Radio Dying From Self-Inflicted Wounds

Excuse me, but am I dreaming or having a nightmare about Arbitron's People Meter. Yes, I know implementing this new portable technology will cost significantly more and that radio will have to share listening with other media, but -- I have a major question to pose. Why is the radio industry in this age of technology still culling their audience ratings from a paper diary system? Why is Clear Channel still nickel and diming the People Meter when the radio industry not only needs it -- it needed it years ago?

Radio is an industry that is dying from self-inflicted wounds.

Take HD Radio. I have a problem with the name -- HD (high definition) radio. Sounds like a copycat of HD TV (a name that is more accurate). More importantly, HD radio was never the savior radio executives hoped it would be -- not even in their fantasy. The fact is fidelity is nice, but not necessary for most radio listeners. Can you say AM stereo? Most people listen to radio in the worst acoustically sound spot ever -- the car. Portable radio fidelity is even worse. How could so many smart people think that improving audio would be "the thing". It's nice. It should have been done a long time ago just to keep up with technology, but it became another self-inflicted wound. TV didn't do it. Technology didn't steal listeners away. Indecision and bad decisions did it.

Consolidation -- a self-inflicted wound.

The adage "be careful what you wish for for you may get it" applies directly to radio executives who lusted after consolidation. But consolation proved to be a failure for the radio industry, a short ride for investors and a disappointment for listeners. Do you think Clear Channel would be liquidating right now if things were growing -- booming? Consolidation was like a diabetic in a candy store. Radio groups ate up as many stations as they could but made themselves sicker eventually.

The Internet -- a self-inflicted wound.

The same radio execs who brought you indecision on The People Meter, poor decisions on HD radio and selfish decisions on consolidation also misread the Internet and continue to mis-read it in my view. The Internet turned out to be more than a distraction to young kids. It became a source of information and entertainment that would ultimately compete with traditional media. Radio could have worked with the record industry to become "iTunes" if they had taken this threat seriously enough, but instead the number two computer company, Apple, became a media baron. To this day I am convinced most radio groups don't know what to do with the Internet and under estimate the importance of moving new content there -- not just terrestrial radio streams.

The next generation -- a needless, self-inflected wound.

Is it possible that the radio industry was so distracted during consolidation that it let the next generation find more intriguing alternatives? What were we thinking? There are few formats that can attract Generation Y to the radio and to their credit some researchers and programmers are beginning to admit that they blew it. Unfortunately, there is no Plan B. It's harder to reel in this Internet generation because they grew up not craving radio. Many don't even like radio even if they do use it. No project is more important to radio than rethinking it's youth initiative. First, they need to get a youth initiative. And there's lots to learn. Radio isn't going to like the answers because if they want to program to the next generation, they are going to have to deliver their programming to mobile devices other than traditional radio sets.

HD radio, The People Meter, The Internet, The Lost Generation -- some of the mistakes that radio executives made that did more damage to the future of radio than any one technology. This is not to point a finger at all radio people -- just to learn that to make things better it is time to start admitting mistakes.

In the days and months ahead we'll focus on some positive ways traditional media can compete for the next generation and a more robust growth pattern. But for now, don't underestimate the negative effects of taking one's eye off the prize.