Radio's Trick or Treat Research

Paragon Research has a new study out that has been getting headlines in The New York Times, Rolling Stone and elsewhere.

The Times headline says "Perhaps iPods Aren't Replacing Radio" and Rolling Stone says "According to New Study, Traditional Radio Gaining Popularity".

You can believe all of this at your own risk.

I have nothing against Paragon, a good radio research advocate that reportedly conducted their survey online. But it is very difficult to give much credence to this research that says the trend is switching back to radio. As The Times puts it "Paragon Media Strategies, reports that 14 to 24 year olds mostly say their radio listening has increased over the last year or two, while they said the opposite last year".

From time to time radio produces research that appears to bolster its position in a world where it is losing influence -- with audience and advertisers. I'll refer you to the HD studies that show up from time to time. If you believe their results, I've got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.

For those of you who know through your anecdotal experience that it is impossible for young people to return to radio, then you know that the neglect stations have shown their programming these past eight years is the real news story.

I think it's worth examining the rest of the story:

1. The iPod isn't going anywhere

There is no doubt that young people are tired of hearing the same music over and over again but their iPods are their music library. Portable, commercial and idiot free. I have heard student testimony of iPod fatigue, but no willingness to leave their iPods at home. The study said that iPod use is cutting less into radio this time around. Radio doesn't make the radar screen if you actually ask young people face to face whether they like it. (By the way, even iPod carrying Gen Yers listen to radio -- when they have to -- in a car without bluetooth or WiFi. Keep that in mind before you go out investing in radio stations).

2. Radio continues declining as a source for new music

Think about it. Most stations really do not play much new music -- that's always been the knock on radio. Nothing has changed. Young people are not showing any evidence of returning to a medium that plays the least music with the most ignorant djs who are not allowed to be knowledgeable about what they're playing. Believe what you want, but radio lost its listeners at "hello -- I've got 20 minutes of nonstop music for ya". Non-stop, repetitive, short playlist music -- and don't forget the commercials.

3. Music filesharing still rules

Unfortunately for the record labels, piracy is thriving. Gen Y finds music, shares it and never has to worry about paying for it. You know that. If you don't, talk to your children and their friends. They'll show you some research of their own.

4. It's the cell phone, stupid

Remember when the Bill Clinton people said, "It's the economy, stupid" back in 1992? Well in our industry its all about the cell phone. Cell phones are the most indispensable devices young people own and most of them don't want to use it to heart some repetitious Clear Channel stations. They want Pandora -- now that's radio to the next generation. And, don't believe me if am taxing your belief system but the cell phone is the new radio but podcasting will be the new programming.

5. Radio offers nothing to young people

No real music variety. No plethora of music genres. No easy way to own music. No intuitive way to share music. No knowledgeable djs talking about music. No haven from commercials, promos and clutter that they have long ago abandoned. No local input. Need I go on?

Larry Johnson, the Paragon study's author was quoted in The Times as saying "radio stations may be doing a better job at connecting with those people,” and “The music may also simply be more interesting. There tends to be a cycle."

He's kidding, I hope. How can he say that with a straight face?

Music on the radio more interesting?

Rolling Stone actually came down to earth for a second to conclude:

One would think with the economy stumbling and gas prices as high as they are, people would be spending less time in their car and thus listening to less radio. Add to the equation that the demographic to the study is 14 to 24 year olds — a cross section of people with easy access and understanding of song streams and downloads — the results of the online study become even more inexplicable.

Look, I love good news just like the next guy. But good news to radio is not that everything is okay but all the CEOs of radio's big companies were fired and replaced by a general manager or program executive who actually knows how to run something.

That's worth putting the flag out.

But this type of "trick or treat" research is dangerous to the multitude of clueless -- or what you might call radio CEOs.

I know it's Halloween and we dress up and scare people but...

Take the Reese's Peanut Butter cups not the apple with the razor blade in it because this research is misleading and dangerous to an industry that knows next to nothing about the one audience segment they need to own -- the next generation.

And nothing proves it more than these erroneous conclusions.

But if it makes you feel better, go ahead and enjoy this rare bit of news that radio is back.

And don't get mad at me because I don't believe Jeff Smulyan that radio is just going through a tough time and it is all going to be alright. Don't tell me about doom and gloom -- I didn't start the fire.

When things get worse, take two aspirins and call me in the morning. We'll be able to deal with the symptoms but the patient is still going to die.

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