You and I are living in perhaps the fastest-changing times in history. While much of the "old media" business still exists, the new world of media is vastly more powerful and more influential -- and it's moving so fast that even the experts cannot track the rate of change. From the perspective of my friends in Silicon Valley, you and I are employed in dinosaur media. They respect what we have done, and they want to steal our audiences and advertisers for their online audio services, but they think we're being silly when we cling to our transmitters. After all, the concept of "broadcasting" one signal to many radios is so very 1920s. They believe our model is broken, and it's just a matter of time before we lose our audiences and our advertisers -- to them. What do you believe?
Is Radio Immune To The Changes?
Many broadcasters I speak with think the radio industry is immune to the sea change that has been seen in other industries. They feel that, because it hasn't happened yet, audience loyalty has saved our industry from its digital downfall. But maybe we've just been lucky. Many buy the argument that radio has weathered the storms of other past attacks -- 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, cell phones -- so it will weather any new attacks too.
The newspapers believed they were safe, too. And though they pretended to embrace digital and were among the first to launch websites, the mistake they made was trying to create a "hybrid media." They should have fearlessly cannibalized the print papers and developed the next big thing so they could control it. Newspapers should have put newspapers out of business, rather than allowing others to launch competing services and take their businesses away.
When you live with one foot in the old world and one in the new, the tendency is to approach every decision based on the way things have always been done. For far too long, newspapers refused to allow their news to hit their websites until after it had been in print. Is radio acting the same way?
Are You Willing To Cannibalize?
What you believe matters now more than ever, and radio's success as an industry will rely on our willingness to cannibalize ourselves. You can try to maintain the status quo, or assume that your station website is your digital insurance policy, but the real danger for all of us is ignoring facts and trends. Are you writing off Pandora, saying it won't last? Or are you looking to invent something better -- not a copy, but something consumers will embrace even more?
Though I think aggregation services like TuneIn and iHeartRadio are important and believe every radio station needs to be a part of one of these services, we also need to follow other listening trends. Though an aggregated player allows the listener to pick from a variety of station types, that's still re-purposing a broad product in a narrow, personalized digital world. The only reason we have broad formats is because there is a limit on the number of signals we can have in a market. Radio needs to be reinvented for the personalized experience of a digital environment.
Can You Say Audio?
My passion for radio began as a kid who was fascinated by stations with entertaining personalities and my favorite music. To me, radio is audio entertainment, and whether it comes from a car radio, a home radio, a tablet or mobile device, or a transmitter is irrelevant. If you're clinging to your transmitter or have an idea that you don't want to stream to out-of-market consumers, you're missing a lot of opportunity.
Are You Admitting the Game Has Changed?
I continually hear complaints about change, about how big radio companies are cutting out local personalities and changing the way they do business. Though it's sad to see so many displaced radio soldiers, the reality is that this environment, this economy, and improving technology will increase this trend. Those who are caught in the crossfire need to realize the game has changed, certain positions will never return, and you'll have to keep reinventing yourself in order to stay employable. You don't want to be an out-of-work telegraph operator in a smartphone world.
The Past Will Return. Sure
I'm a nostalgic guy, and I love to think about the days when radio personality was at its peak and we had 15 share radio stations. They were fun times. I appreciate them, but I don't pine for their return, because there is no force in this industry big enough to make that happen. Big companies are not finally going to come to their senses and add back what they've cut out over the last 10 years.
It's Time To Become Relevant Again
Every industry is facing tremendous change. Every industry is seeking efficient ways to survive through technology -- and that results in jobs lost. Those of us in radio who have seen jobs eliminated, and those who have lost jobs, should not just try to shift to another station, we should realize that change will follow us all of our careers, and the only way to remain relevant and employable is to stay ahead of change.
So what do you believe?
Though I embrace change personally, I also find myself fighting it daily. It's human nature, and overcoming it requires a personal plan to embrace and make change for change's sake. We cannot wait for our companies to implement change. We cannot follow everyone else. We as professionals need to step up and force ourselves to reinvent, time and again. The way you reinvent yourself today may become irrelevant in another year. As Bob Pittman said, "Change is in our DNA." It should be in your DNA, and you need to force it to occur in your career.
Are You a Follower Or A Leader?
I always used to think radio people were trendsetters, and some still are, but it seems that many today are no longer leading the pack. The same people who put radical FMs on the air, spat in the face of traditional AM programming, and changed the world are now the people protecting their turf rather than inventing the next radical change. Even though it's frightening, history tells us that someone else will reinvent us if we don't do it ourselves. It's happening all around us. You can't prevent it, but you can embrace it.
Radio -- audio entertainment -- will change, and if we don't each individually embrace and seek change, we will never catch up. We'll be remembered like the newspaper industry: changed, but by someone else.