The Upcoming Radio Renaissance

Steve Jobs, the Apple CEO who seems to hit a home run out of the park just every time he’s at bat (with deference to AppleTV), is his own one-man research company.

If Jobs had commissioned a research project for the Apple iPad, what value would the findings be for people who could not become happily involved with the product or service?

How would Steve Jobs “pre-test” innovation?

He doesn’t.

Now this doesn’t mean he just carelessly spends company funds to invest in iPods, iPads, laptops and brick and mortar Apple stores.

Not at all.

Instead, Jobs studies his target audience and uses his creativity to build products and services he thinks they would like.

That’s not the way it is in most places.

Take the Kindle.

Amazon, to its credit, had a good idea. After all, Amazon knew best what selling books online meant to their bottom line. But the Kindle is really unremarkable when compared to the iPad. Clunky, not cool, not really that intuitive in my opinion.

When I get on a plane I see an increasing number of people with Kindles on their laps. These people generally (and I am generalizing from my experience here) – these people generally have gray hair. They are older.

That’s not bad, but from a marketing standpoint, how do you hit a home run if your early adopters are older than their late 50’s? I don't know one young person who owns a Kindle, perhaps you do.

In radio, before consolidation killed the radio show, it was standard operating procedure to order a research project before, during and often after formats were changed.

Somewhere along the way the radio industry defaulted on its obligation to observe the Hippocratic Oath of the entertainment industry – "first, do no harm to innovative ideas".

When Buzz Bennett developed the “Q” rock format, those who knew him knew that his formatics came from his head – whatever state that was in at the time.

Bill Drake drew a format clock for me on a napkin in a Philadelphia restaurant during a very memorable lunch. He did not at all feel obligated to anyone or anything. He was creating something from his mind. And, certainly the Drake format in all its simplicity, was a figment of his imagination before anyone researched it and you saw how well that worked out.

You can’t lead by following.

Michelangelo did not hire a research company to do his creative thinking before he painted the Sistine Chapel between 1508 and 1512 at the commission of Pope Julius II. His work didn't become one of the most renowned artworks of the High Renaissance without his imagination and creativity.

The Sistine Chapel painting included the large fresco The Last Judgment on the sanctuary wall, wall paintings in collaboration with other well-respected artists of the late 15th century and a few well-placed large tapestries by Raphael, the whole illustrating much of the doctrine of the Catholic Church.

Today, such a project would be bid to the lowest bidder, designed using a software program and measured by how impressive it might be based on other projects just like it. Then sent out for consumer testing.

There is a time when you have to just innovate.

And I’m not saying research is bad or that computer software isn't an upgrade. I believe quite the opposite. I want to learn as much about my business as I can, but I don’t abdicate creativity or innovation to others – people who may not be able to imagine in concept what I am imagining.

Sometimes, it is the audience that cannot imagine how badly they need new products. Steve Jobs seems to have a knack inventing things consumers don't think they need that they eventually cannot live without.

That’s one of the things I learned teaching young people. They don’t let whether an idea is viable or not get in their way. Do you really think Google could have invented YouTube?

Google lawyers would have put the kibosh on that idea before it ever got out of skunk works. That garage where it was invented by a handful of kids would have been shuttered and locked down. No one in their right mind could imagine an online video service that violates the stolen rights of content producers.

Thank God the young folks who invented YouTube were not in their “right mind”.

Oh, and they walked off with $1.65 billion in compensation when Google bought them out.

Now who was it again who was not in their right mind?

I often get emails from radio people wanting to know what I mean when I say radio should be more like Apple. They have a hard time wrapping their arms around making an Apple device a radio.

That's not what I mean.

An iPod or iPad is not a radio, but the way Apple comes up with innovative ideas is what the radio and records industry could profit from learning more about. In a future piece I am going to give you a glimpse of what I hear is the next big thing coming from Apple (beyond the iPad) and how it will impact the traditional broadcasting industry.

Apple – the company I put my entire USC pension into (not listening to traditional investment wisdom) has rewarded me with a 100% return on my investment in the middle of the worst recession of my lifetime. An Apple share is around $230 a share. Analysts predict $300 – some $350.

Thank God I was not in my right mind.

Back to radio.

If you look at the predicted growth rate projected by respected BIA/Kelsey (and I like their numbers), a 1.5 to 2 percent growth rate annually would take ten years to recover from the declines of the past few. And with all due respect, I don’t think enough baby boomers and Gen X radio listeners have the juice to make radio a growth industry again.

, it embraces interactive, mobile Internet and social networking.

And I don’t mean the way some of them are doing it now.

Radio’s problem is that with the less than 3% annual budget they put towards new media, nothing financially significant can result.

Are they kidding?

How can you make mobile Internet, social networking and new media a growth industry when you are spending less (far less in most cases and none in too many) on new media?

That’s just the first problem.

Then, the obsession with making new media an extension of their present on-air brands is fatal. That's right, fatal.

Look, this is no time to do poor terrestrial radio. I’m an advocate for making terrestrial radio richer, with more personality, live and local, community-based, fun and full of promotion – not cutting back. This is no time to cutback quality programming as radio's loyalist listeners are also spending more time with new media.

New media should be an additional revenue stream.

In other words, if you’re a news station – use your people, resources, marketing and sales to create new and separate content from your terrestrial parent.

If you’re sports, do the same.


Talk is in trouble and I don’t care if you lean right wing or left wing. Older people tend to listen to talk radio stations. This is nothing new. So, if I’m running these big media companies, I’m developing the replacement for talk radio in the digital world and you can’t do that without getting an “A” in sociology.

In other words, it's not just a new format that will address what to do with talk radio, it is much, much more.

Music radio has problems, too, because iPods, WiFi connections and mobile Internet will siphon off radio’s prime listeners. They are doing it now. Some 40 million Pandora listeners distracted from terrestrial radio are nothing to sneeze at. That’s more than satellite radio.

Insiders tell me that the most popular channel on Sirius XM is --- take a guess.

Go ahead.

It’s Fox News – a television news channel.

So much for radio innovation on hundreds of satellite channels.

Is that the best radio people can do is pipe in TV audio and let it whip your creativity in other areas?

Speaking of satellite radio – how about that blown chance to make a good first impression. Satellite channels (we had two services in the beginning when God created satellite radio) – satellite channels should have been all-new. No radio. Nothing like it.

But they skipped innovation and hired terrestrial radio people on the cheap to do terrestrial radio from a satellite.


So, the writing is on the wall even for radio.

Under the best circumstances, it will take ten years just to get back to the flat year that preceded the recession on a comparison basis.

One of my cellphone industry readers underscores the urgency of waking up, innovating and becoming experts on consumer sociology when he writes:

“Everything connected with smartphones is red hot. By next Wednesday we may book our entire iPhone dev (development) capacity for the next six months. We are desperate for development talent (objective C programmers). Our radio station video product grows 20% per month as we approach 2TB/month bandwidth but the radio guys just don't get it. What's wrong with this situation? We're now waiting for the current radio leaders to fall and work with the new guys when the real game changers show up”.

I have been encouraged by folks who attended or wanted to attend my Media Solutions Lab a few months ago who has asked me to do it again. Some attendees are even writing to me with some of the innovative things they are trying. (Mark your calendar for January 27th at the Phoenician in Scottsdale for my next Media Solutions Lab).

Between now and then let’s expand our conversation on migrating to the digital world while we restore excellence to terrestrial properties whose free cash flow could help fund years of new media development.

And, please – take me seriously on one thing. The iPad will rock your world – either in the good sense of the word or the bad if you ignore it or continue running measly interactive budgets.

There may be only one Michelangelo, but in the Renaissance that the radio, TV and music industry must certainly have, who is going to use innovation to find the future?

We know Steve Jobs is today's Michelangelo for the electronics and mobile industry.

Who is radio's Michelangelo?

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