“Death is life’s change agent. It sweeps away the old to make room for the new.” – Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs said something like that in his commencement speech at Stanford that you can find online. Just a passing comment among his three points for life.
Only the most fearful would doubt the inevitability of death and change. Fear of change leads us to deny it, reject it, and be blind to it. That blindness is one of the two reasons commercial radio is in so much trouble right now. Notice I say commercial radio, because some forms of non-commercial radio are doing very well right now.
Non-commercial radio avoided one trap because there was no place for Wall Street radio, and the greed that accompanies it. Even more, they’ve avoided being run by the the unfeeling, clinical bean counters. But wait, that’s not the point – that we need to embrace change, not reject or ignore it. What if I suggested that right now is one of the most exciting and innovative times for radio?
Start with the premise that radio has always been the single most intimate, personal medium. We’ve all heard listeners say radio keeps them company and is their friend. We’ve seen times in the past when listeners were proud and excited to show their affiliation through window stickers. We’ve spent endless time and dollars trying to figure out what songs the listeners wanted to hear the most. The reason I think we can have an exciting future is because we now have the technology to be as personal and consumer focused as many of us have wanted to be.
If we can overcome the modern-day robber barons in charge of corporate radio, and can embrace technology we can continue to succeed, and maybe even grow as an industry. If we can see how social media and web 2.0 are a natural fit to integrate with radio, and work on using technology to give more control of programming to the listeners, we can rebuild.
I don’t like making predictions, but here’s one I’ll venture. The Wall Street radio types are headed to disaster. They’ve built such a high debt ratio only a miracle can save them. Lenders are beginning to see the failure of that kind of radio, and aren’t inclined to continue to fund failure. When the broadcasters seek bankruptcy, the lenders are likely to reject it and break apart the big companies and sell of the assets for whatever little they can get.
That opens opportunity for radio to grow again. I was really happy to see Larry Wilson jump back in, paying cash, in Portland. Larry’s always been a bit of a rebel, a real cowboy, and is the kind of person who will put his heart and soul into radio. If we can combine that leadership style with adaption and integration of change, we can grow. Everything we need is on the table, and the only question is whether we’ll grab the brass ring and do something with it.