Is Radio Washed Up?

Is Radio Washed Up?

Are newer media sounding radio’s death knell?

There are entire generations of people who grew up watching radio long before something called television sailed into the picture. Yes, I said watching radio. It was a strange phenomenon; the family would gather around and stare at the speaker as if something were going to pop out of there any minute. Actually it did. Rainbows of sound projected spectacular images on your mind’s motion picture screen that, to this day, can’t be equaled by all the C.G. and special effects in Hollywood!

Of course there was music just as we have now, except most of it was live! You could experience the whole entertainment spectrum, including sit-coms, mysteries, dramas, action adventures, soap operas, game shows and variety shows, also frequently performed in front of a studio audience. There were even reality shows…they were called the news. Those were the days when news was simply reported and if someone was expressing opinion, it was labeled as commentary so you knew the difference. Just name it and you could find it on the radio.

When T.V. appeared on the scene and people’s lives began to center around the new medium, everyone just knew it would be the end of radio. It wasn’t. Owners were flexible and the nature of radio evolved; it took advantage of new recording technologies, became more music intensive and survived. However, as if setting the stage for its current difficulties, honest-to-goodness personalities disappeared and the now pictureless magic box became a music machine playing ten more in a row “with no unpleasant interruptions”. It has seen its Golden Age and its Music Age but now radio, as we’ve known it, may be in its final death roll before the waves of change swamp it completely. Ironically, the threat to its continued survival comes as much from within as from outside forces which have already begun to pull it under.

The current crop of owners, managers and consultants just don’t seem to get it. They stubbornly continue to employ outdated programming methods as if the answer to dwindling audiences and falling profits will be found with yet more music or refurbished formats. It won’t. For the moment Talk remains one of the few viable radio venues…but with the alleged Fairness Doctrine looming on the horizon, along with other recent political attacks upon the First Amendment, alternative media will develop an even stronger appeal. The struggle to stay afloat reaches beyond terrestrial stations, as Satellite Radio finds itself treading water for many of the same reasons. With the ability of listeners to now hear all their musical favorites instead of merely more of them and to enjoy a very personal level of portable programming, all with no interruptions of any kind, the future of broadcasting lies, not with the big “powerhouse sticks”, but with delivery of local information and community services.

As traditional listening habits give way to Internet streaming, podcasts and downloads, narrowcasting will be the vehicle for tomorrow’s radio and with it the opportunity to truly focus and direct advertising toward specific customers and clients. In some ways, it’s a sort of return to old time radio but with even greater variety and more to choose from. Need convincing? Check out your cell phone; I’ll bet you can access the World Wide Web, listen to music and send eMails with it. Oh…and next year Chrysler is offering Internet capability as an option in their ’09 cars!

Does all this mean you shouldn’t be advertising on the radio? Absolutely not. There are going to be some really good broadcast buys coming down the pike and radio still sells if you choose the right stations. It does mean you should start including alternative media in your marketing plans and, if you don’t already have it, some computer savvy plus at least a nodding acquaintance with the Internet won’t hurt you a bit either!

Is radio washed up? Probably only in its present form if, once again, it can evolve. The sooner radio execs wake up and accept the fact of a redefined role, the sooner they’ll savor their own slice of the new media pie…it will simply be a smaller piece of a bigger pie.

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1 Comment

  1. There will always be a need for radio in the world. It can provide a great source of knowledge and entertainment for many, including the millions of motorists who listen to the radio everyday. Sure, T.V. will always be a preferred media source, if the viewer has the time to sit down and watch, but radio is a more portable medium which we will always be needed.

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