Is Radio Prepared for The Future

Radio & CobwebsIn a lot of ways, the future is here, now.

All of the things we knew were coming back at the turn of the century have become reality.

But the radio industry continues to try to adapt.

Great Companies Don’t Adapt, They Prepare

When I saw that headline on a blog article by Greg Satell two years ago, it resonated with me because it made me realize that the radio industry wasn’t prepared for the 21st Century. It was trying to adapt the past to the present and hoping that it would sustain them going into the future.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to create the future by focusing on the present.

“The truth is,” writes Satell, “that companies rarely succeed by adapting to market events.”

“Firms prevail by shaping the future…but it takes years of preparation to achieve.

Once you find yourself in a position where you need to adapt, it’s usually too late.”

-Greg Satell

Marconi & Sarnoff

Each generation has its great innovators, so It’s always a challenge to say who makes a greater contribution to changing the world.

Marconi gave us the wireless, a one-to-one form of communications that transformed the world.

Sarnoff innovated the radio as a form of mass communication, giving us a one-to-many instant communication service of news, entertainment and advertising supported radio.

What we can be certain of, each person who creates the future is one who overflows with boundless curiosity.

Investing in Research

All of the Big 5 Tech companies (Amazon, Facebook Microsoft, Google and Apple) invest heavily in research. Each of them, in their own way, has made themselves indispensable from our daily lives.

Recently, a daily newsletter I read called “While You Were Working,” asked its readers which of the Big 5 Tech Companies they could survive without. Here are the results of that survey:

Which Big 5 tech company do you think it would be easiest to live without?

Facebook  70.71%
Apple  14.14%
Amazon  7.35%
Microsoft  5.74%
Google  2.06%

Probably not surprising that Facebook was the choice folks said they could live without by a wide margin.

For five weeks, Kashmir Hill, a writer for Gizmodo, decided to see how she would deal with giving up today’s technology by blocking one of the Big 5 from her world. In her sixth and final week, she decided to go cold turkey and blocked them all. How did that go? Well I think the title of her article said it all, “I Cut the ‘Big Five’ Tech Giants From My Life. It Was Hell.”

Hill compared her experience to that of an alcoholic trying to give us booze. And that life without them makes life very difficult as we are so dependent on them.

I’m not sure any of us really understands how married we are to these Big 5 Tech Companies or how hard it would be for us to give up even one of them, let alone to give them all up.

Listening to Radio

One of the interesting side-bars of the article Hill wrote was that by not having Alexa, Spotify audio books, podcasts or other such services on her Nokia feature phone, what she could receive, unlike with her iPhone, were radio broadcasts and that allowed her to listen to NPR while doing her daily run.

But how sad that listening to radio only seems to be an option when all other options are eliminated.

Investing in the Core Product

Some of the differences between the Big 5 Tech companies are what non-core areas they invest their research money into, like self-driving cars. The one thing they all take very seriously, however, is plowing the lion’s share of their research budget into their core competencies.

In my sales class, I used to tell my students that people don’t buy half-inch drill bits because they want them, they buy them because what they want are half-inch holes. In other words, you will be successful when you invest your time solving your customers’ problems.

Radio Research

Most radio research dollars are spent on one thing, audience measurement. Unfortunately, that’s research that studies the past performance of a radio station, not the present moment. Virtually no radio research money is spent on preparing the ground for the future.

We all know that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the next big thing. Alexa, in your Amazon Echo, is the perfect example.

How is the radio industry preparing its employees to acquire the skills they will need to excel in an AI world? Artificial Intelligence is a force that will impact the communications industry in the years to come.

Broadcasting has been living off of its seed corn for too many years, while the technology industries have been focused on solving our customer’s problems by investing in them for years, even decades.

Broadcasters can’t create the future by continuing to focus on the present.

Innovation, will require investment in research that, imagines new possibilities.




Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

15 responses to “Is Radio Prepared for The Future

  1. Bob Harlan

    Let’s talk more about the future of radio. What direction should stations head in to appeal to younger generations? Music can be found elsewhere. So, how should radio be evolving?


    • It’s a question best answered by the very audience a radio station is trying to attract.

      But we also know from history, that sometimes the audience doesn’t know what it wants until it’s presented with a new option.


  2. Gregg

    The best condensed article on the state of radio I have ever read. Since we didn’t live in 1920 we will never know the excitement of radio. People no longer had to drive from “Nowhere Nebraska”, to Omaha to hear their favorite singer or comedian, plus instant news and weather information. Newspapers didn’t know it but it was the beginning of them end for them. Radio is built on content. Google is built on content. None of us really understood that until it was to late. Google gives us instant access to all content. Recently while visiting Cincinnati. I went to the Cincinnati Union Terminal once consider an icon in a passenger train terminal. Out front of the terminal was a plaque that reads ” The terminal was built at the beginning of the decline of passenger train travel”. It is always hard to recognize the beginning of the end. Radio should have been on the Google train. Oh well, now what? We’ll celebrate the 100 anniversary and close the lid on the coffin. Not many technologies live past 100 years. I love radio but it’s not on the top 5 list. Side notes radio companies are focused on selling digital advertising on the internet not developing content. Ratings are very deceptive, because Nielsen looks for heavy users of radio. How many people do they not research because they don’t turn it on every week ? Another homerun Dick!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave Jagger

    To paraphrase Steve Jobs he once said Apple likes to create products people don’t know they want or need yet. You comment above follows the same thought.

    But what will that be for Radio and who will create and execute them? Radio needs their own Steve Jobs now more than ever.

    Liked by 1 person

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  6. Full Service Audio. Live, local & on demand.

    Liked by 1 person


    GM   Dick:

         How are you defining “Radio”?      A wise philosopher by the name of Rollye James has said many times that she did not care what form the delivery truck was,  but what truly mattered was the content….

           Hill from Gizmodo   just did a “Triangulation”   netcast on the TWiT network.     You can hear it at    goto shows and find the latest Triangulation…

                Keep up the good work…..     Cheers   Jay, ColoRadio

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Radio” is the transmission of content via broadcasting it. The term broadcast actually comes from agriculture and the method of broadcasting seeds or fertilizer during planting. Since radio was a one to many delivery system, it seemed like a good term to describe this new form of communication.

      Today, we have the ability to broadcast content and at the same time respond to that content and share it with others.

      The same device that we receive content on can also originate it (our smartphones).

      We don’t live in a static world, but one that is constantly changing.

      Thanks for the Rollye James note and I will look fore the Gizmodo item on triangulation.


  8. Always look forward to your weekly insights, Dick. Today’s post is especially timely for me for a number of reasons. Your observation about most radio research dollars going to audience measurement, reminds me of the relative absence of investment into audience engagement via relevant local content: news, community buzz, and the commercials we write and produce to connect our advertisers with our listeners. Jerry Lee, well known throughout his long and successful career in Philadelphia for his unstinting investments in research and accurate, relevant, actionable data, has been beating the drum on the importance of the latter, demonstrating the measurable lift in R.O.I. when the principles and techniques for creating engaging radio commercials are applied. But how many owners and managers, when confronted with this research, are responding by making the needed investment (of time and effort more than money) at their own stations?

    Jerry and you and I, and many of your readers are great fans of the Wizard of Ads®, Roy H. Williams. One of his partners, Craig Arthur in Australia, sends out an occasional newsletter. Earlier this week, he observed:

    “As a teen, you want to fit in, not stand out. So you do all you can to become part of the flock. You apply survival strategy 101.

    Then you start a business.

    And what strategy do you use to grow that business?

    The one that comes easiest, Survival Strategy 101.

    So, you study what others are doing in your category and do the same.

    Sound the same in your ads.
    Say the same things.
    Look the same.
    Hire the same.
    Pay your staff the same.
    Price the same.
    Discount the same.
    Follow the same trends.
    Attend the same training.
    Use the same tactics.
    Stay open the same hours.
    Offer the same guarantees.
    Post the same on Facebook and Instagram.
    You become an expert in being the same.

    An excellent strategy for sheep and teenagers but not for growing your business.

    Being the same in business is a slippery slope to oblivion.

    You need to be the business customers think of first and feel the best about.

    What you need is a strategy to help you stand out and THRIVE, not just survive.”

    That’s what we need, a strategy to stand out and THRIVE, not just survive. That strategy must embrace a fierce commitment to excellence in providing the content *only we* can provide. To quote IBM’s Thomas Watson, “If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work.”

    As of this second…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Mark Carbonaro

    Radio distinguishes itself with programming that is live and local. It’s pretty simple – the more engaged you are with your local community, the boyour station will do. But it cost money to be live and local and many group owned stations don’t have the budget to be local. They’re hurting themselves and the industry. But if it doesn’t change, radio will end up as dead as print.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Once upon a time, broadcasters had to show they were financially viable to own a radio station. Unfortunately, today the game is about owning as many signals as you can and not about providing the best quality content you can.

      Jerry Lee proved you could own a single station and by investing in the product, dominate a radio market.

      Mark, you make an excellent observation.


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