
wasting time, energy and money on HD and worrying about satellite radio.

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