If Steve Jobs Reinvented Radio

Steven Jobs did it again. The Apple CEO brought another product to market that promises to be a big revenue producer for him and a revolutionary device for consumers. The iPhone will arrive in June and will work on the Cingular mobile system. Chances are you already know a lot about the iPhone. No need to go into it here. That's only part of the genius of Jobs. He thinks them up. Builds them. Makes a big deal out of them. And sells them.

So, I've been thinking -- what if Steve Jobs took over a radio group with, say, 1,100 or so stations. What would he do? What could he do? Is analog radio off limits to the master? Or, could Steve Jobs teach us something that traditional media executives have forgotten.

Let's think (differently, that is).

He'd show up the first day on the job in jeans and a pullover black turtleneck. That's the easy part. And, oh yes, he'd get rid of those PCs, but you knew that.

I'd like to think that Jobs knows what radio executives have forgotten. Since they have been going uptown to Wall Street, they've forgotten Main Street. Radio has become like toothpaste. Listeners use it and put it away. It's not hip. It's not exciting. That stops once Jobs arrives on the job.

Shall I dream on?

Steve Jobs would concentrate on making radio hip again. The first clue would be not to use the word "hip" unless he's talking to baby boomers, but you get the idea. He'd close down some of those fancy radio studios and rent some garages. The skunk works is coming to radio. Jobs would likely go through his people to see which ones still get it and which ones don't. Then he'd outline some long term goals. Jobs would use his gut. This is going to upset the radio industry that still buys research only to ignore it anyway. It's an industry that doesn't trust its gut any more than it trusts its research. As Kal Rudman, the colorful tip sheet icon used to say, he'd create a Tasmanian Go-rilla.

One thing we know for sure. Jobs would work in secret. The 1,100 radio stations in his group would operate on their own while he pointed all his efforts to the future. There would be no distractions. The stations could continue to decline, he'd still not take his eye off the future. If it took two years or more, as the iPhone did, Jobs would take his time. And if he had to mislead the press about what he was working on, he'd do it -- all the more cover for his innovators.

So, relying heavily on his instincts (which still work by the way for radio people if they want to use them), Jobs would rip apart the 1950's and 60's brand of radio that the industry has been repackaging for years. You might think that he'd aim his efforts at young people, but you would be wrong. Jobs would aim at any market that had money -- and that includes the baby boomers. And he sure wouldn't ignore the next generation as radio has managed to do.

Wondering if Jobs would tie radio in to the Internet? Probably, but not the mundane way most radio stations do it. Would he have a mobile strategy? You bet, but it would fit squarely into his plan to do programming that is his benchmark --- intuitive.

He might consider a deal with a manufacturer to design and sell new age radios that look good and add features. I'd like to think he's not a big enough fool to get caught up in the HD radio concept that means and will probably continue to mean absolutely nothing to listeners. It's not hip. It's not that great audio. And using sidebands are off in the future until after Jobs figures out how to use the bands God gave them in the first place -- the ones listeners are unfortunately listening to less.

Jobs would be advertiser savvy. He might work deals with the big advertisers to, say, buy naming rights for his various stations. Maybe there would be a "Coke 105". Or a "Miller Lite 93.7". He'd bring the advertisers in to the process to find out what it would take to get them to part with more of their money -- and then? And then, he'd design a hip interface -- programming -- that would make people want to listen.

He wouldn't give away any prizes. Jobs wouldn't buy listeners. He'd make his listeners pay him -- and they would -- to become part of the communities that he could develop around his radio properties.

He'd quit the NAB and RAB because he's not a joining type guy. He'd go it alone. And he doesn't go to conventions, conventions are built around him.

He'd do the People Meter in a second and maybe bug Arbitron with ways to make the meter sleeker and more useable. I think Arbitron would listen. He'd spend what it would take to get new age audience ratings designed to reflect the new formats and concepts he is taking years to develop.

He'd subscribe to Inside Radio. (Had to put that plug in, sorry).

And when Jobs finally had all his people developing something new, he'd teach radio a lesson right off the bat. You don't develop the future by calling in a consultant who is rubber stamping formats market by market. He may use one to work with his skunks, but that's different. In other words, radio develops the Jack format and it's the greatest thing since sliced bread and it's all done in months. Different sweepers, a different playlist -- the same old radio. Developing the future takes time, money, effort and vision. Any wonder why radio companies don't do it?

On the day of his big announcement -- which would be in Scottsdale, Arizona while an NAB convention is going on in Las Vegas -- Jobs wouldn't just announce one new format. He'd have one for every target group. He'd have hardware. He'd have software. He'd have well-rehearsed programming. There would be an Internet strategy and mobile content. His salespeople would be ready to go even if they didn't know what they were selling until he told the world. After all, lest we forget, Jobs is very secretive.

And tell the world he would. A big media event. Radio would become larger than life. It would be more than the imitation of itself that it has become. People would talk about it like they do when he announces new Apple products twice a year. None of this HD stuff or more people listen to radio than anything else patter.

He'd woo Wall Street, but not like current radio group heads do. Jobs would lead. Investors would follow.

If you're getting excited right now waiting to hear what Jobs has come up with then let me know.

This is the first time I've been excited about the future of radio and it took a fantasy to do it. But the reality is until the radio business becomes more like the quirky, self-confident and tuned-in Steve Jobs and less like the button-down interlopers who are letting investors lead them into the future, radio has no future.

I like the way Jobs would do it. We can do that.