How To Do An Intervention On Radio

We all know that the radio industry is in transition. It is coming off "The Dark Ages", a time span that began after consolidation in 1996 up to and including this year. I get the feeling radio executives are finally beginning to recognize (and the brave ones admit) that they have dropped the ball during consolidation.

It's time for an intervention for the sake of the radio monopolies allowed by Congress when it passed the enabling legislation -- The Telecommunications Act of 1996.

There was the Wall Street stuff -- getting used to running public companies, pandering to investors and analysts and for the most part having to predict performance three months hence.

Then there were the cutbacks -- economies of scale to squeeze more profit in order to make the numbers that radio CEOs were forced to predict three months in advance.

Don't forget the gloating -- buying your long time competitors and showing them you could run their stations better than they could. Priceless. Because for the most part you could not. The hubris that resulted in post consolidation caused many poor decisions and certainly a lack of vision.

The human element -- when you have your job downsized, outsourced, combined or replaced by virtual technology you no longer work in an industry conducive to new ideas. In effect you are no longer in a growth industry. Google is a growth company. Todays Clear Channel and CBS are not.

Failure to program to the next generation meant losing that generation (Gen Y) to the technology that young listeners have become addicted to (Internet, Wireless, iPods, iTunes, computers, Internet radio, cell phones, peer-to-peer file sharing, social networking to mention only a few).

But a worse failure was blaming technology for the loss of the kids. Technology didn't kill the radio star. Radio consolidation and the programming that resulted from it did.

Lack of a group leader doomed any chances consolidated radio might have to work. Clear Channel, CBS/Infinity -- whatever you want to call it -- were the big boys. They failed their shareholders (check what you would have lost if you bought their stock prior to 2000 and still held it today) and they failed their industry. Imagine for a moment what radio would have been like if one of these companies -- Susquehanna, Cox, Bonneville, Greater Media or Emmis -- had been the two biggest consolidators with the most stations in the biggest markets. Seriously. Do you really think radio would be in the mess it's in today if the market leaders were these smaller, better run groups?

The senseless litigation not only directed at individuals but against other companies created a bunker mentality that put off the kind of industry cooperation radio needed to usher in a new century and all the new technology that came with it.

The huge mistake of making satellite radio the enemy when satellite radio never got off the ground (sorry) and never, ever threatened terrestrial radio. Satellite radio has more problems than its terrestrial brothers and sisters but many of their problems are the same.

And last, but not least (as the old trite phrase goes) the folly of HD Radio. I say folly because HD radio as a savior for the medium is a joke. As an engineering enhancement it's not a bad upgrade, but it won't save radio from itself. One reason is because few people care about it. Terrestrial radio dragged its feet on this for years and now its too late. But don't be guilty. Today's consumers like convenience, fresh innovative programming -- not fidelity. Just watch Gen Y listen to the Internet on their puny computer speakers or enjoy their highly-compressed iPods with low tech ear buds.

There's more, but this will do for starters.

Is the radio industry ready to do its own 12 Step Intervention -- admit its mistakes, tendencies and addictions and start building people-friendly companies with creative, career professionals who understand that radio's problem isn't technology, it's stale programming. If they will recognize these frailties, they may be able to become relevant again. They may find a way to make the Internet work seamlessly not in the awkward way it does right now.

Demand more of your trade associations -- stop the pandering you do to each other. Demand more of your trade publications that like some politicians judge your loyalty to radio by how much you mindlessly wave its flag.

And then when you can do all this remember -- do it like any other 12 Step Program -- one day at a time, because the radio industry is an addict. Hooked on consolidation, bad management, stale programming, blaming others for their missteps, self pity about new technology that it neither understands nor has a plan for, arrogance that is so strong that the consolidators didn't think they needed to program to the next generation. They eventually lost them. Lost an entire generation!

I know lots of radio people who could start this intervention. Some of them are already working for you. Others have been driven to the sidelines.

If you believe anything believe this -- radio needs better content now. To get it, consolidators have to change their unfriendly corporate cultures into Google culture. Radio is too frugal. It's definitely not Google.

Go study. Change. Innovate. Get a mentor to help you navigate the next generation or continue business as usual and keep losing market share and revenue. The choice is yours. After all, you monopolize the radio industry. This one's on you.