U.S. Radio vs. Canada (Australia, Europe)

If technology, the Internet and the next generation is killing radio, why is radio doing so much better in Canada, Australia and Europe?

Look, let me say upfront and I am going to underscore this -- I am not an expert in foreign radio. Just an observer. I will say that I have a lot of readers from around the world and although radio is challenged in America right now they report that it is not in such dire condition overseas.

Here are a few thoughts:

Regulation Is Important

Canadian broadcasters are still marching to basically the same orders as they did decades ago but radio is not dying there. Of course, Canadian broadcasters are faced with the very same challenges as in the U.S., but they haven't prostituted their formats and brand names yet. There is more sense of responsibility regarding what listeners expect. There are repercussions if operators don't tow the mark. In the states, it's anything goes. Can you name a radio station that didn't win a license renewal in the past ten years? It's almost impossible. Deregulation in the U.S. was really no regulation. The FCC wrongly posits about Arbitron's People Meter not the people's business. Ironically, depending on who is elected president, radio may see too much regulation in the years ahead.

Cutbacks Erode the Product

U.S. radio's obsession with cutting costs, duplicating jobs to save money and firing talented people has a price -- on the bottom line. The old adage "you have to spend money to make money" didn't become an adage for nothing. It's true. You've also got to have money to spend it and that is the dilemma of American radio right now. They are facing delisting on the stock exchanges because all those economies of scale that began shortly after 1996 and continue to this day have failed. U.S. radio's unprecedented steps to water down the on-air product is the main reason why radio is failing. Not iPods. Not the Internet. Not music filesharing. If radio stations understood this from day one, their challenge going forward would not be one of cutting costs to fill up airtime but to gradually evolve into new media. This cannot happen without the very talented people they are casting away in great numbers.


In radio, everyone is a cheerleader. I must say it has always been this way. I love this business and more importantly the people in it -- a special breed of very unique personalities. But mindless pep talks for radio in my opinion are not what the industry needs. We're all for radio. So when you read editorials that say stay positive, it's all well and good but it is not a solution. When nice people like Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan deliver sermons instead of solutions it is just his love for this industry shining through.

Foreign Radio Understands Local

Go almost anywhere in this world and you'll see how local radio is alive and well. That's how radio works best. The Ryan Seacresting of radio dayparts to wallpaper economies of scale into Clear Channel is not helpful. I like Seacrest in LA. Or maybe New York -- wherever he chooses to live. Not everywhere just to cut salaries. I see that Farid hired Mancow to work for him in Chicago and he's supposed to be doing a show separate and apart from his syndicated morning show. Yes -- as long as Mancow remains in Chicago to be part of the local radio scene. Around the world radio companies were blessed that they remained regulated and that so many never forgot the importance of being part of the community in which they broadcast.

New Media is Embraced Everywhere But in the U.S.

That's a bold statement -- maybe not everywhere but almost everywhere around the civilized world -- but not here. U.S. radio's shameful record in making the transition to digital media is largely limited to switching on HD radio. HD radio means nothing to listeners in the U.S. It has more of a chance in other parts of the world where listeners may actually want second and third tier channels from broadcasters they love. And broadcasters there may actually want to invest money and talent into building these channels some day. But not here -- that chance died with consolidation. The digital future isn't HD -- it's making new and separate streams of content that can be aggregated along side terrestrial radio. Terrestrial radio will one day be obsolete technologically speaking, but an investment now in new media will be its successor. Podcasting, mobile content, merchandising, social networks -- why not radio businesses?

In the end, the obituary for radio was written by the actions of its own CEOs, deregulation, false economies, loss of focus on local radio and failure to comprehend the digital future.

There is nothing I see in radio (or for that matter our beloved record industry) that makes me think this will change.

If you want a future, invest in Apple. They understand generational media.

If you want excuses, buy radio.

Time to get real.

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