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Monday, December 2, 2013
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Defining Online Radio's Purpose

This is going to be a tough one to read, especially if you're one of thousands of people who have joined the radio industry online.

I'll start with an observation made over the course of years while choosing 6 stations to add each week to Audio Graphics' RadioRow: Besides playing music, there appears little reason for online radio to exist. Talk stations, hold on before biting back. There are a few words to say to you below.
"Without purpose you'll not find direction, and we all know what happens when someone wanders through new grounds not knowing which direction will lead them to success."

For now, up here, let's look and listen to what's passing itself off as radio on the internet. One song after another, followed by a slug line like "XXXXX Radio - the Best Music All the Time." (Throw any of a dozen catch phrases here. They all revolve around a few meaningless words.) But little content is presented that causes the audience to return.

It's as if the broadcast radio industry has moved online, as these are the same positioning statements played with fewer to no commercials.

Most of the internet radio industry is as automated as the voice-tracked stations everyone complains about in the broadcast world. There are a few "live" programs online, very few; and in many cases these are difficult to call a "program." They're more like a person opening a microphone to speak whatever is on their mind at that moment, laughing at what they say. Then another song comes up and the cycle is repeated. What's the purpose in running a radio station like this?

We've spoken many times about "enthusiastic amateur" radio stations online, each time stating the qualifier: "That's O.K." These stations will never see enough of an audience to monetize, nor will they ever be placed on an advertiser's buy list, but they make the owners happy. Nearly all stations listed at aggregator companies like Radionomy, Live365, MyRadio, LoudCity, etc. fall under this "enthusiastic amateur" definition of the radio industry online.

BlogTalk Radio and VoiceAmerica are under this umbrella, too, where stations exist to funnel audience in aggregate to the main platform. Listen to any of the aggregate online talk services. You can find nearly all of them a wasteland of phoned-in talking heads, with little fact amid loads of sales pitches.

The above is our new form of audio-audience gathering and the reason why, online, the radio industry is flailing. It needs to do a better job of defining each station's purpose if the industry wants to generate revenue.

Google the term - with quotes - "What's the purpose" and you'll find 7,300,000 returns, topped by "What's the purpose of life" and "What's the purpose of sex."

Type in the phrase "What's the purpose of radio" and 16 results come back: 13 from 2007 and before, 1 from an obscure comment made in an even more obscure developer's forum, and 2 from an article discussing John Reith's (General manager and Chairman of the BBC from 1922 till 1938) comment about the mission of public radio ("to inform, educate and entertain"). No page originates from the United States. This is where a major problem lies.

We've lost sight of radio's purpose - especially in the United States.

To the audience, a radio station is for finding music, being informed, entertained, and finding companionship. Check stations participating in the online radio industry and you'll find these items moot. From my own file on this: Audio Graphics' "Intro to Indie Artists" programs and our just launched "New Health Plan Info" programs are weak in the number of subscribing stations - despite all programs being free and offering unique content.

To advertisers - and this is a major point - the radio industry online and off does nothing more than deliver impressions on (mostly) poorly constructed audio ads. There's no accountability. No A/B Testing of copy. No upgrading of ads mid-campaign to improve performance. All of these element are available to non-radio advertisers online.

So you tell me, where's the incentive to listen or advertise with radio online? What is its purpose? (If what executives in the broadcast radio industry says is true - that Pandora, Spotify, Jango, Slacker, etc. are NOT radio - then this is a point needing deep consideration.)

Until the radio industry organizes its online stations into a single voice, offers an approach to creating hit songs (read: making stars of indie artists), and gives media buyers a united request for proposals (RFP) and invoicing system, whatever you stream is wasted motion.

Without purpose you'll not find direction, and we all know what happens when someone wanders through new grounds not knowing which direction will lead them to success. They go aimlessly in circles, blaming others and eventually closing down.

Here's my definition of "purpose" for everyone involved with the internet radio industry: Create audio which is sought out, talked about, and passed on to friends.

Online radio competition is just too stiff for you to be satisfied playing one-song-after-another, and then giving an over-used slug line of "The best mix of music, anywhere." Unless you are an enthusiastic amateur.

Today's indie artist introduction is to...
Country artist Pixley Arbuckle
sample song
Something Wrong with You

Download Song


We listen for songs that evoke emotion; fast, slow, female, male, group, it doesn't matter. When an artist has the power to please, they should be given a chance to be heard.

Give Pixley Arbuckle's "Something Wrong with You" a listen.

Add it to your playlist, free! Such is the new world of music distribution.

It's time internet radio programmers reach into a huge pile of untapped talent.
It is here where new hit songs will increasingly be found.

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