This Is Radio Nowhere

Springsteen has it right.

This is Radio Nowhere.

"Is there anybody alive out there?"

The current movement by consolidators to fire their local live talent and move to a nationally syndicated Repeater Radio platform of phantom stations appears to be the final blow to a troubled industry.

We get that consolidators have really had it their way since the enabling legislation was passed in 1996 to deregulate radio ownership.

It's been a virtual monopoly ever since.

Consolidators had carte blanche for almost 13 years.

They merged with concert companies, bought up outdoor businesses, snapped up all the supporting industries that radio stations relied on. At first they hired consulting talent only to release them later. They have had no oversight. Pulled off a fraud on shareholders. Ran their debt way past their ability to pay. Ruined lives. Ruined assets and ruined an industry.

We know all that.

But when The Boss asks "is there anybody alive out there?" it takes on another meaning beyond the vanilla, Repeater Radio that America's radio consolidators are cramming into the ears of innocent listeners.

Is there
any independent group alive out there?

Look, I say this with all due respect. I know operating as an independent has its challenges in this day. And they must live in the wake of the turbulence that is caused by consolidation mismanagement.

Yet, where are they?

In radio as in life we must accept the things we cannot change and the courage to change the things we can.

I hear all the time from independent operators who understand what we're espousing in this space. Yet they continue to roll up losses from operating radio stations that are becoming more like the consolidators who "done them in" than the stations they could be.

Some are buying the same research that almost everyone already knows.

There's not a hair's difference between some independent operators and most consolidators. There are a few, but not enough to turn the tide.

We have a People Meter in some markets -- with more to come -- and yet few substantive changes have taken place to transform radio beyond the hype and foolishness that has finally taken its toll on the industry.

I can tell you -- as an industry -- we know very little about those 80 million Millennials who make up the next generation that is fast coming of age. And why we cannot change how they will get their entertainment and information from the Internet, mobile devices and social networks, we are failing when it comes to getting the courage to enter their space with our talent.

There is no future for us without them.

Is there anybody alive in a market where Clear Channel, Citadel, Cumulus and the others are retreating from local programming?

If so, are you hiring?

Are you running 100% local and live programming?

Cutting spot loads?

Running one-commercial stop sets?

Expanding playlists?

Embracing music discovery?

Doing local news?

Getting more involved in civic pursuits -- the kind that the next generation champions?

Are you taking advantage of the competitive gift radio consolidators are giving you to leave them in the dust?

Your competitors -- these very consolidators -- are so used to dictating the terms of engagement in radio that when they retreat, you seem to retreat with them without a whimper, without a protest, without a counter-offensive.

While there are many broadcasters who still have some semblance of listener focus left to them, consolidators are handing you their audiences on a silver platter.

So, you can keep losing money or take advantage of their many strategic mistakes.

Continue to play nice with the big boys or you could stick it to them on behalf of your radio listeners.

Running live, local radio is not an expense.

It's an investment.

And you can't reinvent on-air when you're unwilling to re-invent radio sales.

Selling spots is a fickle game. But selling relationships that deliver effective and well-defined goals -- well, that is superior marketing.

Is there anybody alive in the Internet and mobile space?

The notion that streaming radio online in and of itself is an Internet strategy is just false. Internet streaming represents less than 3% of all terrestrial streaming audiences and most times, because of restrictions, this 3% doesn't even count in their Arbitron ratings.


That's not good enough.

The Internet will not be an alternative transmitter for terrestrial broadcasters. It is the transmitter of the future.

Radio operators show little interest in investing in separate (and different) Internet streams using the expertise and talent they can access. They just want to rubber stamp their terrestrial streams online and call it an Internet strategy.

Try to find a major radio group with any money invested in their digital future and no -- HD radio doesn't count.

While they may think they have bigger fish to fry right now, every school year many more Millennials come of age and leave radio further back in the Stone Age.

Independent operators are the ones who can develop the new frontier because they are not likely to do what a consolidator would do -- assuming they even budget for this -- create local streams.

Is there anybody alive in social networking?

Stations keep embarrassing themselves by asking listeners to text in to win drivel. Confirming how uncool they are by directing radio listeners to their websites when the young generation never needs to be told to find what they like online. They're not dumb. They do it all the time.

Radio people are the most qualified talent to turn around a dying on-air business, build the most creative Internet streams and connect people through desirable and addictive social networks unlike any that have ever been done.

After all, Facebook is just a start -- not an end. Even young folks will tell you that.

Tomorrow, another consolidator will probably do something stupid that deserves a comment and some attention. They never disappoint when it comes to that.

But today, I'm calling on the independent radio operators who are the only -- and I mean only -- hope for saving what is left of a great service to lead the industry to the Promised Land of digital media -- a space consumers have embraced.

Time to step up.

Time to stop with the excuses.

Take advantage of the strategic gifts clueless consolidators are seemingly giving you every day and run with them.

There's risk -- financial and otherwise -- no doubt.

But there is also great reward.

Consolidators aren't going to do it.

Outsiders don't want to do it.

Only independent operators can save the radio industry from Radio Nowhere.

Is there anybody alive out there?

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