NPR Says Radio Is Dead in 5-10 Years

National Public Radio CEO Vivian Schiller did what all good speakers try to do when they address their peers -- get noticed.

At the All Things Digital conference Wednesday she predicted that Internet-delivered radio will replace broadcast radio in 5 to 10 years.

Schiller made her prediction quite clear when she said radio towers would be a thing of the past.

Guess she got their attention.

Of course, Schiller pointed out that NPR's digital content is adding to its audience rather than taking away from NPR's traditional radio delivery so if one is to believe her, NPR has got it right and we should follow her lead.

Well ....

I'm not ready to go there.

May I tell you why?

Look, some could argue radio is already dead at Cumulus or Citadel where not an ounce of innovation has been seen in years. But the radio industry is more than inbred, bumbling consolidators -- at least I'd like to think so.

Radio may be dead for consolidators but there are a lot of medium to small operators out there busting their butts to keep doing local programming and they're not getting a lot of help from their big brothers and sisters who kill local advertising rates and adhere to selfish tactics that hurt their smaller competitors.

The radio industry tends to get bogged down in its own towers and transmitters.

I can understand that. Having purchased stations for millions of dollars, an operator is not looking for a new business. Imagine how the record labels must feel having derived their revenue from manufacturing records and CDs. They certainly haven't liked giving that up for free filesharing with the hope of finding a new business model.

Back to NPR's Schiller and her predictions:

1. Programming will remain free. Not so fast. If you accept that claim, you are not paying attention to the brisk app market and the willingness of the public to pay for mobile talk and data services. No, some programming will be free. Some will be paid if the content is unique, compelling and addictive.

2. Schiller thinks NPR can create partnerships with web journalists, start-ups, local and regional content providers to help them reach a larger audience. Maybe so. But there is a market for strong niche audiences that don't need to be large to be effective. Mass communication is a thing of the past. Interactive, social media is how we will communicate in the future. What's scary is that our colleges and universities still think they are going to teach future generations communications when they need to be teaching social media.

3. NPR's concept of creating a network of information that can be shared -- publicly supported and consisting of quality journalism is misguided. The world of media doesn't need one more network. It needs more innovation and access to the mass market. The iPad, for example, is creating new opportunities for talented writers who can self-publish their own books through the Apple bookstore (and Amazon's Kindle among other emerging means).

4. Schiller says the NPR vision is not about acquisitions or mergers but partnerships between smaller start-ups and regional stations.

Here's what I think:

1. Free radio will be here forever if it expands its content and uses new delivery systems beyond only the transmitter and tower. Fail to do this and, of course, radio will lose listeners because younger people have already built their media lives around mobile devices that are not radios and do not include FM chips for the most part.

2. Soon, the emerging growth of auto entertainment systems is going to eclipse traditional radio as the number one listener option. But, these new entertainment systems also could play right into the hands of terrestrial broadcasters if they would be open to changing their 24/7 delivery schedules to shorter, block programming. And this can be done with music as well as news or talk. Listeners want what they want and they won't care if they hear it via radio in a new Ford equipped with the Sync entertainment system or whether it is delivered via the Internet. But radio will have to stop programming for long listenership -- a battle I'm afraid I am going to lose because it is in our DNA.

3. Radio can afford to reenter partnerships with all the talent it has fired from the terrestrial stream. If I had a broadcast station, I'd hire them to do a half-hour of content daily -- not four hours. Then someone else for a half-hour. Yet another talent for five minutes. An entire show for three hours and so on. Mash them up. Use the terrestrial signal for short shows that are easily deliverable on-air, will work well online. I watch Leo Laporte's TWIT every week -- an hour of talking heads in a video podcast about "This Week in Tech". Don't get me wrong, I'm not a techie. Their show is pure entertainment. I watch at about 1am Tuesday morning on my iPad or laptop. I wouldn't care where the show came from -- radio, television or online. They've got a huge audience and growing.

4. Video is a must for radio. Yes, I want to hear it. Then I may want to see it. Not a camera in a studio while a morning show is aired. But a show developed for the ears (and the eyes). Mark my words, we radio people are going to be in the video business or we're going to be out of business in the next 5 to 10 years.

So, there you have it.

Vivian Schiller gets our attention when she predicts the death of radio in 5 to 10 years.

I think radio only declines if the industry follows Citadel, Clear Channel, Cumulus and the other aggregators of unremarkable content.

There is nothing wrong with a terrestrial transmitter.

Nothing wrong with a broadcast tower.

What is wrong is that we can't see our way past the technology we know to deliver content in innovative new ways on devices never imagined by RCA or Philco.

Oh, one more thing.

Even NPR will be in big trouble if it follows Schiller's vision in my opinion. National Public Radio is not as desirable as well-done local radio and the reason NPR has done so well is that its content has been outstanding while local radio has deteriorated.

Local radio -- innovative, with video (I know that sounds strange), in new, shorter forms of delivery (stay with me, I know it hurts) and available on the devices consumers are adding to their lives -- that's a growth business.

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