Radio's New Blood/Old Blood Debate

I have been fascinated to watch the dust up over comments made by Edison Research's Larry Rosin at the NAB Radio Show in which folks -- especially the trade press -- seem to think he's calling for new blood at the expense of old blood.

Rosin told Tom Taylor, “I at no time said that 20 year olds were superior to 50 year olds, or called for ‘dumping everybody over 50 out on the street".

Rosin is not an idiot.

His firm is one of the best think tanks on media and to bollix up his words is a mistake -- that is, if anyone actually believes that this is what he was saying.

Most smart people in radio know better. Still, the concept deserves a little context.

Look, I know that radio groups are cutting costs by firing older people who tend to make more money. And while I don't like it a bit, it is not about older people being inadequate.

Bob McNeil -- a Sacramento PD (that I previously and erroneously attributed to Cox Radio head Bob Neil) -- told Taylor:

“I’m no 20-year-old, but my country station in Sacramento is beating an entrenched CBS competitor in the 18-34 demographic. Is it possible that this old, graying programmer has figured out how to make a radio station appeal to someone 40 years younger than he? Apparently it’s possible. What I’m reading in reports of coming out of the NAB Show would get you sued in the business world for age discrimination. Are we really ‘an industry of old men’? Wow…Is there some research that Larry Rosin can provide that substantiates that a 20-year old is superior to a 50-year old in any way?... Maybe nobody else will, but I’m prepared to challenge his (and others’) assertion. There’s plenty wrong with the radio business right now, but I seriously doubt that dumping everybody over 50 out on the street is the answer.”

No ... No ... No.

Look again, that isn't what Rosin said. Read it for yourself here.

My take is that Rosin is observing that the same old people are saying the same old things -- and for that he is correct. If he is alluding to the fact that the next generation is excluded, Rosin would be correct again.

Rosin was focused like a laser when he quoted associate Tom Webster at the NAB who said:

"One of the panelists reiterated the importance of their digital strategy, and that young talent will think radio is "cool" when they are able to use all of the digital tools to make it so. This is the wrong end of the funnel. Today's web-savvy young creatives already know how to use the tools, and most of them are free. They already have that knowledge, and they are already using it. The solution is not to make a bunch of tools and hope young creatives are attracted to the business to use them--it's to hire the best young creatives now and tap into the knowledge they already have".

But what some apparently want to hear in these comments is "out with the old blood and in with the new".

Here's where I'm coming from.

Every time a sports team goes young at the expense of a few old hands, it has to go out and trade for or sign as a free agent -- some experienced players. There's nothing wrong with that.

Apple -- arguably the most successful technology and media company of our day -- is run by a baby boomer -- Steve Jobs.

He looks like a baby boomer.

Dresses like one in jeans and turtlenecks.

Probably listens to the Eagles and not Lady Gaga.

By radio's new found "new blood vs. old blood" standard, he'd be finished.

But Jobs knows the next generation better than they know themselves. This "old" man has made lightning strike more than once when once would be a great achievement.

The Apple computer.


OS X operating system sans viruses.

The iPod collection.

iTunes store.


That's right, Jobs is ready for a senior living community by the cockamamie standards of this "new blood vs. old blood" debate.

Jobs, by the way, employs tens of thousands of people younger than he is and many as old or older. He runs a tight ship but isn't the only one at Apple who develops new ideas. Young people love to work there because they are empowered to succeed.

What is crucial -- and I think this strikes at the essence of what Larry Rosin was saying -- is that radio needs new blood. Needs to put young people into a position to solve some problems.

John Hogan, Lew Dickey and Farid Suleman don't have a clue about the digital future. Any college student could do better coming up with digital ideas for a radio consolidation company. In fact, I was professor of two "Media Labs" at USC underwritten by Emmis that did just that and these young people presented a volume of new ideas -- all in fifteen weeks.

I think what Rosin is saying, "let's get some of these people into the mix".

At the NAB, some of my most interesting discussions were with new media people at the Kurt Hanson summit -- they weren't down, weren't drinking someone elses Kool-Aid -- they were excited. The few young folks who attended the NAB were also a stimulating breath of fresh air to many experienced pros.

The radio industry is in a pickle.

Young people don't want to work in it -- hell, even at some college stations, they'll do a show but not listen to their own radio station.

Rosin put it well when he said as part of his dream for a radio stimulus package:

"We will hire the very kinds of young business students Tom (Webster) is describing, emerging from today's business schools with an entirely different picture of media and of the world, who will guide us into a real future, not one where many prescriptions for the industry are to 'go back to what worked in the 1970s'."

While we're on the topic of blood.

How about bad blood -- that is what consolidators are causing in their brutal handling of employees at a very difficult time for everyone. I hear talk of unions forming at Cumulus to lawsuits against almost everybody once disgruntled employees find another job. This is not good.

Another kind of blood that has been conspicuously left out of this debate is -- family blood -- the kind that gave the Dickey boys and Mays brothers a silver spoon from which to make decisions about an industry that -- to put it mildly -- they had not earned the right to run.

Nothing personal. And I mean that. It's just true.

Or do I see the headlines talking about spilled blood -- you know, the loyal radio employees who are shown the door after 22 years and don't even get to collect their belongings on the way out the door?

So, if you want to talk about blood, take Larry Rosin's challenge.

I'm not calling for an overthrow of Cumulus, Clear Channel and Citadel. I'm simply saying the present path is not working by anyone's standards -- including the Wall Street banks that prop them up.

I guess I'm saying, "how about a blood transfusion" -- so we can all get together and save this industry and lead it into the promised land of the digital future.

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