By Trent Rentsch
So it begins again. I’m sure you’ve heard the story by now, how new car models will no longer come standard with a radio. Oh, the wailing, the flailing of arms! “THAT’S IT!! RADIO IS FINALLY, REALLY AND FOR TRUE, ABOUT TO DIE FOREVER! Oh, the HUMANITY!!” The panic, oh, the panic! Liquor sales at bars lucky enough to be near radio stations are at an all-time high, as are applications at used car lots and steel siding companies.
Your reaction may vary, but the basic message seems to be agreed upon… take the radio out of cars, radio is history. After all, the ONLY time ANYONE listens to the radio any more is in the car, right? We all “know that,” don’t we? It’s all over now… might as well box up the cube, play Night Ranger’s “Good-bye” and shut off the lights, going dark forever. Give me a break!
What will really, REALLY happen when cars don’t come with a radio? Two things, I suspect. First, the real fans will have one installed, as I’m sure the aftermarket will be more than happy to do. Second, they’ll listen through Bluetooth on their Smartphones to the stations that have had the forethought to stream. Of course, there is the dreaded third option, that some people will simply quit listening. But then, weren’t we already facing that issue?
This isn’t the first time the imminent death of radio has been predicted, and I truly doubt it’s the last. We survived the growth of TV, the consolidation of the industry (and the mass firings & watered down programming it generated), the growth of the internet, hell, even the rise of the iPod! You kick radio, it comes back up fighting. Maybe not the way we remember it in “the good old days,” but then again, if it hadn’t evolved over the years, radio really would’ve been gone long ago. Yes, radio will have to change and adapt again, to stay in the hearts of the faithful, and to remind the younger generations that it not only exists, but is just as exciting and viable as any other entertainment medium. Yes, I said “entertainment.” Please make a note of that…
So, where do you fit into all of this? Well, you could turn tail and run, perhaps find a job running karaoke at a nightclub, or working as a “Geek” for some big box store, or… take a ride on the potentially exciting future radio has in front of it.
Yes, I do believe in a future for radio. The definition of radio will have to change, but it indeed has a future. There’s no question that all will need to stream, and join other stations who have already become a part of apps like iHeartRadio. Radio will also need to embrace more multimedia content, and yes, that means video to go with the audio. The voyeuristic nature people demand of their entertainment today is eventually going to make streaming video of even the most mundane midday show, mandatory.
And what about that word, “entertainment?” It’s gotten less and less emphasis in the industry the last decade or so. Of course, there are exceptions, but in many cases, radio signals have been little more than wireless jukeboxes, playing the same tired songs over and over, while most people tuned out and turned on their own MP3 playlists. Allowed to flourish, there is incredible entertainment value in radio, and all the multimedia enhancements only increase that potential. Personality must become part of radio’s personality again, and not just in morning drive. And that means LOCAL Personalities, each with their own unique sensibilities, who know the local audience and how to speak their language… who know what’s REALLY important to local listeners. Hell, as streaming grows, so does the potential for a new generation of radio stars, broadcasting from, well, anywhere.
So, you hold on and wait for Trent’s Pollyanna vision of the “New Radio.” How long do you have to wait? Well, that really depends on you, on me, on anyone associated with the industry. We need to embrace change, learn new skills, and adapt what we learn into building new ways to reach out and grab people. If that means that, along with producing audio, you’re shooting and editing video for the website/stream, so be it. If it means working social media circles consistently, why not? And if it means the old-fashioned notion of making content locally relevant and entertaining, by all means, DO IT! Because if we are going to save radio, we’re all going to have to begin again.