What’s Radio’s Why?

WHYSimon Sinek says people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Watching the live streams of the 2018 Radio Show sessions and reading all of the reporting on the meetings in Orlando this past week, left me asking the simple question: “What’s radio’s why?”

College Kids on Radio

The RAIN Conference in Orlando put four college kids from the University of Central Florida on stage and asked them about their radio listening habits.

Spoiler Alert: They don’t have any radio listening habits.

These four students said things like “radio is obsolete,” “there’s no need for radio,” and “it’s very rare that I listen to radio.”

To these kids, radio doesn’t have any “why.”

What does?

YouTube, Apple Music, Spotify…in other words things that stream what they want, when they want it.

Write The Wrongs About Radio

George Johns and Bob Christy are getting together to write a blog aimed at fixing radio, by writing about the things they hear radio is doing wrong.

“(Radio) has to evolve to be relevant in today’s world,” they write. “There has been almost no evolution in radio (and) what George and (Bob) want to do is challenge radio to evolve and become relevant again.”

They write the  3 basics of great radio are: 1) be professional, 2) be interesting and 3) be entertaining.

The 25-54 Demo

Fred Jacobs wrote about the fabled radio demo of 25-54, also known as, the “family reunion demo.” It never really existed, except as a way for an agency buyer to get the C.P.P. (Cost Per Point) down for a radio station they really wanted to place their client on.

You would have thought as the number of radio signals increased, that the variety of programming choices would have too, but the reverse happened. Radio offered less choice of programming and music formats. As Fred writes, “broadcast radio surrendered its Soft AC, Smooth Jazz and Oldies stations to SiriusXM and streaming pure-plays.”

Millennials are not kids. I know, both of my sons are part of the millennial generation. They are both well-entrenched in successful careers and raising families.

The college kids referenced earlier are part of Generation Z. And those kids don’t know (or care) what radio even is. They don’t even know what life was like before smartphones. And smartphones have really replaced just about every other device Millennials and Boomers grew up with.

Norway Turns OFF Analog Radio

Norway is a country of about 5.5 million people. Norway turned off their FM signals almost a year ago and went all digital using DAB+. So what’s happened to radio listening in Norway?

Jon Branaes writes, “Norwegians still choose radio when they think it’s worth choosing. Radio has not lost our biggest fans but the more casual listeners.”

Norway has also seen FM listening replaced by internet delivered radio, which grew significantly after turning off analog FM signals. They expect smart speakers to contribute to even more of that type of listening in the future.

The Takeaways

Radio first needs to know its “WHY.” Then it needs to communicate it, clearly and simply or suffer the consequences.  Bud Walters of Cromwell loves to say, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Until the radio industry figures this out, getting new people to listen (or former listeners to return) will be a challenge.

“FM is not the future. DAB+ (digital broadcasting) can keep radio relevant in a digital future of endless choices.” But Jon Branaes adds, “Radio must respond with its core strengths – being live and alive, useful and present in listener’s lives.”


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

21 responses to “What’s Radio’s Why?

  1. Tom Gauger

    Thus is the best thinking I’ve seen on What Happened to Radio. I’ve watched my profession implode over centralised programmimg, disgusting audio (“louder is better”), boring programming and excessive spot loads.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dana Harmon

    Great article as always. Unfortunately the train has left the station. A great article that parallels the sad declining state of radio is by Theodore Levitt, “Marketing Myopia”. I’m sure you have read it from HBR.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Younger demos have never been a fan of radio. Growing up I wanted to be in radio, but I spent more time listening to my singles and cassettes. I once read an article from a music reviewer from Rolling Stone who said his music collection was life until his late 20’s Family, career,life all changed that… I agree. I had a large music collection, made mix tapes and shared them with friends and radio was an afterthought (that was in the mid 80s). Now it is easier just to hit scan and find something without the hassle. I’m turning 52 and the choices on the dial are slim for me, not because of limited choices or poor product, it it because I am older. I’ve played the hits for 30 years and now it sounds repetitious…. not to the listener, but me. The music has changed, and it doesn’t cater to my tastes just like my music didn’t cater to my parents. Watch the clips of radio legends like Wolfman Jack and Jack The Rapper say who said radio is not the same (that was 30+ years ago). Sirius XM is the counterprogrammer to those who no longer enjoy radio because they have grown out of the radio demo. Most of friends and associates that have XM are over 50+ because they have the disposal income to afford it, and they like the news sports and specialty channels. Radio will always be a 25ish to 50ish favorite. On the Norway topic ask how many people were upset after analog was turned off. There was much regret, and radio in general will suffer for years there or might not recover. In closing, It is easy for industry pundits (including myself) to say we are in crisis. In reality, it is just the cycle of our business.


  4. Harley Benner

    There is a lot to agree…and some to disagree with. But to keep this at a reasonable length, I will only say that I cannot disagree more with any concept that digital (HD) radio is the answer. And here’s why; HD radio has had over 15 years to make its mark. It’s failed miserably. And there’s a sound business reason for that. More isn’t always more. In my small market there are about 20 local terrestrial FM stations, a few AMs and another 10 stations that get in strong from outside the metro. As it stands, there is barely enough advertising revenue to keep them in business, Now, let’s have those stations convert to HD. And fire up the HD 2 and 3 with some kind of format or another. Does the listener have more variety? Yes. Does that draw listeners from your primary signal? Yes. Does that affect ratings and sales and cost-per-point buys? Yes. Will those stations draw enough listeners to make up for that loss? Almost assuredly, NO. Add to that the fact that any station who wanted to convert would need new transmitters along with automation setups for the sub-signals and you’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get started. Finally, I can’t think of an entity that so badly bungled the rollout of new technology as totally and completely as Ibiquity did. Right outta the gate they name a new audio medium with the already established term for video. Hell, why not “3-D Radio” or “Technicolor Radio”? Makes about as much sense. That confusion was compounded by their total failure to explain to the public what it was and how it was better. I managed the only station in my market (a college based public radio station) that went HD. We only did it because we were offered a grant to pay for it in-full. We ran classical on the HD2 and Alternative Rock on HD 3. Nobody gave a tinker’s damn. And to this day, none of the other FM’s or AM’s in this market have converted.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Harley, the proliferation of radio signals never took into account what the market could bear, economically, to support all of them.

      Less is more really has meaning when it comes to the radio industry.

      One satellite radio service is economically more robust than two were.

      Thank You for all you wrote and shared.


  5. 50 years ago we were part of new FM Creativity. High time todo it again and use all the smart speakers to deliver Radio Refresh! Thanks, Prof. Dick. Good vibes in Orlando but licensees must step up with new innovation.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Tom Prigge

    I originally posted this to the Facebook group “I Was A DJ When DJs Jocked Discs.” But I think it applies to this discussion too.As long as radio is free, there will be an audience. But will it be an audience that advertisers want to reach? Will there come a time when paid-for audio programming is used by those who can afford it, with the radio audience reduced to those who cannot afford it (along with the handful–a small but vocal handful–who will refuse to pay for something they used to get free just on principle). Look at cable TV/satellite TV. There has been a lot of hoopla about people “cord cutting” but how many folks are ONLY using a TV antenna? As an advertiser, if it were possible, would you only want to reach those with an antenna? Cable TV/satellite is almost like a utility now, on par with electricity and water. Streaming audio could be on its way to becoming a utility too. When it does, free over-the-air radio will end up in history’s dustbin. One more thing: the most innovative television programming is being done by the paid-for services. Over-the-air television broadcasters are more restricted than their paid-for counterparts when it comes to what it can show and the language used. The same with audio. Over-the-air radio faces tight restrictions on how “innovative” they can be, so all this talk I see about radio needing to innovate does not seem to take into account that radio is hampered in its attempts at innovation from the get-go.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom, Thank you for not just posting your thoughts on FB but on this blog post as well. This blog reaches people from all over the world who have an interest in radio broadcasting and audio communications.

      I cut the cord over a year ago and don’t miss the cable bundle at all. I use SLING TV, YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Prime along with other options through Apple TV.

      I find that I still have more television programs than I will ever have time to watch.

      Since becoming a 3 Amazon Echo household, I find that my audio listening is 100% streamed audio and the choices are incredible. Much like Fred Jacobs mentioned in his blog I linked to, OTA radio has surrendered Soft AC, Smooth Jazz and Oldies to satellite and pure-play streaming. All three of those formats are what I listen to and I feel like I was sent packing by OTA radio to streaming to hear them.

      You also make a very valid point in terms of content on streaming TV versus OTA TV. OTA TV competes with streaming pay TV like they had both hands and both feet tied behind their back. It’s NOT a fair fight.

      I’m sure others have similar thoughts and I hope they will weigh in and share them.


  7. Local radio will remain important to the community it serves in direct proportion to its actual service, by which I mean providing relevant content (information/news/opinion/advertising/personalities/etc.) that’s unavailable or not done as well elsewhere.

    The “why” is something each of us in the business must be actively invested in addressing on a daily basis. It has to matter to us before we can expect it to matter to anyone else, and I believe there are many folks in our business who still take this responsibility seriously.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. georgejohnsradio

    Bob and I just did our first critique and posted it.​


    It’s too easy to blame ownership for everything Dick, the air staff and programmers are also responsible for what the folks are hearing. The formula for excellence has always been, Talent + Science = Art and right now radio is a way out of balance with too much Science. Geo

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t totally disagree with you Geo, but from my experience at Clear Channel as the “cuts, just kept on coming,” it became virtually impossible for anyone to wear so many hats and be excellent at any one of them.

      In my own case, I went from being a market manager of 4 radio stations in the beginning to also being, the national sales manager, director of sales (local), promotions director and AM program director, all the while maintaining the myriad of management reports from my primary position.

      So, this type of understaffing must be taken into account.

      Add in people being on vacation or out sick or a major storms hitting an area where staff is working 24/7 for a couple of days before resuming their normal shifts — with no break in between — and I think you have to wonder if this is “anyway to run a railroad.”


      • georgejohnsradio

        I hear ya Dick but this break right now could put you in the hall of fame right now. Or you can just whine about why not?


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