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AG News: Thursday - 10/29/2009

Radio's Swarming Gnats - Hard to Avoid or Attractive?

Clear Channel's Randall Mays is out. Google gets with Lala and MySpace Music to match consumers with songs. Wells Fargo radio analyst, Marci Ryvicker, predicts radio will lose more jobs. If you work in the radio industry - online or off - this is not the time to be wondering what to do next. That decision should have been made. Now you should be planning your next move.

The big companies are in such disarray that the major topic at each is survival. Across all traditional media, not just in the radio industry, the "big boys" are plagued by out-of-control costs, severely-depressed revenues, and a general feeling that they are in the middle of a swarm of internet gnats - with no repellent in sight.

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent article which outlines the problem with media today. The title says it all: "On the Web, Amateurs Rivaling Professionals." What's unsaid is "the web" is becoming such an intuitive part of everyone's life that making a major imprint there is worth more than owning 1,000 radio stations.

The author of the WSJ article, E. Kinney Zalesne, explains the scramble for audience as being caused by "amafessionals," millions of amateurs expounding their thoughts on just as many subjects. The array of options has the public eating up new content in a big way.

Newsday just put itself behind a subscription wall. Robert Murdoch keeps pounding away at the concept of "real journalism" being worth a price, one the public is willing to pay for. The corporations, attempting to respond to consumer flight, are doing the wrong thing in hiding their wares behind a cashier. This new world order of information and entertainment dictates that a free answer can always be found, and finding it is half the fun.

Let's stick with the radio industry in describing the problem; 13,000 broadcast stations are now competing with just as many independent internet radio operations (many with dozens-to-hundreds of individual channels). By forcing a degeneration of program quality over the past decade through consolidation tactics and cutting the experienced/expensive employees, radio groups are finding that the quality of what they produce for broadcast is not much different from that found at radio stations online.

The radio industry chiefs are swatting at independent radio stations, attempting to shout louder. They have radio industry trade magazines to preach to the choir, but about what? What is it that the radio industry has accomplished online that's worth shouting about?

Here's the secret sauce in this recipe for commercial radio's disaster online: Thousands of independent internet radio stations offering the same jukebox-on-steroids approach to programming. Maybe only a handful of small independent online stations deliver audiences equitable to that of a major market broadcaster, but the aggregate effect of thousands is a clear drain on the big companies.

With the ability to listen to radio stations from any location, desk-bound radio junkies found out a few years ago that tuning in to independently-run online radio has its benefits. Now that there's a major move to make the internet radio experience mobile, the broadcast radio industry is seeing just how much it's lost, and how many options the audience has.

Want to find out about your local community? My guess is that you'll find hundreds of "amafessionals" penning their thoughts online, supplying pictures of their topics or links to additional information. Many of them do this as an offshoot of their local internet radio station. Try going to a commercial radio station web site for local information. In most cases it's a closed door that only exposes you to a narrow choice of options, usually info about a company that's paid money to be listed. Nobody paid the amafessional to list an outside source.

Independent internet radio is catching on in ways that were predicted long ago. There are millions of people buzzing around thousands of radio station web sites, and many terrestrial stations have no idea how to use these web sites - no idea how to compete with a swarm of independent radio stations online.

Meanwhile, audience members are uncovering new independent online stations every day. They find one and then look for more, in a reversed case of people looking for the swarm.

It is difficult to be found as an independent online radio station. It's difficult to create content that makes you stand apart. Radio industry employees, and former employees looking for their next move, need to invest time in understanding how to do their own radio online and grow an audience.

This is an open flame with swarms of competitors intermingling with swarms of consumers, with a lot of matchups going on. Now's the time to figure out how to attract the largest group of consumers, and which companies you'll use to help generate revenue. It's time to plan - because you are now a radio station gnat looking for a swarm of consumers.

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President, Audio Graphics
Ken Dardis
Online Since January 1997

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