The UK's Radio Advantage

In the U.S. it is unfortunate that the perception of all the good radio can offer listeners is dominated by three of the biggest consolidated companies -- Clear Channel, Cumulus and Citadel.

That's the problem -- these three industry leaders are bereft of ideas.

Across the big pond as radio icon Hy Lit used to call the Atlantic Ocean, the United Kingdom is, in my opinion, doing the best it can to anticipate generational forces that may eventually doom terrestrial radio.

They are holding their own.

The remarkable thing is that the UK isn't exactly loaded with broadcast competition, either. Recalling their heritage as only a state-sponsored broadcast model and then limited competition, you wonder why British radio executives seem to get it while Lew Tricky Dickey, Fagreed Suleman and John Slogan Hogan do not.

Is it brains?

Dickey is a Harvard grad.

Suleman is a smart accountant.

Hogan ...

Is it better circumstances -- maybe yes, maybe no -- but terrestrial radio in all developed nations is going to have to face the reality of what losing the next generation means to their possible growth potential.

George Ergatoudis is the head of music policy for the BBC and subsidiaries.

Start with that.

Imagine a head of music policy for any radio group here. Hell, we barely acknowledge that music is important. Music is mistakenly used as hamburger helper by too many U.S. stations.

I am attaching an interview with Ergatoudis conducted by Jakomi Mathews. For my take, look below and double back for the full interview if you like.

The Music Void TV on MUZU.

1. A mandatory digital conversion date in the UK frequently targeted for 2015 may or may not be helpful.

That's not a lot of time to get digital radios in enough cars to make a difference -- from a technological viewpoint. But it may be irrelevant to the next generation coming of age because digital radio (or HD as we mistakenly call it in this country) is dead on arrival. You'll see that the BBC's Radio 1 does not rely on DAB alone -- a major difference with their consolidated counterparts in the U.S.

In America, HD was supposed to be future and now it has died therefore are we to assume there is no future or is it just another "never mind" from the radio industry?

2. Radio plays a key role in breaking music in the UK -- an increasingly lesser role in the U.S.

Their radio is more "musicentric", if you will.

Discovery is an attraction for music listeners to UK radio. This is less so in the U.S. where we have for decades played that old song "honey I shrunk the playlist". We do it because we know that short playlists get higher ratings. But more music discovery on-the-air just happens to get more fans. Radio needs fans going forward. I fear the People Meter mania going on right now to dumb down radio programming is a mistake that U.S. stations are hell bent on making.

Cume does not predict happy listeners.

How can it?

The People Meter picks up stray radio and reports it as if it were listening. There is no way to know if PPM research equates to listening any more than a diary predicted it. But to make programming decisions based on shutting up djs and playing a fairly tight playlist will not work today even if it did work in the past.

3. The BBC is counting on trust in radio as a music authority to keep it relevant no matter what technological and generational changes might be foisted upon them.

The U.S. album rock and hit radio stations -- among other genres such as country -- used to be exactly that to their listeners before consolidators led the industry in the wrong direction.

BBC believes that radio is well enough established in the UK to make sense of new music because radio personalities and djs are trusted, listeners believe in them and that these music authorities are still superior to whatever the best and latest algorithm has to date been developed.

4. There is some belief that new generation cell phone systems will enable a new generation of radio receivers.

The U.S. lags behind much of the developed world in cellular technology. While we get excited about rolling out 3G, 4G is the promise of the UK. I think the British are a little too high on the promise of turning cell phones into new age radios because phones have become more than voice communication devices. They also deliver apps, games, connections to social networking including texting plus consumers own music libraries.

There is also the issue of attention span -- or lack of it, thereof, that I think is most frequently discounted in looking to the future.

The broadcasting concept may just be too burdensome and too hard to listen to for short attention span generations. We don't know for sure, but certainly this cannot and should not be dismissed when looking at the viability of radio's future.

5. Visual radio is in their minds.

In essence, radio was a unique commodity in the past. Today it shares time in a listeners life with video, text messaging, games and their own music libraries.

Radio 1 in the UK is experimenting with how to make visual presentation of what will coincide with terrestrial radio content.

In the world of U.S. consolidation visual usually means TV cameras capturing the dj's morning show. That's not it.

Since devices are emerging that allow for a broader experience than simply listening, the radio of the future if it is to survive will have to incorporate email, texts, video on new age "radios", whatever TV is to become and net books.

In short, the British seem to have a realistic grasp of radio's problems and have a jump on the solutions -- not perfect, but encouraging.

It's about music discovery and the trust that radio has had that is ultimately transferable to other technologies and social platforms.

Back in the U.S. it's about music drudgery -- menial, basic menus of music surrounded by non-authoritative presentations such as by voice tracking and repeater radio and virtually no specialty or niche music programming even in off hours.

Yet another way consolidation has squandered a lead with the bases loaded in the ninth inning.

All that is left is an early trip to the showers.

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Jerry works with entrepreneurs, music and radio interests in adapting to the digital age -- (480)998-9898/