What is Radio’s WHY Today?

One of my favorite authors is Simon Sinek. In his 2009 book “Start With Why” he wrote that “any organization can explain what it does; some can explain how they do it; but very few can clearly articulate why” they do what they do.

Sinek found that all inspiring leaders and companies “think, act and communicate exactly alike.”

“They can be found in both the public and private sectors. They all have a disproportionate amount if influence in their industries. They have the most loyal customers and the most loyal employees. They tend to be more profitable than others in their industry. They are more innovative, and most importantly, they are able to sustain all these things over the long term. Many of them change industries. Some of them even change the world.”

And they think, act and communicate completely opposite of everyone else.

Has Radio Lost Its Why?

When commercial radio was born in the 1920s, radio’s why was thought to be a technology that could provide nationwide communications that would be a unifier for cultural and social systems. Radio’s regulatory guiding principle was to “operate in the public interest, convenience and/or necessity.”

When people were still trying to wrap their minds around what exactly radio would be, there was one common reoccurring theme about what radio broadcasting could do, and that was to unify a nation and create an American identity.

It could accomplish this in several areas:

  • Physical Unity: the ability to unite America from coast-to-coast, border to border, with instantaneous wireless communication.
  • Cultural Unity: through entertainment, news and the spoken word (English); radio could create a kind of national homogeneity.
  • Institutional Unity: corporations and the federal government would come together on a mandate that this new powerful form of communications needed centralized control.
  • Economic Unity: through advertising, radio could now offer national, regional and local opportunities for businesses to expose their products and services and grow our nation’s economy.

Radio vs. The Internet

Just about every business has found its original business model challenged by a population connected to the internet. Think about the original radio why areas and you can easily see how each of them has been overtaken, embellished – and depending on your point of view – improved upon by the world wide web.

The internet, it turns out, is a better innovation for addressing those original foundational tenets of radio’s purpose than radio itself. So now what?

Radio first needs to know its “WHY.” Then it needs to communicate it, clearly and simply or suffer the consequences.  Bud Walters of The Cromwell Group 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.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

-Simon Sinek

Tommy Kramer’s Two Questions

To help you get started on defining radio’s WHY for the 21st Century, I’d like to share two questions that GOODRATINGS Strategic Services consultant Tommy Kramer recently asked his readers:

  1. What do you have that I can’t get everywhere else?
  2. What do you have that I can’t get ANYWHERE else?

Tommy says that coming up with the answers to these two questions will decide your future.

I would add that working through these two questions might just uncover your new WHY for the radio industry in the 21st Century.

Simon Sinek says “When you compete against everyone else, no one wants to help you, but when you compete against yourself, everyone wants to help you.” When you develop your WHY you do what you do, it will give you the strength to keep going and a desire to keep improving with each passing day.

My Question for YOU

What do you think radio’s WHY should be in today’s world?

Please post your thoughts in the comments section on today’s blog. If we can get enough people to think about our industry’s WHY, the what and how of doing it will naturally fall into place.

If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

-Henry Ford


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio

15 responses to “What is Radio’s WHY Today?

  1. Bob Harlan

    Today, we can provide entertainment already available “everywhere.” But to be a radio source that provides content that is truly appreciated, you have to be well-connected with your community. And, your content depends partially upon what you can do better than other mediums, and filling “opportunity gaps.” You know, this sounds very much about how you run any successful business! But, the cherry on top is broadcasting, is the ability to truly connect with the listener. Make yourself a station they truly miss if they skip a day! Make your station a “person” they’d love to invite to dinner!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Jon Levin

    Localization. The internet can not appeal to the listener like a locally involved radio station can. Someone jocking a music format in Phoenix can’t relate to what the listener in Naples, FL needs to know. Sure, I may enjoy the music he or she is playing, but what about local issues that directly have an effect on my life? A contentious school board subject, or even no brainer issues like weather related precautions?


    Localization is something that entities like iHeart can’t focus on as well as the mom and pop station. But the problem there now is that our economy and the direction the business has taken makes it not impossible, but very difficult for radio to retake it’s original mission and societal obligations.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. In 1962 when I started in it, Radio was 40yr into its century of existence. The end of its Golden Age was signaled later that year by end of the network show Amos & Andy. But in that first 40yr, Radia had indeed unified the country. It’s taken television only the last decade to dis-unify it.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Walter Luffman

    Like others here, I believe broadcasting’s big (potential) advantage is localization. The real estate business touts “Location, location, location!”; we need to focus on “Local, local, local!” Locally-owned stations have a potential leg-up here, but chain-operated station with bigger budgets and shared resources can win if they simply return a substantial portion of station control to local managers and program directors.

    Know your market. Cultivate your news/information sources. Get involved with local events. Get your audience involved with the station, and vice-versa contests and “fun events, food drives, fundraisers, everything you can think of. Become a part of the community that people expect to see and hear everywhere.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. It’s real simple but the answer to all of radio’s “questions” is: Live and local. Period.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “WHY” is the perfect reason for the return of personality-driven radio (and yes, I mean music formats, not just talk radio). Most jocks today do nothing more than read liner cards that promote something the stations doing – which is essentially just a commercial for the station – without really giving people a reason to listen to them. The best compliment I ever got when I was doing an on-air shift was from my mid-day guy who said, “I listen to you every day because if I don’t, I’m afraid I might miss something really interesting.”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Maynard Meyer

    Someone once told me they tune in during storms
    because they find my voice to be comforting during a
    stressful event. I think that’s our real strong point.
    The internet is cold and impersonal and sure there’s a lot of
    information there…but listeners look to us to sort it out
    and interpret it for them. We are a local friend, presenting
    information they need in a manner they feel comfortable
    with. As long as we continue to be a friend we’ll have listeners.

    Liked by 1 person

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