Different or Better?

In education, we measure students by GPA (grade point average). The higher a student’s GPA, the more everyone believes that student is the higher achiever. In school, that measure is usually pretty accurate, but what about when the student graduates?

The best baseball players don’t always become all-stars. The best scientists don’t always win a Nobel Prize; the best known do.

Stanford’s business school once tried to learn what their most successful graduates had in common. They found two things. They all graduated in the lower half of their class and they all were very good at socializing. Being able to work a crowd, it turns out, is a skill-set that leads one to be successful.

Lee de Forest wanted to be called “the father of radio.” He even tried to use the “Miracle on 34th Street” concept having the post office make that determination. Only unlike in the movie, the United States Post Office did not deliver the mail addressed “the father of radio” to de Forest. Worse, de Forest never really understood his own Audion tube that made the radio we know today possible.

Edwin Howard Armstrong, the creator of FM radio (that is also the way the audio on your TV set gets delivered too) did understand the science that made the Audion tube work, but most people don’t know Armstrong.

Armstrong was better than de Forest, but de Forest was different.

Nielsen Audio measures better, something audiences really can’t distinguish. However, different is something that audiences can distinguish.

Think of top rated radio personalities. Were they better or different? Howard Stern? The Real Don Steele? Salty Brine? Dale Dorman? Paul Harvey? Jean Shepherd? Wolfman Jack? Etc.

I’m sure you will say they were better, because they were different. They were also all well promoted; either through self-promotion or a radio company that promoted them.

Today, every streaming audio service calls themselves “radio” and they’ve all copied the best practices of radio stations and one another that eliminate their differences; except one. Pandora. Pandora uses their “Music Genome Project” to put together their stream. Is it better than a music format that a person curates? Probably not. But it’s different.

Radio used to be filled with innovators dreaming up different. We need to let those folks back into the business and turn them loose. It’s why FM radio finally got traction and HD Radio never did.

It’s time for radio, like Steve Jobs did for Apple, to “Think Different.”

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Filed under Education, Radio

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