History’s Technology Rhyme

Transistor Radio, Car Radio and Rock & Roll

Transistor Radio, Cars & Rock ‘n Roll

I’ve written before how history never repeats itself, but usually rhymes. So when I was reading an article in the NY Times about “Tech’s ‘Frightful 5’ Will Dominate Digital Life for Foreseeable Future” it hit me. Here was how history was rhyming when it came to communications. Fasten your seat-belt, this will get bumpy.

What this article’s author Farhad Manjoo wrote was how Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft (others include Netflix in this mix) came along at a perfect time to roll up their user base. They were in the right place, at the right time in other words.

Geoffrey G. Parker, a business professor at Tulane University has co-authored a book called “Platform Revolution” where he explains how these tech companies were able to ride the perfect wave of technology change – that being a decrease in the cost of IT, an increase in connectivity and the introduction/fast adoption of mobile phones.

And when it comes to advertising, these companies are in the right place to leverage digital marketing and enjoy most of the benefits of this growth area as well. In fact, since there is a sense that these major digital companies will receive most of the online advertising monies, traditional media – like radio & TV – could see advertising monies return to them.  Let’s hope that happens.

So, where’s the rhyme in this story? Well consider this other time in communications history when television burst onto the scene after the end of World War Two in the 1950s. Radio, a lot of people thought, would cease to exist. Radio’s stars, programs and advertisers, to a large measure, jumped into television. Radio had to find a new act.

Radio was in the right place, at the right time for the birth of three things when TV came along; the transistor radio and the car radio. Both of these technology advancements would be the savior of radio along with one other important development; rock ‘n roll.

Radio was in the perfect place to ride the baby boomer youth wave of rock music, cars and transistor radios. Television grew in large measure by scarcity, only two or three television networks and few TV stations.

When broadband came along, that scarcity factor went poof. Radio now sees its dominance in the car being challenged by a digital dashboard.

The newest radio format to have come into existence – all sports/talk – is now 29 years old. Clearly, innovation in the radio world has stalled.

The good news is radio in America has more reach than any other form of mass media. The bad news is it sees annual erosion of its TSL (time spent listening). This can be fixed. To do this, radio needs to address the very factors that are causing its TSL to erode.

The thing most often heard from consumers about what they dislike about radio are its commercials. Yet, commercials don’t have to be a tune-out factor. No one tunes out the Super Bowl when it’s a blowout because they want to see what other clever commercials might still be coming on their television.

Most radio stations long ago did away with their copywriters. These masters of the spoken word who can craft a story about businesses need to be enticed back into the radio business at every radio station.

The number of commercials in a break needs to be reassessed by the radio industry as well. You can’t kill the goose that lays your gold revenue egg and expect it to continue to lay you golden eggs.

Bring back personalities. They not only sell the music (the record companies need you!); they sell your station and through live reads, your advertisers’ products and services.

Those who remember Paul Harvey News & Commentary will tell you that page two (his first live read commercial) was always something you turned up the radio for. I remember reading Paul Harvey brought in more money for the ABC Radio Network than everything else they did. And everyone loved Paul Harvey’s commercials and bought the products he talked about.

I think retired CBS Radio President Dan Mason said it best when he said this about radio:

“Without community and companionship, we have nothing.”


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales, Uncategorized

14 responses to “History’s Technology Rhyme

  1. Dick…while I totally agree with you, the problem is that main stream radio has gotten so far away from the kind of radio you talk about, that no one remembers how to do it! The so called experts of today, are not the old veterans who remember that kind of radio. We are dealing with a generation of radio execs who don’t remember the days of big music personalities, have never heard a well crafted radio spot, written by someone who’s job is words, and who would tell you that Paul Harvey is as relevant to radio today as FDR is to this Presidential Election we are all suffering through. Having worked with some really great people in this business for the last 44 years, I’m sorry to say that the leaders of today just don’t stack up. The really talented, creative people have by in large gone somewhere else! It is no longer the business of broadcasting, it is just business, and if we need to have 5 minute or longer spot breaks, and need to load those breaks with horrible commercials or sell off blocks of our programing day to folks who have no business being on the air, to make our “numbers”, well, so be it!



  2. Scott Cason

    Bring the personality back to radio, and the rest will follow. Why did baby boomers listen to radio in the first place? For the music and the jocks. Bring the jocks back and the rest will follow. Keep voice tracking, and give the listeners a reason to go to the internet.


  3. Sounds good in theory Dick however, the economic reality won’t let it happen. All 3 major networks are beholden to Wall Street and we know how that turned out. I read this week Rush Limbaugh’s ratings are tanking due to his listeners dying off. It looks highly unlikely his 100 million dollar contract will be renewed. Rush has spawned hundreds of copycats that now clog the airwaves. In his glory days he had a daily 20 million listener base. Those days are gone and never coming back. Unless you pay for satellite radio, it’s a free service. The consumer has no choice in programming. The consumer doesn’t care about radio with so many choices available.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I respect your position Dick but I think you are on the wrong side of history. I am quite familiar with the 40 year pendulum cycle however that won’t restore radio to where it was king once upon a time. No amount of swing or rhyme will restore newspapers, the 8 track, the polaroid, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We can compare in a decade from now. My prediction is radio will not have swung back and the internet has sucked the majority of ad revenue and content out of all old media. Thanks for the discussion platform. Now I can ride off into the sunset lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Outstanding, Dick. Thank you for writing. Radio has faced challenges throughout it’s history, from the invention of the 8-track tape to CDs to MTV to satellite radio to podcasting, etc. But, radio survives because it’s always reinvented itself. This time around, it is all about personalities. It used to be radio could succeed in four areas: Information, Music, Promotion and Personalities. We can no longer win information (it’s instant and at the tap of a smartphone), or music (unlimited choice tailored to my taste). Promotion is more difficult than ever (Can’t stand out like we used to with those clever DJ stunts), but personality remains timeless. Interesting talent with something to say is irreplaceable.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. spotmagicsolis

    That was fun, thanks Dick!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s