Radio's Lost Generation

Do you set an alarm clock to wake up in the morning?

Maybe have the radio come on to wake you up?

The next generation doesn't.

They tend to use their cell phones as alarm clocks. After all, many sleep with their phones right by their beds.

Now some of my radio friends would see this as an opportunity to get Gen Y to wake up with their smart phones and instantly hear a terrestrial radio station.

That works in fantasy but not reality.

The first thing this generation does is check their text messages, mail and what's happening.

If you need music, there is always your iPod.

A longtime industry friend and I had this conversation several weeks ago. One of the reasons so many radio CEOs are making bad decisions is because they don't know enough about the changing generations.

Gen Y was abandoned while consolidators were out running up the debt acquiring their stations. Too many stations purchased at too high a price -- refinanced over and over again until -- well, you don't have to look far to see what has happened.

Steve Jobs knows the next generation and that's why if you want a vacation from the recession, just go spend some time at your local Apple store. If you didn't have an iPhone app to tell you the stock market is in the toilet, the mortgage market has gone to hell and unemployment is rising, you wouldn't believe it there.

My thesis is simple.

If you can sell ice to the Eskimos -- I mean, if you can sell discretionary electronic devices such as iPods, iPhones and computers to people in the worst economy since the Great Depression, think you might like to take a closer look at why?

Michael Jackson dies and radio is slow to report his death or initiate non-voice tracked tributes but it doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter because the next generation can watch Thriller for free on YouTube and, you know what -- that may be good enough for them. You and I might want to own, but YouTube is always there if you need it.

Did I mention free?

Radio folks think greater variety is voice tracking and playing a few more tunes. But if you were raised in a time when you had unlimited access to everything out there -- for free -- would you be listening to what we're passing off as radio today?

Now, you're putting yourselves in the shoes of the next generation.

You love the Beatles or Eagles or The Dead for ever and ever.

They love their artists for shorter durations because they are fickle.

In fact, if you must know, they are damn proud of being fickle. They don't want to be figured out. Don't want you to start bombarding them the way the media did to their parents. They want freedom from mass media.

When you believe that a friend's opinion is worth more than any radio disc jockey when it comes to music -- you begin to understand why radio is left without a future. And meanwhile the knuckleheads running radio groups are firing personalities left and right and making playlists more repetitive just at the wrong time in generational history.

You may have had no alternative but to listen to a Walkman to be entertained.

Not this generation.

They are the djs, program directors, music directors, etc.

There is an excellent study by Jacobs Media for Arbitron called "The Bedroom Study" in which they followed young people into their rooms and observed their media habits.

My experience teaching the next generation at the college level confirms most of what this excellent report reveals.

Here's why radio lost the next generation:

1. Radio misunderstood the importance of technology to the next generation. In the past a Walkman was new technology. In fact, anything that included a radio was new technology to us. But to them -- radio sucked and when consolidators took for granted that there would always be a next generation of radio listeners, radio's future audience got away -- forever.

2. Radio CEOs underestimated at best and disregarded at worst the next generation's passion for technology -- new devices, new ways to communicate -- in fact, socializing without being in the same place. This was unimaginable to button down radio guys all full of themselves. They finally built radio stations into a handful of small empires. But it was a costly mistake as we are seeing now because these "empires" are on the verge of bankruptcy and the desire of the next generation for all things digital goes unabated.

3. The cell phone became the replacement for the radio. The Jacobs Media study put it best when it concluded "For most Bedroomers, the mobile phone is the Swiss Army knife of devices, serving simultaneously as a lifeline, fashion statement, photo album, and status symbol, that allows them to express their own unique personalities". In fact, truth to be told, many consumers in Gen X and Baby Boomer range have succumbed to the cell phone. Some older folks may still like to force an iPhone into being a radio but they are enamored of their phones. When I repeatedly asked classes of college students what's the one device they would not give up, it was the cell phone and when I made them do it for two days I thought they'd need counseling to deal with the grief -- the grief of being disconnected from their digital world.

4. Text messaging is the killer app. Those hapless cell phone companies really fell into this one -- a business that costs them nothing. The content is the conversation. Show me a young person that doesn't text. And while some know that texting is also killing off other parts of their lives, they are addicted to it. Here's a very pertinent article on informational overload. Radio decision makers don't get that radio competes with texting. Everything competes with texting. And asking listeners to text in and win is like asking a hungry diner to eat a crumb.

5. Television is on the decline. Why hang a big HD TV on the wall when your nice new and sleek Apple laptop brings you Hulu or plays HD, YouTube, music videos or whatever right there in front of you. You can check email if you like -- and many do when the pre-roll commercials are playing -- but email is so, well -- yesterday. Gen Y is already getting over it while radio executives use email like snail mail only faster and cheaper. The reality is that Radio's Lost Generation resides on social networking sites such as Facebook. Inside Music Media readers send me personal messages through Facebook at a growing rate.

6. The new radio is podcasting. Even respondents of the Bedroom Study indicated a soft spot for personalities and the local connection they used to get from radio. (Way to go consolidators -- you're headed the wrong way!). I don't agree that Gen Y will respond to radio in any way but I think radio companies (and/or personalities) can deliver local content directly to cell phones not as radio stations but as podcasts. And that these podcasts can be monetized as my clients are doing in ancillary ways.

One of the fastest growing banks in Japan is Jibun.

Would you do banking like this?

No physical branches.

A website that is spartan.

Customers open their accounts on their cell phones and all banking is conducted on the phone.

The cell phone is the ATM because you tap your phone and get money (if it is in your account, that is). This bank is bad for bank robbers but probably a challenge for cybercrooks.

If this excites you -- welcome to the world of media opportunity ahead.

The revelations are endless about radio's lost generation.

And sad -- very sad.

This is a time in media history when technology is outdoing itself, where young consumers are making it possible to reach them in the palm of their hands and directly into their ear buds.

No need to wait until they get into a car.

Gen Y's media is with them all the time and it's always on.

Radio executives took their eye off of all of this -- both sociological and technological aspects.

But the joke was on this handful of radio pirates who stole the industry from America.

They were in fact buying outdated analog media even while the transition was under way to the digital frontier.

Wall Street and consolidation did radio in.

Now, as it turns out, where is Wall Street when you need it?

And where is radio in a world that has moved on to the digital beyond?

For those of you who would prefer to get Jerry's daily posts by email for free, please click here. IMPORTANT: Service cannot start until you verify an email from "Feedburner" immediately after you sign up (may have to check your filtered mail).

Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.