Radio is Relationships

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Radio, from the very beginning, has been about relationships. The first radio stations were amateur experimental stations. Dr. Frank Conrad, a Westinghouse engineer, was a ham radio operator. On October 17, 1919 he broadcast a recording over his station and that precipitated requests for more musical broadcasts. Conrad obliged by programming two hours of recorded music on Wednesday and Sunday evenings. Conrad even took requests.

It was from these early beginnings that a Westinghouse VP decided that Westinghouse should build a radio station and encourage people to listen and acquire the habit of listening to the radio. Westinghouse would benefit, because it was in the business of building radio receivers.

Westinghouse would file an application with the Department of Commerce on October 16, 1920 and receive its license for radio station KDKA eleven days later.

Radio gave people at that point in time a new way to connect and build relationships.

When radio pretends that what can’t be easily measured doesn’t exist, it’s on the path to extinction. Radio is relationships. No one ever had a relationship with automation.

Throughout radio’s history, savvy operators have known that being different can be a competitive advantage. Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Ryan Seacrest, Casey Kasem, Arthur Godfrey among many others all knew how to distinguish themselves from the pack and build a relationship with the radio audience.

The competitive advantage that Pandora has is through its ability to be like your iPod, with an element of surprise. Each person creates his or her own personalized radio station.

But I seriously doubt anyone would say they have a “relationship” with Pandora. It serves a need in much the same way a low price retailer serves a need. Once someone comes along with a little bit better “mouse trap” the people quickly move on. That certainly was the case with Blockbuster when Netflix came along.

America’s radio stations that have a relationship with their audience will not have to live in fear. Relationships can transcend technology. Just ask Howard Stern’s listeners.

What concerns me is when audience relationships that took years to build are so quickly dismissed with automation in one of its various forms. Do you think radio would have grown to be the industry it is had it started out with automation?

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This post was previously published in RBR-TVBR’s “Thought Leaders” on October 3, 2014 and in the New Jersey Broadcasters Association’s “QuickNews” on October 10, 2014.

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