iPods, iPads, Kindle and Radio

When was the last time you bought a radio that wasn’t attached to a car?

Have you ever purchased an HD radio anywhere – not as part of an auto entertainment center that came with your car?

Ever buy an iPod Nano for the FM Tuner?

Own a Kindle and an iPad? I just bought a Kindle because it causes less eye strain when reading at day’s end. That’s two new readers. No new radios.

The other day, one of my readers wrote that his 60-plus year old father has become an avid fan of Pandora. When Pandora founder Tim Westergren talked to one of my USC classes a few short years ago, he surprised a lot of students with the number of older people who loved Pandora.

Things are changing rapidly while the radio and music business remain the same.

Radio fights for more FM chips in mobile devices. Yet few people of any age buy an iPod Nano or other available mobile device to listen to FM radio.

And do you know anyone under 35 who listens to AM radio anywhere at anytime? I’m sure you’ve noticed the rush by some radio operators to get their excellent AM programming on the FM band which means they are now only 15 years behind the consumer.

Maybe you saw the figure recently that indicated Apple will sell an additional 21 million iPads in 2011 – that’s in addition to the many million they have sold since the early part of this year.

What it all means is that radio runs the risk of being excellent on devices that consumers do not buy. And that the radio executive assumption that simply making a new age device a radio is dead wrong.

Station owners can play the People Meter game and shut their remaining jocks up. They can put a watered down morning show on-the-air and try to believe that their listening went up because the format was better. In fact, the listening went up because of the drive-by nature the PPM carriers picking up encoded signals.

My radio buddies who have settled in the Phoenix area dined at the beautiful and sumptuous hamburger joint Zinburger at the Biltmore Fashion Square last week. Lunch started at 12 noon and the last of us left around 4 pm – our usual short radio lunch.

Believe me, we observed that the strange music that was playing over the restaurant’s speakers would have been credited to us for four and a half straight hours had we been wearing a People Meter and had it been a radio station playing encoded music.

We weren’t and it wasn’t.

But how scary – and common – is radio listening picked up by technology that is misleading at best and unusable as sales information at worst.

Some thoughts:

1. I don’t know about you but I’m moving Inside Music Media to an iPad optimized format within weeks because I want to have my work available where 21 million more people will hang out by the end of next year. Radio should do the same. Hell, everyone in the media business should be looking to embrace the iPad.

2. Even though some of radio’s big groups are cranking out pretty unremarkable repeater radio these days to save money, virtually every market still has some real good live and local radio stations left – especially in medium to small sized cities. If cheap broadcasters continue to lag behind on listeners preferences for entertainment and information, they will soon be broadcasting to themselves.

3. It does not follow, in my view, that even if radio stations get their formats streaming on mobile phones, iPods and 21 million new iPads that consumers will use their favorite devices like a radio. That may make sense to us – after all, we love this business and love format radio. But consumers do not see radio where radio sees iPod.

4. Shorter attention spans must absolutely be factored in to what radio stations must consider if they want to follow consumers to their favorite devices. That is, it is fast becoming impossible for young consumers to spend the time to listen to even Pandora, their favorite personalized radio, uninterrupted and for long periods of time. And when Apple allows multi-tasking on their iPod and iPad devices, watch and see how few people have radio playing in the background.

The answer is get into the mobile content business.

Don’t shut down your radio stations especially if they have a brand, some personalities, local involvement and/or a significant following.

In fact, radio is doing the absolute worst thing it could do to listeners who still listen to a radio for radio – they are putting out a pretty bland product.

Additionally, assuming that any listener has to listen to the radio to hear music is living in 1984.

Now music is available everywhere – on all devices.

News, information and live personalities are not.

Ah – you’ve caught me!

You think I am saying play local radio on a stream that can be picked up on mobile devices.

Not quite.

Here’s the secret to the future: make programs full of personality, locality and reality separate and apart from your terrestrial radio stream.

Ignore this advice and don’t be surprised to find nobody is home to listen when your talent, programming and local brand is being aired.

On the other hand, follow the listeners who are left to their devices and you will be launching the Digital Age of Broadcasting.

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