A Cold Harsh Reality For Radio

“When you can’tchange the direction of the wind – adjust your sails.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.


The radio world is buzzing about my friend Eric Rhoads email “A Cold, Harsh Reality for Radio” at the session at Convergence discussing the future of the digital, converged dash. The comment was made that, “AM and FM are being eliminated from the dash of two car companies within two years and will be eliminated from the dash of all cars within five years.”

Eric loves to shock people and tell them their life as they know it is over. Five years ago at a staff meeting in Rocklin he made a speech saying there wouldn’t be radio in five years. He does that because he has been trying to get people to pay attention to what was ahead for at least 10 years, but mostly people didn’t want to hear it. He’s become much more blunt as we kept moving down the line to the moment of change. I think he’s finally gotten people’s attention. And his case is being proven.

Yes, the “radio” in the car is changing. Showing my age again, I remember when there was only AM radio in the car. Then car manufacturers added FM. No one believed the sky was falling, instead they just began creating content for the new reality of FM.

The turnover cycle for automobile is several years…something Eric once told me ahh…several years ago. What that means is it takes years for sell enough cars to replace technology. Some of the low cost deals and specials from the auto industry may have accelerated that.

As we saw at the December Arbitron conference, there is an organization working with auto manfacturers to design the digital dashboard. Sirius, iHeart and Pandora are all represented in the digital dash, because they have made it a priority and actually done something other than play Chicken Little. Many of us chose not to be a part of that dialogue.

Here are some other things to consider:

* For the majority of people, streaming radio is available right now through a mobile device. I don’t think that will change, because my mobile device will always be more customized to me and my likes than anything in a car.
* Radios will not be eliminated from all cars in five years. At worst what’s now called a radio won’t be in NEW cars in five years.
* As often happens, I’m not sure anyone has really taken the time to find out what the consumer thinks of radio disappearing from the dash. Not having something I’ve always used may not be met with as much excitement as the manufacturers seem to think.
* While everyone is focused on the absence of radio from the digital dashboard, the auto companies are also working on putting unwired Internet in the car. That will allow any station that streams to gain entry. Still think the cost of streaming is too high

Like Eric, I’ve been talking about the future for years. I’m sure my clients thought I was obsessed. Now it’s happening, the comfortable radio business we’ve known for 50 years is changing. Change can be hard, but like the wind it’s neither good or bad. It’s our response to this than makes it good or bad. It’s our choice to either give up and accept what happens, or change how we see radio today in favor of what radio will look like in the future. It’s different, but only impossible if we sit and do nothing. Even if some auto manufacturers do eliminate radio from the dash in two years, it will be several years before we are seriously impacted. We have time to plan and act.

Which takes me to what Mark Ramsey talked about last week. Simply, the conversation shouldn’t be about what platform we’re on, it should be about how compelling our content is. Not how good it is, but how compelling it is. And that’s where the true failure will be, understanding the difference between between creating and copying. . The difference between differentiated and sound-alike. The difference between compelling and good enough. I’m not sure there’s enough commitment to those principles. Many of us are more likely to just keep on doing what we’re doing on other platforms, as if that will make the difference.

None of us will escape the results of what was discussed at Convergence, but we can adjust our sails to the wind.