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Thursday, November 8, 2012
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Quick, Where is Your Phone Book?

There are about 12 phone books sitting in my refuse container beside the garage. I pulled them out of my father-in-law's house Sunday, after noticing them inside a cabinet which I opened to put the new 2013 phone book in. The last time that cabinet had been opened was around this time in 2011, to put the 2012 phone book in.

Thoughts of these phone books come this morning after reading a Wired article titled "Is It Too Late for Microsoft Office to Matter on Mobile?"

"Radio is not moving as fast down the technology tracks as it wishes others perceived it to be moving. Radio's technological advancements are not at par with competition." Earlier, while reading comments from Entercom CEO David Field in an article at Radio Ink (titled: "We Get No Respect"), I also thought about the phone books.

Here's how all of this ties together.

Mr. Field was speaking at the Wells Fargo Media Conference, "...answering a question about whether radio was relevant anymore...."

Looked at from an investment perspective, the question appears valid. Though, David Field's response - in my mind - reflected the mindset of both phone book publishers and the leaders of Microsoft Office. All appear focused on a different issue than those asking the questions.

Nearly everyone uses (used?) part of the Microsoft Office software package - Outlook, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Publisher, and Access. At one time it was over 90% of people on computers.

But there's been this change in how consumers use digital devices that Microsoft ignored during its first decade. The Wired article addresses the author's doubts on why it's too late for MS Office to catch up on smart phones and pads.

Today 31.6% of visitors to Audio Graphics' RadioRow use MS Internet Explorer. Between April 1 and November 1, 2009, 68.8% of visitors used Windows IE. The loss is steep, and it happened over only 3 years.

Another aspect of this Microsoft story is well-known within technology circles: MS has a history of releasing poor quality products then trying to bandage them on the fly (think Vista & Windows 7), or not properly marketing its products' advantages (Zune).

The question any radio industry executive should have for me concerns how phone books and Microsoft's delay on developing mobile applications affect radio. My answer is short and includes a portion of David Field's own response to that question on relevancy.

From Radio Ink: "Field had a lot of praise for Clear Channel's industry leadership. He cited iHeartradio and in what Katz has been doing to market the industry."

Radio has been living with the perception that it produces "compelling" progamming that's "local." I ask you to look at the efforts of maintaining on-air staff to create this programming. Along with "companionship," mentioned by Mr. Field, these items are not given much support. Entercom's y-2-y first half Station Operating Expenses was 4.4% less in 2012 than in 2011, and Entercom also carried 4.9% less in station operating expenses for y-2-y Q3. (Under this portion of the company 10-Q (pages 28 & 31) were these words, "Management expects that station operating expenses will continue to decline, versus the prior year’s comparable period, for the balance of the year.")

With these numbers, one has to question how radio is holding up among competing media in content creation - its product to consumers. We all know where it stands offering advertiser accountability.

Clear Channel M&E and Katz Marketing, along with CBS, have put some effort into digital. This I acknowledge. But all pale in comparison to the technology sector efforts.

Radio is not moving as fast down the technology tracks as it wishes others perceived it to be moving. Radio's technological advancements are not at par with competition.

That 93% of Americans listen to radio weekly is close to the "over 90%" penetration Microsoft Office once held. It should be a flare of warning to the radio industry. For youth, much of what radio offers is akin to the phone books in my refuse container; what's found inside each can be better retrieved through new media.

To get others to perceive a changed radio industry isn't going to be as cheap as if this transition started a decade ago. And it won't be easy at this late stage either. Both hurdles are shared by MS Office and its move into mobile.

David Field offered the excuse that it was others who failed to see radio's potential. It was an excuse, acting as reason not to give thought to what's required to improve.

My greatest fear comes from thinking of when the digital dashboard reaches 90% penetration. Perhaps then we will finally hear radio industry executives say, "Get my phone book. I need to call a technologist."

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