I’m writing the follow-up to last week’s blog article while comments are still flowing in but I sense I have enough of a cross-section of comments to draw some conclusions; over fifteen type-written pages of comments to date. Not all commenters actually post their thoughts on my blog, but instead post them on the various social media platforms where they came in contact with my article. I try to monitor as many of those as possible to gauge the feedback on any week’s article.
Theater of the Mind
Quite a few people wrote that radio’s big advantage is that it’s “Theater of the Mind.” Unfortunately, so would streaming radio and podcasts if they so chose to utilize it. Podcasting does this quite effectively with shows like Radio Lab, Serial, Revisionist History and others. In fact NPR takes all of their segments from their highly rated programs like Morning Edition and All Things Considered and makes them available as podcasts. They are very fast at getting these segments posted online too. Lightning fast.
A lot of retired broadcasters seized on the “Theater of the Mind” advantage not realizing the extent that podcasting is doing this and how fast the podcast world is growing in audience and revenues.
Besides, truthfully, how many commercial radio stations these days do you know actually employ any “Theater of the Mind” these days. That whole concept was born from the days when radio did live dramas and that was last heard with the CBS Radio Mystery Theater that I remember running as a young lad back in the 70s.
Radio is everywhere, wireless and free
This might have been an advantage a couple of years ago, but is it still? Streaming audio is wireless, is pretty ubiquitous and now with many carriers free. T-Mobile has no data usage for quite a few streams. Plus audio streaming doesn’t use all that much data.
I’m on Verizon and gave up my unlimited data plan when the bill was climbing north of $100 per month. I switched to a plan that gives me unlimited talk and texting with one gigabyte of data per month for $50 per month. I was told by Verizon that based on my current usage that I wasn’t even using a quarter of a gigabyte per month. As I thought about it, my phone is either on my home WiFi or the university WiFi most of the time and operating very little off of cell towers for data.
However to test out how much data I’d use on a 15 hour drive from New England back to Kentucky I decided to stream radio through my iPhone4S to my car’s sound system. What I would learn was surprising in many ways.
First, I still used very little of my one gigabyte data plan. Second, I heard seamless audio with virtually no buffering and third, the audio fidelity was fabulous. The one thing I did find was how HOT my iPhone got continuously streaming like that.
Now remember, I started out in Massachusetts and drove through New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and West Virginia to get back to Bowling Green, Kentucky. That’s quite a drive and going through Maryland and West Virginia I went over lots of mountainous terrain. I did lose the signal going through tunnels, but that was about it (I also lose radio signals in those same tunnels).
So again, this is no longer radio’s advantage over other options. The people who wrote this was radio’s advantage maybe are not aware of how much things have changed. I know I was.
Radio allows you to multi-task
One respondent actually wrote his response as his own blog article on his site. In it he wrote that
“with today’s tech, radio and television can each DO almost everything the other can do, and they (do) more than the rest of the media types. The division between radio and TV is blurring…both can be just as fast, just as inexpensive. Periscope anyone? You, too, can be a serious broadcaster.
They could be the same except for ONE thing – audio-only format supports productive multiplexing. Doing two things at once. Listening, perhaps LEARNING, maybe just being entertained, WHILE doing some mindless-but-necessary task at the same time.
I cannot watch TV and hammer a nail.
I cannot read the newspaper while mowing the lawn, can’t look at photos or TV while driving a car, can’t appreciate that profit curve while taking a shower.
I CAN “get things done” and, simultaneously, listen to the radio or a podcast. I can, for all practical purposes, MULTIPLY myself. Literally, accomplish more in the same amount of time and with the same “effort.”” (Note: bolding and emphasis were the respondent’s)
That person was on a role until he got to the last paragraph. It was here that he wrote “or podcast.” I would add “or streaming” as well. Heck, I’m listening to my favorite Smooth Jazz streaming station while writing this article. Smooth Jazz helps me to think while I’m writing.
So while radio has always been the multi-tasking medium it no longer holds that as singular medium that can deliver that advantage.
Provides Information during Emergencies
Several writers said that cell phones are useless when the battery dies and that battery powered radios can run for a long time. I would agree. But I see a couple of problems here. How many people still own a battery powered radio and use it often enough to make sure the batteries are fresh?
Plus from the radio operator’s point of view, they can’t stay in business if the public only tunes to them during an emergency. I ran a news and information radio station and we did a study to find out why our ratings weren’t better than they were. We found that people depended on us only in times of emergencies or breaking news. Otherwise, they went to their favorite FM music station and not our AM information station. The format was changed to something else after we read the report in search for something that could sustain itself.
Worse, since many stations are syndicated, voice-tracked or automated in some other way, they often aren’t as quick to the draw in fast arising emergency situations.
My Verizon connected iPhone goes off no matter where I am with emergency information based on where I’m located.
Plus when it comes to things like weather alerts, school delays or closings, those messages quickly come into my iPhone to alert me. My university police department often sends out emergency messages about an active situation on campus.
So this is yet one more area that radio finds it has some strong competition.
What Can Radio Do that My Smartphone Can’t?
One reader thought the better question would be “What can radio do that my smartphone can’t.” Another phrased the question this way “What can radio do that other media won’t?”
Then maybe this person’s observation was most poignant:
“They all properly answered your question by stating what radio CAN do. But it should be noted that radio, as an industry is dismally failing to do the very things it is capable of doing.”
Why is that?
Many pointed out how our country’s largest radio companies are mired in huge debt and that prevents them from doing the very things that could take radio into the future.
While Nielsen says 93% of Americans over the age of 12 listen to radio every week, others were quick to point out that one only needed to listen 5-minutes to any radio station during the course of the week to be counted.
So what’s the answer?
Live & Local
This was mentioned by many. Then quickly followed up with, but my stations aren’t.
While the industry is quick to make this claim, the number of signals broadcasting today that are doing just that are appreciably much less.
Community & Companionship
Dan Mason said at a radio talent institute that the power of radio was community and companionship and that without both, it wasn’t really radio.
When I got into radio, owners were proud of their radio stations and took excellent care of them. They lived in the communities they were licensed to serve and that made all the difference.
My family for many years celebrated special occasions at Howard Johnson’s. People are always amazed when I tell them that. But, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story is that this Howard Johnson’s in Williamstown, Massachusetts was owned by the Brundage brothers. And they would both be in that restaurant every hour it was open. The parking lot was always full and you waited in line for a table. Everyone knew that the only similarity this place had to any other Howard Johnson’s was its orange roof. The Brundage family was proud of their restaurant.
Friendly Ice Cream used to make its store managers part owners of their restaurants and Friendly’s were always well run no matter where you happened to visit one in New England. That all changed when the company was bought by Hershey and they replaced owner/managers with salaried ones. It’s a scene all too familiar to many radio people I’m sure as the Telcom Act of 1996 changed the ownership landscape of the radio industry.
Now I don’t’ want you to get the idea that all of radio was perfect back then, the industry had its share of rotten apples to be sure, but you’ll find them in any enterprise.
WKDZ, Cadiz, Kentucky
I was in Nashville in September 2016 with some of my students for The Radio Show. The big dinner featured many station and personality awards. One that was justly deserved went to WKDZ in Cadiz, Kentucky. WKDZ won “Small Market Radio Station of the Year 2016.” Beth Mann is the owner/GM of WKDZ. All Beth wanted to do since the time she started working at that radio station as a child was own it. When the owners decided to retire, they sold it to their general manager at that time, Beth Mann.
Now winning such a prestigious award from the National Association of Broadcasters is a pretty awesome thing. But WKDZ has won Small Market Radio Station of the Year more than once. They won in 2002, 2013 and 2016. I fully expect them to win it again and again.
If you want to know what radio can do that other media can’t or won’t, then you need to take a car ride to Cadiz, Kentucky and visit this radio station. If you want to know more right away, then visit their station’s website: www.wkdzradio.com
WKDZ has that HERE and NOW energy many readers of this blog say they miss in radio. WKDZ has that audience engagement. WKDZ is LIVE & LOCAL & COMMUNITY & COMPANIONSHIP and so much more.
In fact, in a state like Kentucky where we are blessed with a plethora of local radio operators that are engaged, live, local, community and companions to their service area for Beth Mann and her radio family to rise above the rest makes her story all that more amazing.
After living in the Blue Grass State these past seven years I can also attest to how outstanding the state’s broadcast association is too. The Kentucky Broadcasters Association (KBA) is the gold standard for state broadcast associations.
Summing it all up, radio needs to have a heartbeat. It needs to be LIVE & LOCAL & COMMUNITY & a COMPANION to the listener. But most of all, it needs to be RELEVANT.
Define who your audience is and then super-serve them 24/7, 365.
We know what to do.
Now we just need to do it.