Q It Up: What's in the future for radio?

Q-It-Up-Logo-4This month’s Q It Up question was sparked by an editorial by Eric Rhodes in Radio Ink, wherein Eric stated that a representative of the automotive industry had said that AM/FM radio would be eliminated from all new cars within 5 years. Eric later issued a correction to his statement, explaining that the representative was actually from a research company, and instead had said this about the elimination of AM/FM in new cars: “That will not happen over the next five to ten years, but past that absolutely.” Regardless if it's five years or fifteen years, this sounded like a good stepping stone to ask our readers for their thoughts on the future of radio. The question below was sent out prior to the succeeding correction.

Q It Up: A recent editorial in Radio Ink quoted a representative of the automotive industry as saying that “AM and FM are being eliminated from the dash of two car companies within two years and will be eliminated from the dash of all cars within five years.” A few days later, Inside Radio reported that GM, Ford and Chrysler all say they are committed to keeping broadcast radio in the dash. Where do you think radio is headed in the next 5 to 10 years? Will it fade into the sunset, or will values drop so low that Mom and Pop locals will emerge from the rubble and revive the industry by making stations viable in their communities again? What do you think the future holds for radio?

Jeff Ogden <jeffo[at]gpimonline.com>, Fargo, North Dakota: [This is a copy of a response sent to Eric Rhodes]: Another great alert Eric as you have done so well over the years. Maybe the conversation needs to go to Revenue. If the Auto Industry feels a need to make radio disappear maybe the Auto Industry needs to disappear from Radio for a short time. Maybe we (radio-all radio) take a month or the second quarter off in protest and watch that industry twist in the wind without us. Make a statement! Wake the sleeping giants of Agencies, Buyers, Radio Groups, AND related industries. Go dark on “your-regional Ford, and Chevy dealer!” Those buys gone for 90 days.

BTW- if this is already done, all that related industry revenue to us is gone as well. What about those companies? All those businesses gone. I mean, look at the revenue relationship between Radio (N, R &L) last year alone. What was that number? What was that number to you on your budget? And just about now readers are thinking, “Who wants to give up that budget to principal?” That’s the point! If we think it’s too much of a loss by making a statement and taking a month off from the industry and losing that revenue, imagine in 2 years when we lose, get this,IN CAR LISTENING!!!

Now it’s about all revenue. “But there are so many cars out there Radio won’t lose anything for a long time.” Really? If Eric’s guests HAVE ALREADY MADE THIS DECISION based on personal feeling and no data, watch how fast real time revenue becomes the future when buyers start to believe that the future is now. You know how it works. They read the article in 2015 that here come the first cars delivered without a radio and all of a sudden, “Cars Don’t Have Radio Anymore.” That revenue will find another source immediately. Your revenue loss is two years away! Let’s do the math. 300 million people in the US. 79 million are Baby Boomers. In 15 years many of them will be gone. 10,000 people a day become senior citizens. When the bubble moves though, how many listeners will be left to RADIO if they couldn’t find us in a car? WOW! And our brothers across the aisle had better join us. I can easily see the TV going dark to a lap top or a cell phone chuck full of all of their favorite TV shows AS THE NEW NORM soon.

I agreed that local and local emergency might be a way to get them to hold on this until I remembered, I just got the APP that makes me aware of all that stuff in my market with weather, road conditions and alerts. Eric is right, we’re in trouble here folks. In short, imagine Radio, with no IN CAR LISTENING. That’s where this is going.

Alan Peterson <apeterson[at]radioamerica.org>: How can radio fade into the sunset? What is the fastest, most efficient and least expensive way to “spray” information to thousands of people all at the same time and in REAL time, no buffering? Many of these reports are based on assumptions that what is observed in urban areas is applicable to everywhere; much like assuming that one’s smartphone behavior in midtown Manhattan will be identical in Chester, Massachusetts.

 Having spent at least half of my career in small to medium markets, I can say there are things a Mom & Pop operation can do that the “majors” cannot: they would be the new training ground for a new generation of talent (not “jocks”, but legitimate talent); they would be the ones closest to the community, which means no credibility issues with botched pronunciation of local landmarks and street names; they would be the ones cheering on local celebs (Olympic stars, hopeful musicians, returning soldiers, Hollywood dreamers) and interviewing the Big Name performers one-on-one as they pass through town.

 If Ma and Pa Kettle want to have a viable station five to ten years from now, they should go gunning for an LPFM license or put up a Part 15’er now, in between markets saturated by enormous signals and massive RF interference. They won’t get rich, but in the proper environment they will have a community behind them. And they’ll be doing things the big stations can’t do or refuse to do (booth at the fair, school tours, etc.).

 This doesn’t mean that a Mom-&-Pop must “do radio the old fashioned way” and pretend the real world does not exist. On the contrary, they need to be every bit as web-savvy and immersed in social media et al as the big dogs. They can still play to the hometown crowds while being on the cutting edge; minor-league baseball does that now and they are rockin’.

 I won’t deny that corporate-run radio stations sound the biggest and shiniest no matter where you are in the country, but there are times that a community just has to have its own voice. Given a bit of money, a slice of spectrum, some smarts and some talent, Ma and Pa can make it work --- now, and in 5 to 10 years.

Don Elliot <voiceovers[at]charter.net>, Don Elliot Voiceovers: I’m betting that the mom and pops will do well and, appropriately enough, it’ll probably be that generation that is the prominent demographic. For the rest of us, don’t plan to buy anything on time… In fact, don’t even buy green bananas!

Remember Kung Fu or street fighting movies? The instructor would ask you when you’re pinned down: “What you have left loose that you can still fight with?” Transfer that philosophy to mental skills and talents as well. What has radio trained you to do besides radio? That might take some introspective analysis, but do a little self-examination and you will come up with it.

Here are a few things to come to mind right off the bat: Technical skills. People skills. Negotiating. Writing. Vocal talents -- voice over, perhaps singing, etc. Standup comedy. Networking. IT or other Internet skills. Grooming… Yes grooming. If you have been in the dark studio for years and never combed your hair or wore anything other than your rock T-shirts, it’s time for a makeover

That’s a start. Perhaps these will spark forks in the road from each of the above ideas that you can expand on. My goal here was to get you started thinking.

Jeff Berlin <jberlin[at]jberlin.com>, www.jeffberlin.com: My hope is that the wireless carriers continue to jack up the rate for data. Right now Verizon is charging about $30 for 2GB of data. Seems to me that if streaming in the car becomes expensive, while radio remains free, radio will not fade into the sunset. However commercial radio needs to stop driving listeners away with 9+ minute long breaks. In the “olden days” before consolidation, large stations were profitable with half the spot loads we see now. My station had a far larger staff (24-hour live DJ’s plus 24-hour front desk staff), did bigger local promotions, and held lavish parties compared to now - all from running 7 units an hour. It’s not the listener’s fault stations were overvalued when they were bought up, the listener doesn’t care that corporate owners have massive debt to service. They will not endure spot sets the length of two or three songs, and if stations attempt to force this upon their listeners, they hurt themselves, the industry and their advertisers. Local radio can retain listeners with compelling content and programming, but spot loads need to revert back to the way they did it before listeners had other choices. I hope it’s not too late.

Johnny George <jg[at]johnnygeorge.com>, Johnny George Communications, Inc.: I saw that article and posted it on FB to see the response from others the day it came out. The article for RadioInk really set a few off. Others were quick to agree. I’ve said for some time that radio is killing itself with all the greedy, corporate cut throat tactics that have been employed and dumped on the loving radio types. I for one, am glad to be out of it since I was considered a creative type who LOVED to go to work each day and expand my horizons by creating some radio magic through storytelling and “theater of the mind” promo’s & imaging. I LOVED MY JOB. If I was still in it today, I’d be spending half my time doing dubs, since the overnighter had been let go and all the ones who busted their butts to do the dubbing and less creative type jobs were cut to lessen the load of salaries and part-time rates.

I think that eventually, when radio has finally gutted the radio properties of ANY and ALL value, they will be stuck with the skeletons of what used to be valuable assets. Their value will be almost nonexistent and the Mom & Pop people will swoop in and retrieve them for pennies on the dollar and revive the local scene somehow or another. Lord, I hope so. It’s fast become a lost art.

Colleges are scurrying around trying to realign their broadcasting departments. They are inviting old radio farts, like us, who have “been there”, to advise the kids how to deal with it and how to expand other fields. Voice Talent, Internet webcasting, producing, website design, etc. is fast becoming viable avenues of interest.

If you’ve been watching TV and/or radio in their behavior, I’m sure you’ve noticed that soon it WILL become an ON-DEMAND world. The morphing of the TV & radio landscape has begun. The glory days of real radio are over. The new world of TV viewing is just around the corner. Good luck to us all.

Mitch Todd <Mitch.Todd[at]siriusxm.com>, Sirius/XM Satellite Radio: Further fragmentation and niches is the future IMO. TV was going to kill AM radio. It didn’t. NBC banished Edwin Armstrong to Alpine New Jersey and made development of FM difficult because they thought it would marginalize AM. It eventually did. Satellite radio has shifted the landscape again. But I don’t think AM, FM or Sat will “go away”, even when/if country-wide affordable Wi-Fi becomes a reality. But if THAT happens, all bets are off (and I’ll probably be dead)! My 1 cent.

Ryan Leininger <Ryan.Leininger[at]rci.rogers.com>, Rogers Broadcasting, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada: The health of radio is something that people have been debating for a

long time, yet radio remains alive and well to this day. Some think it’s dying with satellite and internet streams winning over listeners... and others, like myself, believe that radio will continue to grow and flourish in the next 5 - 10 years. I see radio as a loyal friend who will always be there for you. It’s free, it’s accessible and most importantly... it’s local! This is something that satellite just cannot compete with... especially in smaller cities where people rely on local radio to stay ‘connected’ to their city.

If radio stations listen to their audience, give them what they want, have fun with it and focus on creating original, unique and entertaining content, they will remain a healthy media resource for many years to come.

Cheers!

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