Radio's Surge

There's been a lot of debate since President Bush announced one more surge of troops to try and secure the law and order in Iraq.

Without getting into the political issues, the surge reminds me of what radio executives are now doing whether knowingly or not.

You get the feeling that many of the seasoned radio executives who have been in the business and at the top of their companies for a long time are desperately seeking one last push to try and make radio a growth industry again.

Somehow they think that if they come up with one more format they will discover a way to get youth back listening to their radios again.

That if they just try harder to cut costs their companies' stock will go up even though they have no verifiable proof that the next generation will spend less time with their iPods and more time listening to their analog radios.


Some believe that if they attack the company that they are supporting by signing long-term contracts, Arbitron can call it a People Meter but it will really be a diary on steroids.

That if they find just one more, Don Imus they will solve their morning show problems. Or that if the original Don Imus returns with humility that everything will go back to being just as it was before.

Radio people are a proud and resourceful lot.

They didn't grow a fabulous free cash flow business by just showing up for work every day. Radio had a long run as a growth business and their leaders knew what they were doing. Radio even reinvented itself successfully when television was first introduced which is why many radio execs think if they can just make one more attempt at getting young people to leave their computers and iPods, they'll run out and buy HD radios.

It's radio's version of the surge.

Except radio executives want to do it with fewer troops -- so to speak. (Remember in the world of radio less is more).

Decision makers want their GMs, PDs and sales executives to make the last surge with the proper weapons (autonomy, control over local programming, ability to hire more sales people and better train them).

Surge proponents in radio think Google "AdNonsense" actually makes sense. Applying the less is more reasoning, fewer salespeople, lower costs, selling radio as a commodity makes sense to them in an Internet world few really understand.

They were warned.

Few in the radio trade press actually framed the critical issues although futurists like John Parikhal and Mark Ramsey among many others regularly warned of the perils all along the way. It's easy to take the ad dollars when they're rolling in and soft peddle the issues that won't go away.

Not convinced?

Take HD Radio.


HD Radio or more aptly called the non-sexy name digital radio has lost the war.

But you can't tell that to any radio executive of a major group.

They are all still propping up that puppet government of Ibiquity that is trying to sell the American public that if you reinforce radio's failure to win the audience over to HD by bringing in more ammunition from Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Radio Shack that the tide will eventually turn.

Meanwhile the insurgent underground -- those young people addicted to iPods, cellphones and social networking -- are easily resisting all the firepower these broadcasters are unloading on them.

Radio fails to see that if you can't win the hearts and minds of the next generation, you proceed with the army of listeners you've got. That would be Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.

Never mind that you have no future with Gen Y in spite of your eloquent argument that most radio groups are still thriving free cash flow businesses. Little solace as each year goes on and more young people slip away from terrestrial radio.

So the surge has been on.

But there is no parallel to the U.S. Army's General Patreus whose report to Congress on his surge in Iraq war. You can't ask the "generals" of the NAB and RAB. What do you think they're going to tell their commanders-in-chief, the group heads?

It's working and if you give it a little more time, things will get better. Then the once mighty radio industry will defeat the challenges it now faces.

Radio's surge mentality must end and the commanders running radio need to get real.

You and I know these folks running the radio groups. They are good men (and they're almost all men which says a lot in 2007, doesn't it?).

They are quite capable of winning the piece (spelled correctly here) -- the piece of the media market -- in this day of Internet, mobile devices and pirated music.

They are quite capable of adopting and streamlining a positive move to electronic ratings that serves their best interests.

They know the folly of arguing over :10 and :30's when listeners judge commercials by whatever length they are -- and whether they suck.

They know they're going to have to bail out on HD as a means of expanding their channels and adopt it only to improve audio -- and that may be a cosmetic change only.

The surge is killing radio.

Very capable leaders are wasting time and resources chasing yesterday's business model.

Fix your house and build another one -- the house that contains Internet radio.

Internet radio doesn't need a surge.

Even without universal portability and even with price gouging by music rights groups -- Internet streamers have something better than a surge. They have momentum. And they've won the hearts and minds of the people even before they've delivered a business model.

Radio can do it.

Get into the future.

Stop kidding itself.

Stop wasting valuable time that they can't get back.

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