Immobile Radio

To show you how clueless the radio industry is about the next generation and their technology look no further than Thursday's Inside Radio.

The industry is hell bent to put a radio tuner in every mobile device. The article says NAB, phone carriers and the FCC are all discussing ways to do it. And, they believe that within the next five years every portable phone device could be equipped with a radio chip.

Radio interests are pandering to the regulators telling them that putting radios in cell phones will solve a lot of problems pertaining to emergency notification.

All this is wonderful, but the proponents have forgotten one thing -- the mobile phone user.

The preponderance of mobile phone users are young -- many Gen Y or even younger -- and, forgive me for having to say it again -- they don't like radio.

Putting a radio chip in a cell phone is tantamount to putting a newspaper in the phone. I wish it were that simple, but it will be useless. Young people who won't listen to radio now, are not going to listen to it on their precious mobile devices. Only an out of touch generation of radio executives could conclude that a chip on a cellphone will make things better.

And it takes another level of knowledge to understand the difference between Pandora, a popular Apple iPhone application and terrestrial radio. Pandora is a customizable "radio station" that learns from interactive listener input what their music tastes are. Radio is a non-customizable radio station that listeners very quickly learn are the corporate owners favorite songs. Not the same thing.

Perhaps this will help explain it.

Young listeners -- the ones radio must have to have a future -- possess shorter attention spans. While baby boomers and Gen Xers were used to listening to what is broadcast directly to their ears, this iPod generation is used to stopping, starting, time-delaying and deleting content. They think of themselves as program directors. Therefore, delivering a form of radio they clearly don't like -- even to their cell phone which they love and can't live without -- is fruitless.

So, you're saying, Jerry, this sounds so hopeless. If we can't put a radio chip in the most popular device ever created by humans, is it that hopeless?

Yes and no.

A lot of radio is awful these days. Let's not kid ourselves. The poor programmers and managers are barely able to pay good people. I'm told the Connecticut School of Broadcasting is graduating record numbers -- the cheaper to hire them at cost obsessed radio groups.

Experience is out.

Good programming is not possible without outstanding people and most of the radio groups -- even the ones formerly known as good ones -- are programming on the cheap.

Syndication, regionalization and duplication are in.

Barter the time period and really cut costs. Pay one jock to be on several stations -- that will turn on the bean counters. Rebroadcast a day part in a later day part.

On top of that, radio has not come up with a good idea in at least 20 years.

Twenty years!

Radio is so proud of its talk radio franchise especially around election time. But talk radio listeners are becoming long in the tooth. Where's the next generation of content? Radio owners fell asleep at the switch long before the next generation came along.

No mater how loud its screamed. No matter how it's said. No matter what the evidence is -- radio execs who think they know better are committed to ramming terrestrial radio into the ears of a generation that eludes them because they don't like radio content.

Best plan is to invest in terrestrial formats for the purpose of pleasing listeners who still enjoy over the air radio (Gen X and baby boomers). Of course, make the stream available on the Internet but that is a brand extension strategy not an answer to attracting the next generation.

Then, invent a new business based on the talented people who still work at your local stations (if you haven't fired them all by Christmas). These are the folks who can potentially develop hundreds of Internet streams, mobile content and podcasts. It's not the radio industry we all grew up with and maybe that's part of the problem. Change is both invigorating and scary. It's scarier yet when the leader doesn't see it.

Hell, Apple is selling iPhones like they're going out of style.

I'm sure you'll agree Apple CEO Steve Jobs is smart enough to know whether a radio chip is something that would appeal to the millions of consumers who are shelling out money for iPhones. His silence is deafening on this.

What few mobile companies that have offered limited radio streams or satellite content as add on packages have failed miserably in their efforts.

Even Pandora has to be careful not to underestimate the generational aspect of their product. And you'll note Pandora isn't exactly getting rich.

Sprint has WiMax up and running in Baltimore.

WiFi seems to be everywhere.

Automakers are on board for including WiFi in their car entertainment centers.

And what is the best our brain trust in radio can do?

Put a chip into a cell phone -- in five years -- maybe.

Maybe if you build it, they will come.

The evidence, however, suggests otherwise because radio is building the wrong thing to attract the largely populated next generation.

Please -- please -- go back to the drawing board. Or, call you local stations and ask the talent you now employ. Maybe they get it and may be able to help you point radio in the right digital direction.

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