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.