Radio is Changing Faster than My First Wife Did

By Troy Duran

Radio is changing faster than my wife did when I told her how freakin’ HOT(!) her little sister is. It seems just like yesterday that I was bulk erasing a ten-minute cart because the damn Scully brakes were worn out, and I upcut the audio on the 16th :30 ABC Networks spot -- the spots that I, as the overnighter, had to dub because of something I did to really piss off someone in a previous life.

If you were born after about 1983, the above paragraph probably reads like: ‘BLAH BLAH damn BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH piss someone off in a previous life.’ In a nutshell, carts really, really sucked.

Radio has been changed by technology, politics, greed or just plain old stupidity over the past 20 years, so as to make the modern station look completely different. To illustrate my point: Find someone who used to be in radio but ‘left to pursue other opportunities’ more than 5 years ago — if you don’t know where to look, just go to Wal-Mart and ask for the manager, Sonny Beaches. Give him or her a tour of your station. You’ll probably hear something like, “But where are the CD players?” Depending on how long they’ve been out of The Biz, you may get a “But where are the cart machines?” And if you’re really lucky, you’ll get a “But where are the turntables?” At which time, you should just take Grandpa back to the home.

As radio people, we know that there are negatives to technology: Voicetracking has cost jobs, as have consolidation and the distributive nature of networking and the Internet. The days of one Production Director per station are long gone, replaced by clusters of up to eight stations manned by just a few (or less!) production people.

But the sword cuts both ways. While technology is making it easier for stations to trim staff, it’s also opening up HUGE areas of opportunity in new media that is either already here, or right around the corner. Moreover, the same technology has never been more affordable than right now.

Media is converging to provide powerful communication, which engages more senses: Hearing, sight and touch. That’s why we’re seeing more software and hardware that performs multiple functions. I use Sound Forge and Vegas Video for my stuff, and with Vegas, video editing is nearly as easy as audio. Anyone familiar with the old style of video knows that’s really saying something. I can render my project in any number of formats, from broadcast, to Windows Media for streaming, a Quicktime movie, even Dolby Digital AC3 for DVD production. And that’s just one program.

Look around you. On the Internet you see more flash elements more often. And more often than not, you hear more audio in these presentations, as compression tools provide for better quality with smaller file sizes. Plus, broadband is becoming more and more common, so size isn’t really as much of an issue anyway.

The same menu-driven DVDs you rent for the weekend are made using off-the shelf software.

Microsoft’s Powerpoint was once synonymous with boring meetings. Not anymore. Today, you can put together a Powerpoint presentation using audio that spans the slides and includes flash-like animations and TV-like transitions.

Ever use Yahoo Messenger? They have these neat animated icons that talk and make cute farting noises.

Here’s another thing to think about. Look at your phone. You notice that ring tones have gone way past those annoying little MIDI tones? My wife has the theme to the O.C. that plays on her phone. So now she’s blowin’ up fresh to the sound of “CALIFORNIA….. CALIFOOORRRNNIAAA!” (Never mind that she’s 34 and her days of hipness disappeared with the Thompson Twins.) Now when her phone rings, everyone within earshot remembers teenage fornication time is coming back to Fox.

What if you figured out how to turn your primary positioner into a ring tone, so that every time your listener’s phone rings, you’re branding everyone within earshot?

My daughter has at least ten windows open at a time when she’s IM’ing her little friends. What if she could bust in on a chat room with her own bad-ass “TODAY’s Hit Music Channel…Z-107-7!” ID? Do the math.

What if your morning guy gets his ass kicked by the Chuck E. Cheese mascot, and someone from promotions catches it on mini DV camera? If you could email that out to a listener database with a “send this to a friend” button, that might drive some cume to tomorrow’s show, don’t you think?

If radio only uses technology to cut salary or duplicate creative like Egg McMuffins across 40 stations, radio’s audience will continue to shrink in the face of growing competition from Ipods, Internet and Satellite radio — even TV. How sad.

As an entrepreneurial production person, you have two specific responsibilities: Get in front of technology so that you can place local radio back where it belongs — number one in the hearts and minds of your audience. Get in front of technology so that when the idiots in power continue to bury their heads in the sand about Satellite and Internet radio, you can make a living doing what you love to do — communicate compelling messages… for another medium.

You can find out more about all these emerging and established technologies just by Googling — Search “Ring Tones.” Download Messenger and find out how they make those funny animated farts play on a computer thousands of miles away (hint: XML + SWF = animated wind-breaking). There are many things to learn, but that’s the fun part!

Remember how cool it was when you first figured out how to do stutter effects, and then used it so much your PD fired the voice guy, thinking he had a speech impediment? You’ll have a blast learning Shockwave and Flash and XML and all that stuff.

You know there’s a  “Flash for Dummies” book?

When you become proficient at using these technologies, take what you learned and show the PD, the GM, the GSM. If these people don’t have the foresight to use your skills and compensate you accordingly, take your game to an ad agency or a multi-media company. Or even to your existing clients. Guaranteed, someone is gonna pay you for that animated fart.

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