Unsinkable Radio

If you look in your dictionary you will find: Titans – A race of people vainly striving to overcome the forces of nature. Could anything be more unfortunate than such a name, anything more significant?” – Arthur Rostron, Captain of the rescue ship Carpathia


This photograph is believed to be the last for the HMS Titanic, before it sank.

Everyone bragged on the Titanic in its time. It was too large to fail, it was unsinkable, and it was unthinkable that disaster could strike them. All those rich people would not have scrambled for tickets on the Titanic if they knew it was going to sink.

Sorry, but this still reminds me a little of radio as we vainly strive to overcome our own forces of nature. I am told almost daily that radio is in great shape and always will be. But actually, I can’t stop, because I remember history.

I am not anti-radio, and understand what it has done for me, but I can’t accept that everything will be as it was.

Change is inevitable, a part of life.  The radio industry is changing and won’t be the same tomorrow as it was yesterday.

The days of radio, television and print as the dominant media are ending, and the era of audio, video, digital and social have begun.

Toward the end of the Titanic’s cruise there were several things that were missed or neglected.  Had they acted on any of them the ship’s name “Titanic”  wouldn’t mean anything to us.  I’m wondering if we’re not seeing the signs and ignoring them, and are headed to a similar end?

Don’t fear change, embrace it!  Make change happen, don’t wait for it to happen.

Looking For A Campground

“The most significant changes to our world are going on as we speak and will continue as millennials become our future leaders.” – Forbes Magazine

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The Millenials are coming!  The Millenials are coming!

The loud voices of nervous Paul Revere like baby boomers can be heard throughout the media landscape.  Unfortunately Pew research says they’re already here.  2015 is the year Millennials will surpass Boomers as the largest living generation.

Obviously this is going to have an earth shaking impact on media.  Which has divided radio people into camps. The first thinks Millennials will become like their parents at a given age, so there’s no problem at all. Radio will continue just as strong as always.

The second group thinks it’s helpless, and radio is dead. It’s inevitable.

There is a third, smaller, quieter camp that follows the future so they can understand how to integrate radio with the media palate of the future. Those are the people to listen to. They know the coming wave can’t be ignored.

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Check The Facts Before You Freak Out

Let others lead small lives, but not you. Let others argue over small things, but not you. Let others cry over small hurts, but not you. Let others leave their future in someone else’s hands, but not you. – Jim Rohn

A few weeks ago I had a lot of people calling and asking about the Radio Ink article suggesting the sale of Disney’s radio station in favor of the Internet.  Did it really mean the beginning of the end for radio?  Does Disney know something we don’t?

I countered with some questions.  First, how many stations does Disney Radio have?  Answer 23.  How many of them are FM?  Answer: 1.

22 of their stations are on the AM band.  In many markets there are AM station that have less traffic than the police band.  That they shifted from those AM radio stations to the Internet makes all the sense in the world, because the Internet – in it’s many forms – is growing more than AM radio.

It’s bad enough that you’re anxious about what other people say.  Don’t let fear prompted by other people control your future.

 

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?

Change We’d Better Believe In

“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.