Is Radio Being Disrupted or Simply Lacking the Human Factor

slide ruleI was a physics major in college. The slide rule was a necessary piece of equipment when I was going to school. Hewlett-Packard then came along and replaced it with a line of scientific pocket calculators.

When I began my radio sales career, I adopted the DayTimer written system for keeping track of my schedule and appointments. Then Palm came along and I replaced it with their Palm Pilot Digital Assistant.

When I became a general manager, I wore a pager. That soon was replaced by a Motorola flip phone.

Then Research In Motion (RIM) came along with the Blackberry and suddenly my flip phone and Palm were replaced by a single device.

I loved the size of my Blackberry Pearl smartphone and it wasn’t until I realized that the iPhone4S was the same size as the Pearl and more versatile that I switched to my first iPhone. I also saw Blackberry phones were clinging to life and wanted to adopt an ecosystem that would be around as long as I would be.

Today, I’m fully immersed in the Apple ecosystem and could not imagine what would ever get me to leave it.

Disruptive Innovation

I thought for years that these disruptive changes were due to mechanical innovation. But was that the core reason? Could it be something else?

In 1943, Thomas J. Watson of IBM is credited with saying, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” And Ken Olson of Digital Equipment Company (DEC) while acknowledging the growth of people using personal computers, said he couldn’t understand why.

The Human Factor

How important is the Human Factor in the future of a company, or even an industry?

October 6, 1997: Michael Dell makes an infamously bleak appraisal of Apple’s fortunes. Asked what he would do with Apple, the founder of Dell Inc. says he would “shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.”

Where do you think Apple would be today if Michael Dell had been put in charge? What did Steve Jobs, who had just returned to lead Apple say to Dell’s assessment? “We’re coming after you buddy!”

Jobs gave Apple a vision, backed it up with management fortitude and people with the technical skills to make the Apple vision a reality. It was those human factors that carried Apple to become one of the most valuable companies in the world.

Apple’s market value (at the time I was writing this article) was $948M and Dell’s was $27M.

Radio’s Human Factor

Which brings me around to the industry I loved for over 50-years, RADIO. The aspect of radio that first captured my attention was the radio personality. These were the people who built the relationship with the listener.

Then there was the dedicated radio programmer who created the stationality, the promotions and like a good sports coach, kept the radio stars playing together as a winning team.

While it appears, too much of the radio industry is focused these days on mechanical things, blaming it for disruptive innovation, maybe the real culprit is radio’s loss of the “Human Factor.”

“Absolutely everything begins with imagination.”

-George Johns

Howard Stern was never really replaced when he left OTA radio for Satellite Radio. Howard Stern, like him or not, has a vivid imagination. For his listeners, he creates a style of radio that they have to hear.

My favorite part of the Stern movie, “Private Parts,” is dialog between the audience researcher and Stern’s WNBC program director Kevin Metheny, aka Pig Vomit.

RESEARCHER: The average radio listener listens for eighteen minutes. The average Howard Stern fan listens for – are you ready for this? – an hour and twenty minutes.

PIG VOMIT: How can that be?

RESEARCHER: Answer most commonly given? “I want to see what he’ll say next.”

PIG VOMIT: Okay, fine. But what about the people who hate Stern?

RESEARCHER: Good point. The average Stern hater listens for two and a half hours a day.

PIG VOMIT: But… if they hate him, why do they listen?

RESEARCHER: Most common answer? “I want to see what he’ll say next.”

Does anyone want to listen to your radio station to hear what comes next?

“Radio only needs to move @ the speed of life.”

-George Johns



Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

24 responses to “Is Radio Being Disrupted or Simply Lacking the Human Factor

  1. Jeremy Lansman

    Most important to me was Jean Shepherd. I felt, when I was a teenager they he was my only friend. When Shep talked into the microphone, it felt as though he was speaking directly to me. In Shep’s early WOR years, that’s what he did. Spoke to me. Everyone else was watching TV. Shep and I were alone in the room, a room as big as eastern America.

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. Another factor that’s pissing off teens from radio is the commercials. There are just way too many these days. I could almost drive to my destination before a song would play on the radio and then at that point I switch to my phone for music or my ipod.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. David Siders

    But is ever to be done about the loss of the human factor? Probably nothing.


  5. George Utley

    When I did my show prep it involved (in addition to the music) a lot of bits and pieces that were in no particular order – and they changed every day. I had more than a few people remark they didn’t know what was coming next but knew it would be good (entertaining).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Last Thursday and Friday was appointment radio for many in the NY Metro area, as 95.5 WPLJ broadcast for their last two days under Cumulus ownership. They’ve been leading up to it for several months, and Thursday was Alumni Day, with many voices from the past heard, while Friday it was the current staff saying good bye. If you read comments on Facebook and elsewhere on the web, you can see how powerful this was for both staff and listeners. For many, they were going to be missing their daily commute companion, their friend who was there with them through the day, or the one who picked them up when they were down. In my humble opinion, it was Radio at its best…really connecting with those listening. People still want radio. They want the voices and the stories, the insight and the jokes, they want the shared experience! It’s got to stop being all about money, and stock prices, and how many commercial minutes you can jam in an hour! I was never prouder of my friends at WPLJ…real radio pros who obviously know how to connect with the listener. Get good people, give them the tools they need, and get out of their way! As Howard Cosell once said, “It’s so simple,,,it’s just Radio for God sake…it’s not a television spectacular!”

    Thanks for listening…now we return you to your regularly scheduled program!


    Liked by 2 people

    • My oldest son was a big WPLJ listener when he was commuting from New Jersey to the city. He won some great prizes from WPLJ too.

      That ended about five years ago when he moved to the West Coast, but the positive memories of WPLJ are still vivid.

      Thanks Frank for being a WPLJ family member and contributing to this discussion.


  7. Jimmy Steal

    Great article! While terrestrial radio is certainly being challenged by DSPs, our greatest challenges unfortunately lie within our own industry..

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Rick Singel

    Unfortunately, Dick, our suggestions and complaints fall on deaf ears. Like writing a letter to a congressman. This is a great column, DT!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Dan Nims

    I worked in radio back when “local live” was standard. It was challenging and a lot of fun. In their quest to carry the heavy debt service of broadcast properties from the feeding frenzy to acquire ‘clusters,’ corporate owners moved from ‘local live’ to automation and syndication. Hey, it was fun while it lasted. Now that I’m a geezer, I reflect on what I enjoyed in younger days. Radio wasn’t a science, it was an art. Too bad how it turned out.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Debra Schilling

    I am back in Western Mass for the summer – I love listening to Bax & O’Brien in the morning on WAQY – it is like catching up with old friends. Then I switch to WAMC out of Albany and listen to Joe Donahue, Ian Pickus and Alan Chartock talk about local politics, books, Medical Monday …. It is definitely the people. So far, on the road, I have not found anyone else who fascinates me in the same way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank You Debra for sharing your experience.

      I’m looking forward to being back in Massachusetts in a couple of weeks. Sue & I will be traveling from the tip of Cape Cod to the Berkshire Hills over a two-week period.


  11. jay Clark

    There are still a couple of us who know how to do this, probably more if one considers the untested. As a former GM you understand the bottom line implications, and that’s the rub. That said, local personality radio can win and it can happen no matter the music or talk format. I’m proud to say that even Sirius understands and works with great personalities. That happens for a reason……. It works. Finding great personalities has never been easy, but doable. Once they are identified, they need space, time, encouragement and guidance. There are people who are working hard toward proving your thoughts. Thanks for putting those thoughts in print.

    Liked by 1 person

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