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It's official. Radio IS in trouble! Social Media is the answer.

2009 August 12

My blog post of 8/5 caused quite a stir among members of the Linkedin Group Radio & Television Professionals Network.  My words sparked a heated debate about whether or not the radio business IS in trouble.

I think Eric Rhodes, publisher of Radio Ink answered that question once and for all  in his 8/7 blog post titled “A Demand For Radio Leadership Now“.

An article in last Thursday’s Media Week by Kathy Bachman, Study: Agencies Spending Less on Traditional Media, sites a just released STRATA study (STRATA provides buying and selling software to agencies) and quotes John Shelton, STRATA CEO and president.

“While many people have cut back their approach this year, many are looking at other ways of advertising such as video on demand”

The article goes on to report that,

“of those polled, 22 percent felt business was improving in the quarter; 67 percent believed the market would rebound by the end of the year.

Spot TV is still at the top of the media list for 45 percent of agency customers. However, that’s down 25 percent compared to the end of last year. Agencies are diverting dollars to advanced advertising or digital media, such as video on demand or interactive television with 62.5 percent of respondents predicting their customers were either very likely or somewhat likely to fit digital or advanced advertising into their media plans.

Spot radio media plans have remained the same or increased since last year, according to 65 percent of respondents. But 75 percent also said they were more focused on the Internet than they were a year ago and a 20 percent increase compared to first quarter 2009.

So, what does this all mean?

It means that radio needs to stop relying on gimmicks and provide programming that people want.

What do people want?  Well, one way to find out is to listen in on the social web.  Great salespeople listen to the customer first, to evaluate their needs and wants.  Then, if their product is a good fit, they craft a proposal illustrating that they understand the customer’s pain and can offer the best solution on the planet.

Big radio conglomerates have sucked the ever-living life out of radio.  Instead of investing in their future, they cut, cut, cut to meet analysts quarterly projections.  When that practice drove their stock prices even lower, they cut even more.

What’s left?  Well, on talk radio:  Obnoxious blowhards who attack/attack/attack in hopes of building an audience AND financial success.

On music radio:  A jukebox; over which listeners have no control except to punch out when a block of 14 minutes of commercials is broadcast.

When radio had no competition the rules were different.

In the mid 1970’s Bill Drake introduced a new type of Top-40 radio programming, which, instead of being personality driven was music driven.   The jingles got shorter, the DJ’s talked less and ratings and revenues increased.  At that time, Drake was a innovator.  His ideas had never before been implemented.  Soon, Top-40 stations across the country began to follow Drake’s every move because if it worked in San Francisco, it ought to work in Spokane.

Music radio stations today still subscribe to many of Drake’s programming innovations. Radio, as an experience, has stagnated.  And while radio programming has not changed much, the world in which we live certainly has.

The internet/Web 2.0/Social Media, whatever you want to call it, has given people the ability to choose the media they want when they want it.

Services like Pandora and Slacker operate with very few commercial interruptions (if any) and allow listeners to skip songs they don’t want to hear.  Online services offer all kinds of free music to download and share.  And doesn’t everyone have an iPod filled with their favorite music?  Music they alone control?


It can be.  What if “radio-engaged” listeners could really communicate with the person on the air.  Text their “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on every song.  Enough real-time  “thumbs downs” and the song gets dumped right then and there.  What if on air people explored short snippets of lots of songs and talked about them while giving listeners the ability to listen to the whole song and comment via the station website?  (I know, that will never fly.  Radio people want real people to listen to their station 24/7.  Note to radio people; “WAKE UP”!)

How about live on-air eBay style auctions?  “Reality Radio”; a commercial version of NPR; a radio station dedicated to cooking, or gardening, golf, dating or life in the great outdoors.  How about a talk radio station where callers have to PAY to talk on the air.  That should be fun!

Throw something up against the wall to see what sticks.  Something; anything we can’t get anywhere else.  Something unique, something incredible.

Radio has the perfect opportunity to reinvent itself as the gateway to a world of interactivity.  Radio can, once again become intelligent, fun, entertaining, even relevant to a generation that doesn’t even have radio programmed on their radar.

It won’t happen by playing 45 minutes of music every hour.  That song is dead.

PS.  I was at Costco today.  They had a huge display of iPod docking AM/FM/HD Radios for $99.  I wonder how many of them would sell if they didn’t have the iPod dock?  What if they were to remove the HD radio tuner?  HMMM.

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