Taking Seth Godin's Advice on Radio

I've always liked Mark Ramsey. He's uncommonly bright and is one of the go-to people for helping you figure out how to live in the future.

Mark's Hear2.0 has an interview with Seth Godin, best selling author of Permission Marketing and now The Dip.

Godin describes The Dip like this "most of the things we set out to do in our lives are controlled by one of two curves. Most things are dead ends or cul-de-sacs. They are flat paths. They’re hamsters on a wheel - somebody who is doing the same thing every day pushing along, pushing along, but never breaking through. But a few things are controlled by “the dip,” and the dip is the screen, the filter, the thing that separates those who are scarce, the professionals, the superstars, from the masses, from the amateurs."

What Ramsey did -- and this is worth going to his site and reading it all -- is asking Godin about radio vis-a-vis "The Dip". Godin agrees that radio is on the decline. Taste a little of his reasoning:
"If you are running a radio station with the consultants and the conventional wisdom and trying as hard as you can, you need to ask yourself an honest question, which is: Is it likely to ever be any better than it is now? Meaning, is satellite radio going to become less popular? Is Internet radio going to become less popular? Are people going to find fewer things to do when they’re in their cars?

I think the answer to all of those questions has to be “no,” that traditional, terrestrial radio is a zero-sum game. In fact, it’s worse than a zero-sum game. It is clearly headed towards a dead end. There’s no dip ahead. There’s no breakthrough that’s going to occur.

But, you have all these assets. You have advertisers. You have access to creators of content like record companies. You have access to some listeners. Why not use those assets, use that leverage to build something new where there may very well be a dip. If I ran a radio station today, I would say, 'How do I get every one of my listeners to sign up so I can have a direct relationship with them by phone and by email? How do I learn what their zip code is? How do I discover what they’re interested in?'

Because if I could do all those things using the assets I have now, I could find a new dip and get through it. I could be the go-to source for where listeners should go when they want to party, where they should go when they want to go out for dinner, where they should go when they want to buy a car. And if I use the stepping stone of my terrestrial FCC license to create something new, knowing that I’m going to quit radio as soon as it’s done what I need it to do, then I can move forward, find a dip and build behind me a moat, a valley of death, a dip so deep my competition could never get through it."
For those of you who read me regularly you know that the future of terrestrial broadcasting is in question due mainly to the fact that the next generation which hasn't fully impacted broadcasters yet is rejecting radio. Part of their reasoning is that "it sucks" -- and we have heard that many times before from young people.

But now they have lots of alternatives -- mobile phones (and soon the iPhone that promises to change everything as a mini-computer and entertainment center), the Internet, music downloading (legal and illegal) and social networking.

I am more convinced than ever after my recent years teaching at USC that this move to mobile Internet is permanent and is just beginning. Radio does not fit into their lives.

It isn't that they dislike radio -- it's not the analog nature of it -- it's the programming! And radio operators living in their world of denial think that everything is okay because their business is still a pretty damn good free cash flow enterprise. In other words, it hasn't gone to hell in a hand basket -- yet.

The Godin interview prompts me to think about what's next. The time is coming when we're going to have to go to a higher power (probably Wall Street) and tell them that our business is changing and that we have a new business developing.

But we don't -- at least not yet.

HD radio is not a new business. Hell, stations won't even invest in its programming.

Youth formats are worthless on radio because young listeners are on their computers and cell phones. And if we continue in denial any longer our cellphones and computers will merge (it's happening now) and a radio will look like a typewriter -- an unrecognizable relic from the past.

Radio dabbling in the Internet space is nice, but it's not a business. Don't waste the time and money.

The future of radio (and I could do hours on this) is creating content for the mobile Internet space.

Sounds good, but not easy given most radio broadcasters are still in denial and don't understand the sociology of the next generation. They get the technology -- that's easy. It's the people stuff.

What I want to do is create the morning show of the future -- no -- the morning shows of the future and I won't deliver it over the radio. I have a better way.

What I want to do is not stream new 24 hour formats on the air -- young people consume their media through time-delaying devices like TiVo (it's just starting but it is major). You can stream your terrestrial signal to existing listeners -- that's not what I am talking about. I'm headed to the delayed listening content business.

What I want to do is create content for social networks because social networking is, in my opinion, more significant that any technology you can name. More and more you will see small groups of like-minded people communicating with each other. Broadcasting is so 1920's to them.

The largest radio group of tomorrow won't own 1,100 stations. It will own 10,000 streams of non-terrestrial entertainment and information content delivered using the latest technology at the time.

We should all live long enough to see a nationwide WiMax network to allow constant connectivity to the Internet. In spite of the long delay ahead in bringing this enabling technology to the marketplace, there is lots that can be done in the meantime.

If you're searching for "The Dip", look beyond your towers and transmitters. That's what I'm doing. This is a business I want to be in.

Do you?

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