The Cockroach of Media

The new CEO of National Public Radio is a man named Jarl Mohn. Before his life in public radio began, he rose pretty high up in commercial radio, only then he went by his “radio name;” Lee Masters.

When he was recently asked if Internet radio would replace terrestrial radio within a decade, he responded with “Broadcast radio is the cockroach of media. You can’t kill it. You can’t make it go away.” But interestingly many radio companies are hiding the name “radio.”

National Public Radio isn’t called that any more. It’s now NPR. Clear Channel Radio isn’t called that any more. It’s now iHeartMedia. Even Radio Shack tried to jettison “radio” from its name and re-brand as just “The Shack.”

Most radio companies today prefer the term “media company” or “communications company.” Why is that?

The irony is when you look at pureplay Internet companies that stream music content, they glom onto the name “radio.” Pandora Radio, Spotify Radio, iTunes Radio, iHeart Radio, Tunein Radio – even the one I’ve been a subscriber to for six years changed its name from Sky.FM to Radio Tunes.

Petula Clark probably got it right when she sang “The Other Man’s Grass Is Always Greener.”

Commercial radio is suffering because it’s not as good as it can be. It suffers from a lack of innovation and investment. At the very moment that more commercial broadcasters are slashing budgets, eliminating people and consolidating operations, NPR is committing more money to be more local and live according to Mohn.

My university’s public radio service has a four person local news team. They don’t cover national stories, NPR does that. They cover south central Kentucky and they win just about all the news awards for their reporting every year. Their stories are detailed and well told. Their stories are readily accessible online in addition to being heard over-the-air.

Public radio is enjoyed by more people and earning a bigger share of the audience than public television. And when it comes to competing against commercial radio, the public radio station is in the top 5 stations in radio markets that have a public radio service.

Here’s the problem I see with future generations of listeners. Pureplays are redefining the term “radio.” To young people today, Pandora IS radio. iTunes IS radio. Spotify IS radio. Over-the-air broadcast is “media” that their parents still use.

When I was growing up I admit I didn’t listen to the radio stations my parents listened to. They had their radio station(s) and I had mine. But we both were listening to “radio.”

Radio turns 100 years old in the year 2020. To those of us who grew up with the service that began commercially in 1920 with the radio broadcast license issued to KDKA in Pittsburgh, we might see it that way. But to the next generation of listeners, radio might only be 20 years old; the same age as Pandora.

Call me sentimental, but I think that would be a shame.


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio

7 responses to “The Cockroach of Media

  1. Jarl Mohn is a visionary. For those who haven’t already recognized this fact, visionaries in radio are in short supply these days. Radio is evolving and Mr. Mohn is helping to shape radio’s future by using many of the lessons he learned when he was Lee Masters. Remember these names: Jarl Mohn, Bob Pittman, and Jeff Smulyan. These three are shaping the future of radio in America and radio’s future is in good hands!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great points!

    I tried to add a comment to the tweet, but it would not let me do it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. And radio. For decades radio – as those of us reading this column still know it – has done nothing innovative beyond a relentless pursuit of stagnation amidst simply insatiable greed. As this post pointed out, even radio’s name has been stolen from underneath the industry without as much as a whimper. The troika of names mentioned is the above posted reply, earned their rep’s from their pursuit of all that was wrong with radio and still is. But now these three are now ‘shaping the future’ of the industry? God help us but even he is likely listening online these days …


    • Thanks, Bob Ray, for your response. I’m curious as to any evidence you might have that any of these three broadcasters has pursued a path of “all that was wrong with radio and still is”. I suspect that Bob Pittman may be the most prominent name among the three and is an easy target due to the sheer number of stations under his leadership. But to deny the upward trends of Clear Channel’s dominance in both ratings and revenue is turning a blind eye to the obvious. I didn’t suggest that you have to embrace his methods.

      Now to Jeff Smulyan and Jarl Mohn. Your assessment appears to have been made without a shred of evidence since each of them is following a plan that is solidly a departure from a “relentless pursuit of stagnation”.

      My claim that these are three men who are shaping the future if radio, stands. Love them or loathe them, they’re the architects of what radio is becoming and I believe the evidence shows that the industry is quite healthy.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ahh, Roger. What we have here is eye-witness testimony: same scene, two different interpretations of events.

    Radio station/signal values have been on a downward spiral for many years which I don’t believe validates your ‘quite healthy’ assessment of the industry.

    There has been no effort from the radio industry to break that fall, other than rebranding radio entities into ‘media companies’ focused on outlets other than radio. And these media companies’ stock prices don’t confirm good health either: Emmis Communications (never above $1.56 a share), Cumulus Broadcasting ($2.30 @share) or Clear Channel’s buyout price of just $39 and change @share.

    To my eyes, NPR’s substantial rise in audience is the effect from terrestrial radio’s over-commercialized and homogenized programming that really has not evolved a whole lot from Martin Block’s Make Believe Ballroom in the 1940’s.

    Reinvention is the name of the game: for Hollywood, the music business and every business, except radio. Radio must believe its decades-old status quo is the way to go; that somehow the business of radio is exempt from the rule of reinvention.

    People today – most importantly, young people – are out of the habit of radio thanks to the industry chasing them away with its take-it-or-leave-it programming arrogance, insatiable greed and belief that no matter what the audience will always be there. Well audiences are leaving, numbers are dwindling and the industry – while it may never completely die, as Jarl Mohn suggests – need only look to itself for reasons why today’s cupboard holds much less than yesterday’s.

    I expect and appreciate that you are a fan, Roger, and from a fan’s perspective the industry may appear healthy. That said, I am a realist and BTW, an substantial partner in the ownership of two radio stations within the Top Ten Markets. The wholesale shift in the listening habits and perceptions from people who used to listen to radio but now do not, must lie outside your peripheral vision.

    If you were right, Roger, I’d agree with you. But you’re not so I can’t. And I don’t.

    Opinions respectfully shared, Roger, and now concluded.

    Onward …


  5. Nice Piece Dick. Recently had a long chat with Jarl. Aside from being a visionary, he’ a mensch to boot.


    • …I’m glad we have been able to conduct our obvious disagreement respectfully, Dick. And, Don, thank you for recognizing that Jarl Mohn is a man of honor and integrity. Those qualities, combined with his vision for radio’s future keep him locked into my list of the architects of all that lies ahead for broadcasting.

      Liked by 1 person

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