Texting and Radio

The number one obsession of young people nationwide is text messaging.

We are beginning to see some significant trends that are worth keeping an eye on:

1. Text messaging continues to grow at a rapid pace. Texting is the Holy Grail for Gen Y. Nothing is more a part of their lives. Most would even do without an iPod before a cell phone because of its texting capabilities. Radio is not heard here.

2. While Facebook growth is slowing among young people (after all, they are already there), it is growing rapidly among the over 30 crowd. You know that because some of you have only recently taken the Facebook plunge and for those who were early adopters, you have seen the number of people your age now discovering and liking Facebook. (Friend me on Facebook!)

3. Facebook usage is 30 minutes a day at a minimum. Don’t go by my daughter or her college friends. They exceed that by a ton. I’ll bet your kids or young friends do as well. It is fair to assume that older people may increase their time on Facebook as a means of staying connected or getting reconnected – and that means less time for them with traditional media. There's also a report that indicates that the average person now spends ten hours a day in front of some type of screen).

4. Twitter seems to have been discovered by a slightly older group. Not the kids in high school or college although they seem to be warming to Twitter now. What’s not to like – 140 characters to say it all. If you’re on Twitter, you see Twitter bugs who really live every moment of their lives on it. That’s funny to me. The older generation used to call these same kids self-absorbed. What do you think telling someone you’re going to the health club or what you’re watching, eating or doing on Twitter is?

5. Radio is making it easy for listeners of all ages to adopt new media because instead of making programming more compelling and addictive, radio is becoming less compelling and more vanilla. Consolidators may really need to curb their expenses because of the huge debt payments they must make, but this couldn't be a worse time for a bad strategy.

6. The definition of entertainment is changing – you may not like it or agree with it – but it is changing. Suddenly, computer video games may be getting pressure from handheld devices such as the iPhone. Apple apps are worth paying for. CDs and music downloads apparently less so.

7. I’m writing this on a plane and I have a Kindle with me – my wife is reading Michael J. Fox’s new book in the next seat. My friend, the beautiful and talented Geri Jarvis made me dust off the Kindle I got from my son as a birthday present last year to give it another chance. I’m liking it. So, more competition for traditional media -- initially, at least with older consumers. Books and reading may actually make a big comeback. Boy, the librarian at my alma mater, Springfield High School outside of Philadelphia, is jumping for joy.

The world is in a constant state of evolution and with regard to the music and media business – there is no exception.

What worries me is that we are not tracking the technological changes the way we should and we most certainly are not understanding generational media. Without that grasp, all our decisions and investments in the future are suspect.

Back to texting.

Radio people use texting to engage the audience – and I guess that’s okay. Nothing special. Texting is the competition because it is how young audience members choose to spend more of their time. It is not a great tool for radio stations other than to replace the telephone as a means of communicating with the radio station.

Sit down and talk with these young folks – they are addicted. No 12 Step Program has been devised that can wean a young person off text messaging.

So, you may say what do you want me to do – radio can’t be texting. It can’t rival texting in the eyes of young people.

All true.

The digital future requires us to:

• Be present where the audience resides (on the Internet, mobile space and social networks).

• Find new ways to attract audiences and offer programming that cooperates with their tastes and habits not ours. Steve Jobs is a master of this at Apple.

• Respect generational differences because to not factor in the next generation’s ability to be in charge of their mobile programming options to suit their shorter attention spans is to live in denial.

In radio we are often content to ignore the outside forces that affect radio programming.

It was unthinkable ten years ago that radio stations would go silent in any great numbers. And yet you see hundreds in the past few months sign off the air.

AM is the first victim -- the long-predicted demise of AM channels is happening regardless of whether the AM band still has excellent programming. That's why I say, future broadcasters will have to be where their listeners live and that's certainly not on AM frequencies.

FM stations will also go silent in greater numbers as listeners turn to other forms of digital entertainment. The strong will survive, of course -- but as the FM dial weakens, even the strong stations will be living in a place that fewer key demos will frequent.

Internet radio is not the heir apparent to AM and FM. It is a delivery system that is best suited for creative new programming. However, as I have mentioned previously, the generational engineering needs to be directed at the increasingly short attention spans of young listeners. To think that streaming terrestrial radio or even 24/7 Internet radio to an audience that clearly is telling it wants short form programs that they can start and stop is to create a non-growth business on the hottest delivery system ever devised.

Apple applications and apps for other smart phones cooperate with the inevitable short attention spans, hands-on entertainment new young audiences will want. I was visiting an Apple store in Cherry Hill, NJ yesterday and found the usual large crowds (even in a recession) and constant excitement about new apps.

I personally added Shazam and Aroundme on the advice of a young Apple employee. Both were free but now that I tried them, I would have easily paid 99 cents for each. Shazam, as some of you know, identifies music with killer accuracy if it senses music (in restaurants, in the car, anywhere). Then you can buy it on one click from the iTunes store. Aroundme is a wonderful app that uses GPS to tell you where restaurants, hospitals, retail stores, parks and much more are in relation to your location.

What I'm sensing is that we in radio need to be in the app business -- now. And no -- no -- no I'm not talking about an app to put your station on an iPhone. That's radio. Apps are the gateway to programming content that we can monetize in ancillary ways and grow in popularity through social networking.

Podcasting is the business that most cooperates with generational and technological preferences even though -- truth to tell -- most radio folks have a hard time seeing it. The company that offers 1,000 podcasts can be the next Clear Channel (maybe I should reword that -- you know what I mean).

Texting and radio?

Texting is a warning shot being fired by the next generation that tells all of us including the radio and music businesses that audiences want to be involved, in charge, constantly interacting and addicted.

Reread the above and devise a game plan that accomplishes more of those goals and you will take step one into the digital future.

Texting is not the message.

It's not entertainment in the traditional sense.

It is a diversion that will peel more and more listeners away from other media as young audiences redefine what news, music and talk and text really are.

So texting is not just an alternative to the telephone.

It is the telephone to a new generation.

And putting an FM chip in the telephone is not an alternative to terrestrial radio.

It is still radio -- lumbering on for a generation that clearly doesn't have the time or interest in sitting still to hear it.

And someone will have to reinvent radio -- probably in a form we do not recognize -- if it is to survive beyond the Museum of Radio and Television.

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