Redefine Radio -- Don't Reinvent It

Constant denial -- that's what's killing radio.

Last week we heard the same old song again at the Southern California Broadcasters Association gathering. I don't know about you but these guys are starting to scare me.

Radio-Info's Tom Taylor reported that Clear Channel's John Hogan said "performance and capability is not our problem. Our problem is one of perception".


Consolidators like Clear Channel but not limited to Clear Channel either just don't get it or they don't want us to get it.

1. They try to grow a business by cutting back.

2. They embrace the wrong technology (HD instead of mobile/Internet).

3. They have driven off the next generation -- have no clue what they want -- and think the problem is about perception. No one cares about perception -- they care about content and -- I might add -- how it is delivered.

4. Hogan -- according to Inside Radio editor Frank Saxe -- "noted over 90% of Americans 12+ listen to upwards of 18 hours a week and the medium has retained 87% TSL". Fine. Fine. Those numbers lean heavily older because younger listeners are what radio is losing, but by arguing the status quo our leaders apparently think they can make radio's problems go away.

Citadel's Farid Suleman got off a few good yucks in front of 700 radio and advertising people, but was short on solutions.

CBS Radio President Dan Mason who has been the master of returning radio to its strongest formats didn't disappoint, either. He waxed eloquently about radio as "the ultimate engagement tool". He was right to say the Arbitron People Meter will revolutionize the industry -- probably because actual radio listening has been underreported using the diary system. Mason said "For this industry to have to defend itself against the iPod is not only ridiculous -- it wrong".

1. The iPod is not what radio has to defend itself against -- Internet radio, mobile phone competition for listening time (texting, phoning, etc) and social networks are the real problem. See, the radio industry doesn't even know who the enemy is. It's like radio is in Iraq fighting the war on terror when it really needs to be in Afghanistan to find bin Laden and Al-Qaeda.

2. Radio may be just the ticket for baby boomers, but it is not on the radar screen among 18-24 year olds. Radio people seem to deny that they need to attract this audience some how and they get nasty when you tell them that radio may have to deliver content in ways other than terrestrial signals.

Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan made a great point about how important radio was during Katrina -- a great emotional appeal. Factually, he said "radio reach has declined less than 3% in the decade 1997-2006...This is the same decade where we saw a rise in satellite, Internet, MP3s, video games and cable TV". Break out the next generation and peer into the future -- there is no future without them.

These guys are supposed to be radio's best and brightest. They run the big consolidated companies.

But the situation is worse than they know or care to admit:

1. Radio is not a passion among Gen Y and there are as many Gen Yers born already than baby boomers. Unfortunately, baby boomers are closer to that ultimate radio station in the sky and Gen Y is just starting to live -- spend -- and buy products and services.

2. I am convinced that as much as radio groups say they understand the Internet, they don't. It is a delivery system -- plain and simple. It needs content. One would think they would want to be in that business.

3. It's okay to say we made a mistake and took our eye off the prize. Consolidation in return for growth and new markets such as 18-24. Admitting that is the first step.

I take no joy -- none whatsoever -- to kick and prod the industry I love on this -- but as you know on consolidation I was against it before I was against it (to play with the old John Kerry quote).

Consolidation brought the worst out of us.

But I like what RAIN publisher Kurt Hanson wrote the other day when he said the answer to radio's problems is simple -- redefine "radio".

Kurt credits consultant Walter Sabo with pointing out that stand-alone FM radio stations were not allowed to join the NAB as recently as the 70's because they weren't considered "radio".

See, we don't just make stupid assumptions today. We've got a lot of experience in that department.

Kurt's point is worth thinking about: "In 2008, if you define 'radio' as AM, FM, satellite and streaming (both AM/FM stations and Internet-only radio properties like LAUNCHcast and Pandora and a panapoly of others), then, once again, radio is healthier and more vibrant than it has ever been".

I'd add mobile content and podcasting to the mix and call it all "radio", too.

Yes, throw satellite in there, as wel. Mel's a radio guy. Ask any XM or Sirius subscriber what they are listening to in the car and they'll say -- radio.

Call it all radio.

Just get into the future now.

Stop the denials.

Stop the us-against-them pity parties.

There's only one broadcasting analyst left on Wall Street -- maybe Wall Street investment firms didn't get the Tony Robbins-like message from Beverly Hills the other day. I'm not the only one who thinks this business is deader than a door nail without encompassing the Internet and mobile space.

Look at radio stocks. The industry leader can barely leave the business fast enough with a stock price that is around $30 a share. Some, like Citadel, look like penny stocks.

Don't listen to me. Listen to someone other than you.

Now let's get started and give a hopeful, new meaning to the word consolidation -- as we aggregate radio, Internet radio, AM/FM streaming, Pandora, satellite radio and mobile content under a perfect concept.

And call it -- radio.

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