New Radio

By Jerry Del Colliano

At left with the program consultant Todd Wallace (center) and former KOOL-FM, Phoenix morning personality Bill Gardner.

We had a great lunch in Scottsdale Wednesday that could accurately be described as "good times, great oldies". I've known Todd Wallace from the very, very early days of Inside Radio and Bill Gardner and I worked under Paul Drew when he was doing Drake at WIBG in Philadelphia.

It's always good to be with old friends. Todd still consults. Bill was one of the many victims of the recent CBS cutbacks. He was a highly rated morning personality so his departure is either gutsy or stupid depending on where you're sitting. You know what I think. The ratings will tell the story soon. Bill is so big in this town that when now presidential candidate John McCain made a recent visit to Bill's show, McCain was pleased to be on his favorite radio station. Give a listen. (Advance to the end to hear the possible next president of the United States be a KOOL-FM jock).

That day, I shared with my friends the view that radio cannot survive as it is right now. I'd like to pick up where I left off.

Apple is getting ready to start making its iPhone the killer app many of us thought it would always be.

Upon introduction it was sure cool enough which is why consumers bought it even if they had to get saddled with AT&T service.

Now, within the coming months, CEO Steve Jobs is going to offer iPhone users push technology through Microsoft Exchange so businesses can opt for instant email communication. While big companies are not likely to dump Blackberry immediately, the iPhone will become a future option in corporate smart phone communication.

But that's not all.

Jobs is also going to offer third party software through the iTunes store and accessible over an iPhone with just a click to access many neat applications.

Here's how David Pogue described it on his New York Times blog:

"The release of iPhone 2.0 is over three months away, but I’ll stick my neck out and make a prediction: it will be a gigantic success, spreading the iPhone’s popularity both upward, into the corporate market, and downward, into the hands of the masses. iPhone 2.0 will turn this phone into an engineering tool, a game console, a free-calls Skype phone, a business tool, a dating service, an e-book reader, a chat room, a database, an Etch-a-Sketch…and that’s on Day One".

So what does this have to do with the future of radio?

For most people in radio it probably means nothing, but they should take a closer look at the implications.

Radio is fast losing the next generation to their cellphones, texting, social networks, iPods and even their laptops. Radio's programming is unremarkable to them. Putting programming aside, there is nothing more uncool than a radio -- except maybe a Microsoft Zune digital music player.

For those who are willing to cross over to the other side for a few moments, let me share some thoughts on new radio based on my experience with the next generation and the developing technology that appears to be enabling the changes you will soon see:

1. Radio is no longer just audio. If you want to limit yourself to that definition, you lose because the next generation is over it. They want to see, hear and read whatever they want whenever they want it. Try to imagine that someday a new age radio company (I can dream, can't I?) says, we can do this. No longer just audio. We're in the picture business. We can deliver text. Video.

2. Terrestrial transmitters are antiques. Sorry about that if your company happened to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in each market during consolidation. Monopoly failed. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200 million in return for your poor investments. Towers and transmitters can only do so much today. They can't do what I described in item one above. Start letting go. (Are you uncomfortable, yet? -- good, you're stretching yourself).

3. 24/7 programming is so yesterday. If you really want a view of one aspect of new radio, keep in mind that the next generation has a short attention span. They are not like us. They won't carry a transistor radio or Walkman around and plug into live radio programming. They are used to listening in shorter segments and they're now accustomed to more variety -- which brings me to the next disconcerting reality of the new age.

4. New radio will be TiVo. This generation -- the one we've driven off, neglected and insulted -- is big into time delayed entertainment. Don't knock it. We are, too. That's why many of us have TiVos or DVR devices. (I watched the Flyers-Maple Leafs game played in Philly from my Arizona home the other night because the time difference makes it hard for me to have a life and watch the hockey games. Flyers lost so I could advance past all the replays of Maple Leaf goals. Who wants live when you can watch when you want and control the experience?). The next generation will decide when to listen to new radio, start it, stop it, advance it, rewind it. Radio stations have lost that power with this generation. (Anyone hyper-ventilating, yet?)

5. The new radio is podcasting. I know. I know. You and I both need anti-nausea medication if this is true because we both know that today's radio companies will screw this up. They'll appoint a national director of podcasting (Maybe Chief Pod) and that person in his or her infinite wisdom will decide what the entire population thinks are the best shows to deliver. They'll probably try to target advertising segments. How awful. Can you not see this happening? Of course, it will fail. The podcasting that will work is the kind built around -- forgive me for saying this dirty word -- content. Local content created by experts.

6. Podcasting will emanate from local radio clusters (that is, if the consolidators haven't given up the fight and started to sell their hard assets off by then). Imagine a meeting at, say, a station cluster in Philadelphia. The facilitator probes to find out the interests of the station's employees (horrors!). She finds that one person is a bed and breakfast enthusiast and knows everything there is to know about Victorian B&B's in nearby Cape May, New Jersey. Done. That person provides the substance. The station uses production values to create the podcast. Steve Butler, who used to run Inside Radio for me back in the day is a Miata freak. I can see Steve, an excellent writer, providing a compelling half-hour podcast on his passion. Imagine what it could sound like with radio station production values. The Columbus Blue Jackets NHL coach Ken Hitchcock is a Civil War buff -- bet you know what I'm thinking.

7. No commercials -- just lots of money. I feel the anger of traditional radio people already and I haven't even finished this piece. I can imagine, what I'm going to read "you've been hanging around college kids too long". "You've crossed over to the other side". "You hate Clear Channel" (I get that one everyday-- and I don't. I love them for personal reasons). Podcasting like a lot of new age content will fail miserably if radio people try to be one-trick ponies and cram the only thing they seem to know -- spots -- into the podcast. No. No. No. This generation wants their content free. But I'd make a fortune (and maybe I will because I plan to take my own advice).

8. The money is in ancillary businesses not the podcasts. Back to my examples: I could put together a Victorian bed and breakfast extravaganza in the Philly-South Jersey market tied in to the daily half-hour podcast. Listeners can opt in to attending, sign up to stay at various B&Bs participating sponsors, buy products that will be made available through your moneymaking new age radio operation. Radio knows how to do this -- remember Bridal Fair? The Miata example? A road rally -- listeners opt in, pay to enter, buy gear, sponsors sell them things during the rally. Civil War buffs unite. There will be advertisers who would like to help you have your next reenactment of the battle of Manassas. (Notice, I haven't even started on pop culture topics). You're not going to like this -- your revenue will not be from commercials. There, I've said it again.

9. All podcasting is local. Just like all good radio which is why I would retool my radio clusters and spend heavily to develop content and aggregate it online, on the phone and everywhere. This is the reason why podcasts -- maybe as many as several hundred a week -- are the next add on to the terrestrial radio business.

I don't know about you but when I think about how seamless my iPhone is going to access applications and how easy it will be to dock and rock with content people can carry around and enjoy on their terms whenever, I get excited.

Go down with HD, suffer fools like consolidators that can't run an accretive business and yearn for the old days when radio controlled the delivery system if you insist.

Or step up and retool.

Go get new skills.

Get help to facilitate the opportunities of the future and you'll be in one of the many new businesses that under one tent will be called new radio.

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