A USC Student Consults a Troubled Radio Industry

Some of you tell me you like for me to share my experiences, insights, outrages and epiphanies that I gain from teaching the next generation at USC.

Interestingly, most of my students did their mid-term papers on the problems of the music industry or the potential of interactive media. One addresses the decline of the radio industry. My experience has been that the next generation takes very little glee in witnessing the beginning of the end for terrestrial radio. She is remarkably candid, however, about what can be done.

I thought you’d like to know what one student, Agatha Karmelita, said in addressing the radio industry. Let’s say she’s a consultant and the price is right.

1. It’s great that radio is free but the next generation wants to control what they hear. She quotes Mark Sovel, Music Director of Indie 103 in Los Angeles: “The popularity of the iPod is directly related to the crappiness of radio”.

2. She unearthed that God-awful Lowry Mays quote that “We’re not in the business of providing well-researched music. We’re simply in the business of selling our customers products”. She adds that radio needs advertising to make money but if no one is listening, how does that help sell advertising? For music radio stations, she suggests that the future is being compromised by the record labels’ inability to produce hits and radio’s unwillingness to add variety beyond the same short playlists.

3. “When consolidation robbed the listeners of its music discovering device, radio lost its personality and its listeners lost interest. That’s when the Internet showed up to save the day, for listeners anyway. Contrary to what many may think, a radio personality is just as important to a radio station as the variety of music being played.” This is consistent with what other young people have told me that personalities knowledgeable in music are what stations should opt for – not daffy djs talking gobbledygook.

4. “Perhaps if radio stations became radio stations again, the situation would be different. Radio stations should be individually-owned by members of the respective community in which the station is located as a station is such a local and personal part of the community. Frank Bell, Vice President Programming for Keymarket Communications states, 'One of the first lessons I learned in radio is be local, be loved. That’s the best way to reach an audience'.” She wants stations to make listeners feel like they are part of a big plan.

Her conclusion is realistic yet pragmatic:

“Yes digital music will eventually kill terrestrial radio, but right now technology is nowhere near good enough to completely rule out the use of terrestrial radio. Station owners should make the most of the time they have left. Surely radio stations aren’t going to start suing their listeners so why not let radio fade away on a good note. All I am really trying to say is: we want the airwaves back, while we can still get them”.

Agree or disagree you see one member of the next generation lament the self-destruction radio has brought to itself – my opinion. That’s why we need to follow the successful implementation of leaders like CBS President Dan Mason who is methodically facing the music and trying to rebuild the trust with its listeners (CBS-FM and the other CBS radio turnarounds).

For those of you who think I, as their professor, overly influenced this student and others to think as I do, you obviously have not spent a lot of time around the next generation –- other than the children you influence in your family.

However, I am proud that I have accomplished one thing – that they can speak up so eloquently.

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