Seeing The Future

“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” –  David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s

If another radio person tells me social media and Web 2.0 have no future because they can’t be monetized, I may have this David Sarnoff quote tattooed on my forehead.  The radio industry itself began in the early 1900’s with a maverick group of people who focused on content, knowing they’d find a way to make it commercially viable.

The mistake we’ve made in the past 10 years is putting the emphasis on the commercial aspect instead of the content one.  What other industry would be so focused on making money that they’d forget the need to have consumers drawn to them.  Without compelling content you can’t have a commercial success.  I’m reminded of my friend Walter Sabo saying to a group of radio people a time back, “With consolidation the sales people all said it was their time, that sales needed to be the primary driver in radio.  How’s that working for you?”

Unfortunately, you can’t create powerful content by laying off the creative people.  All we’ve done with eliminating airstaff and PD’s is reduced the creative gene pool.  We have good, creative people left, but they’re often without the tools to be creative.  Hard to brainstorm and invent when you’re overseeing five stations and voice tracking three.

So now we turn to new technology as our saviour, a technology driven by frequently updated, compelling content.  What’s wrong with this picture?

Hey guys at the top, have you really looked at our history over the past 10 years?  Do you really understand that creativity is what drove radio to it’s success, and that your ignorance of it is what’s hurting it?  Can you finally admit that creativity can’t be programmed into a spreadsheet, and that it’s sometimes odd and messy?

Compelling radio does send a message, but instead of no one, it’s sent to millions every moment.  When we treat them right listeners do respond, and the message is relevant, relatable, and welcomed.  When we ignore them they don’t pay attention and look for alternate media to invest their time with.

Time for a choice.  Can we see the problem we now face is of our own doing, and undo it?  Or are we going to ride the entire industry into the ground?