Drinking Radio's Kool-Aid

Just when the radio industry needs straight talk it gets this.

The head of the NAB sounding clueless and blaming radio's problems on being taken for granted.


It happened yesterday at his organization's annual convention in Las Vegas.

David Rehr dispensed some kind of joy juice at a time when an industry is being left behind by technology and it's own poor management. Many of you emailed me press coverage of his remarks and you were not pleased.

I'm not going to sit silently by while radio audiences decline, good people lose their jobs, the next generation is allowed to get away without a fight -- and now this -- everything is great.

This same kind of happy talk is killing the record industry and is starting to affect local and network television.

Traditional media needs a time out from leaders who pander to their constituents by kiss it and make it better solutions. Do they actually think anyone believes this stuff?

Examples (from quotes in R&R by an excellent reporter, Jeffrey Yorke).

"We also learned from these consumers that being local, in and of itself, is not what defines radio's value" -- David Rehr, NAB CEO (referring to a new survey conducted on the part of the Radio 2020 campaign).


This is outrageous.

If there is anything about radio that is compelling it is that radio is a local medium. It's defined by being a local medium. Even the NAB refers to terrestrial radio as local radio. If you take local out of radio you have -- well, the Internet. The world wide web. That's not radio's strength.

"It's the accessibility and the connection with radio personalities. And it's being everywhere and available to everyone. A radio is not a jukebox. If you're listening to radio, you want to hear a human voice sharing that same moment in time that you are. There is power in that personal bond. A CD doesn't have that connection. An iPod doesn't have that. No, our model is not broken."

Where the hell has this guy been working -- the beer industry?

Of course radio is a jukebox -- it's one of the ways it differentiated itself from television when TV came along in the 50's. But it's not just that. It's news, talk, sports and lots of other formats -- most of which work best as -- let's say it loud and say it proud -- local formats.

And did Rehr run the comment about listeners wanting to hear a human voice past the voice tracking consolidators?

And Personal bond?

You're playing with us now.

Rehr says radio is not broken. Okay, tell that to the stock market. Tell it to the thousands of executives and air talent who have lost their jobs. Tell it to the next generation -- a segment of the population as large as baby boomers -- when they wash their hands of radio. Or to sales managers who can't make their numbers because advertisers are headed to online destinations.

Right. Radio is not broken. The NAB is broken and is insulting in its ignorance about radio's problems in today's media.

Radio consolidators, Congress, the FCC and the NAB decided to advocate and seek approval of consolidation -- the thing that brought listeners voice tracking, more syndication and less local programming and no understanding at all of what an iPod means to the generation that radio let get away.

Rehr says many people "take radio for granted precisely because it's so pervasive. The public's love of radio is still there, they just need to be reminded of it. We need to reignite that passion."

Oh, that's it.

Too much radio everywhere. Like water. It's everywhere. We won't appreciate it until things dry up. If the shameless cheerleader wanted to be honest, he would point out that older listeners still love and listen to radio. Less so for Generation X and even less so for Gen Y. Go ahead, remind them as much as you want and they are not going to embrace a radio again. This generation is online and has handheld devices like iPods and smart phones. They have short attention spans and have grown up without the love of radio.

There are too many talented people in the trenches right now working under intolerable conditions.

Program directors with sliced budgets, mandates to fire talent -- forget promotional budgets.

Sales managers trying to make numbers with increased competition, fewer sales people and fewer trained salespeople.

General managers second guessed and hog-tied to deliver results for owners who would have been fired long ago if they were judged on their ability to build shareholder value.

Nothing lights my fire more than to hear our trade association preach to the industry that knows how to find a future in the digital age -- if they would only get out of the way and keep their mouths shut.

The NAB isn't the only perpetrator.

The HD Alliance. The Radio 2020 Campaign. The Radio Advertising Bureau. Group owners who for political reasons are backing these misguided money wasters for their own personal gain.

Leaders lead.

They get out in front on important issues.

They speak courageously about problems and opportunities.

In our industry they should be saying radio is in trouble.

It has lost the next generation of listeners to digital devices and the Internet and some of it is our own fault.

Consolidation didn't work out.

But radio talent is still the greatest potential provider of content in the digital world. While we find new ways to bolster radio programming and sales for the available baby boom and Gen X market, we need to be open to new ways to deliver podcasts, Internet streams, digital content and text messages to a new concept of social networks.

Tell the truth.

Get out of the way.

Fund it.

And radio people can deliver.

P.S. to Wall Street investors who lost big bucks in radio stocks: force out the leaders of these underperforming radio companies and hire someone with a clue. You can even find one who will work for less then Farid Suleman's $11 million a year.

This is the elixir that we need.

Not NAB's Kool-Aid.

In 12 years radio will be celebrating its centennial and if it is going to be vibrant and relevant, it needs leaders who can talk straight and outline the importance of reassigning some of its talent to become new age content providers for online and mobile media.

Call them out for this and tell them you expect better.

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