Industrial Radio

Radio and Newspapers -- joined at the hip.

I just concluded a week at the Jersey shore – an annual vacation to revisit my roots and get away from the summer heat of my adopted city, Scottsdale, AZ. I could have gone to LA. The California weather is great this time of year, but it’s not Jersey.

LA doesn’t have greenhead flies eating you to death when the wind blows from the bay (as it did most of the week) or thunderstorms arriving just after you park your body on the beach.

My east coast friends will understand the appeal of all this in a sick sort of way.

During the week, I bought as many newspapers as I could. After all, I could use them to swat flies.

Local Jersey papers, Philly papers and, of course, The New York Times, Daily News and Post.

If you think I’m nuts, you should have seen the look on the face of the young checkout gal at the Barnegat Light deli when I paid for these papers. I asked if she ever read any of them.

Now, that was stupid. I know better. One day, she bragged that she never read any papers or read them online.

After a week in the hot sun, I have determined that these young folks are right. Newspapers stink. Using them for wrapping fish is too good.

And, I like newspapers.

That is, until now.

And it struck me that newspapers and radio have a lot in common.

I used to like radio a lot better in the past.

Radio stations and newspapers are shortchanging their public on content and blaming technology for their ills. It’s not the technology – in either case – that’s killing them. Technology just provides the delivery system. After all descendants of Johan Gutenberg's printing press from 1439 can’t be the only means of distributing news forever. It’s about – here we go again – the content.

Take newspapers. Please.

With the exception of the big national papers, almost every story is from Reuters. There are a few local rewrite guys. Hardly any local news even when the paper touts itself as a local paper.

Question: why are newspapers carrying outdated national stories from Reuters when everyone gets their news somewhere else? Or nowhere else.

Too few pages of news to go along with the too few pages of advertising and when papers like The New York Post and Daily News carried more ads, there was not enough good content. Some, but not enough to start a reading habit or even justify the purchase price.

The New York Times was different. I admit, The Times is my favorite paper, and hardly a day goes by that I don’t read it. In Arizona and LA I have subscriptions to both The Times and The Wall Street Journal (to get my right wing fix). But, I usually read what I want from them before I go to bed the night before – online. Even The Times is cutting back editorial. It's only a matter of time for them, too.

Tribune’s Randy Michaels and Lee Abrams are trying to shakeup their company-owned papers and they have my blessing (not that they need it). They can’t do any worse than the “decision makers” that got newspapers in trouble.

Printed papers are terrible. Online papers are mere shadows of their former selves.

The difference between newspapers and radio in this regard is that newspaper publishers became incompetent long before radio CEOs. For radio, it took consolidation to breed egocentric owners who knew everything. Newspapers started dying in the 60’s without the threat of the Internet. That's pretty bad. They still think TV killed them, but like radio, newspapers keep killing themselves.

For radio, local radio is hard to listen to mainly because it is hard to find.

Uninspired – that’s how I’d describe radio programming. Thank God, I had Sirius in my rental car. But on the beach and everywhere else, how can you beat Pandora or your own “Greatest Hits of All Time” on your iPod?

Local radio gives you no reason to feed your addiction.

Your addiction to what? Awful commercials, vanilla jocks (when they have them), national programming that sure isn’t local. Little music variety. And – sit down for this one because I know I am asking for too much now – no fun. Listening to a bunch of people on the radio having no fun is, well – no fun.

No wonder we call local radio terrestrial radio. It should be called industrial radio. Maybe I'll coin that phrase from now on because that's what local radio has become -- industrial. It's certainly not local.

No wonder Sirius XM has gotten almost 20 million older consumers to pay to get away from terrestrial radio.

And why the WiFi that automakers are adding to cars starting next year will be to the next generation what the arrival of FM was to the baby boomers.

I want to say it loud and say it proud – technology didn’t kill radio.

CEOs full of themselves from consolidation did.

As did Wall Street which had an affair with radio but has since moved on leaving radio – well, I don’t think I have to go into any more of that imagery here. Maybe screwed and tattooed will be enough.

Cutbacks born of having to bow to the way things are done on Wall Street and thinking quarter to quarter.

Notice I haven’t mentioned the iPod, Internet or cell phones yet.

But now that I did, the reason young people don’t want terrestrial (industrial) radio on these devices is – guess what? Unappealing content. Or else, believe me, every portable device would have it.

Which is why radio forcing its way onto mobile phones will lay such a big rotten egg. More bonehead moves from the folks who brought you HD radio.

The next generation doesn’t want industrial radio.

They’ve moved on. Beyond newspapers. Beyond stations that are fun as a farcical imitation of what they used to be.

If you believe the baseball adage “if you build it, they will come”, then you must believe that if you program tons of appealing local content, they will listen.

They’ll just listen their own way. Stop. Start. Delete. Later. Tomorrow.

The day I arrived on New Jersey’s beautiful Long Beach Island I flipped on one of the large HD TVs and happened to see a New Jersey Network PBS show on railroads (shouldn’t I be rushing to the beach?).

These reconstructed and gorgeous old steam engines were great viewing – on TV. I don’t think I want to take one from New York to Washington.

It reminds me that the radio industry is a romanticized throwback to another bygone day.

But I wouldn’t want to have to listen to industrial radio from New York to Washington. (I know, there are some good stations along the way -- just not enough).

This leads me to conclude that even though I may have been out in the sun too long, the people running the radio industry are even more parched for programming sustenance.

The decline of radio and newspapers is unnecessary.

All they had to do was get out of the railroad business and get into the space age – delivering appealing content that cooperate with the inevitable change of generations and technology.

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