My wife and I recently visited Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, also known as “Christmas City, USA.” It has a magical Main Street filled with Christmas lights, old fashioned street lamps, and unique merchants with stores that are fun to go into.
When we check into a hotel while traveling, the first thing I do is put all of our devices on the establishment’s Wi-Fi. It’s become the most important feature in our room, followed by a flat screen TV. However, fifty years ago, it was having a radio in your room.
Historic Hotel Bethlehem
In 2021, the Hotel Bethlehem was “Voted #1 Best Historic Hotel in America” by USA Today. The hotel features 125 guest rooms and suites all connected with fiber optic Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi is so robust, that I was able to still be connected to it as I walked Main Street.
Before Wi-Fi, It Was Radio
The hotel opened in 1922, two years after the birth of commercial radio in America. It was constructed in the midst of what would become known as “The Roaring Twenties.” It’s opulent lobby, with eight Corinthian Columns capped with gold leaf hid the I-Beams forged in the nearby factories of Bethlehem steel.
By 1953, the hotel was proud to embrace the communications revolution in America by placing a brand new alarm clock radio in every room.
Now seventy years later, connectivity to the world means having fiber optic Wi-Fi.
My Grandkid’s Audio Habits
In 2020, all of our travel plans were disrupted by the global novel coronavirus pandemic. This year, having been “fully vaccinated,” we journeyed to visit all twenty-three of our children and grandchildren in six different states, spread out from coast-to-coast.
Our youngest grandchild is eight months and our oldest is eighteen years, but one thing I couldn’t help noticing was how our grandchildren access the music they want to hear. In each case, they asked for it via the smart speaker system in their home.
Just the other day, I was visiting my six year old granddaughter in Virginia, who wanted to show me how clean her room was. (Clean, being in the eyes of the room’s owner, parents and grandparents might beg to differ.) As we were sitting on the floor talking, a song came on that wasn’t something my granddaughter wanted to hear, and she said “Hey Google, stop” and she continued to tell me about her day.
One of our granddaughters is named Alexis and her mother told me that they had to change their smart speaker from “Alexa” to “Echo,” because the smart speaker couldn’t discern the difference between the two names.
Two of our other granddaughters out west took turns in asking Alexa to play their favorite songs via their Sonos home speaker system.
Only our eighteen year old high school graduate seemed to play a radio, but that was only in her car, when driving her mom’s car, she played her mom’s SiriusXM radio.
Parents & Grandparents
That last observation is poignant, because a lot of today’s parents and grandparents are opting for a SiriusXM subscription, or, playing Pandora or Spotify off of their smartphone that seamlessly connects to their car’s audio system. Both my wife and I have such a connection to our iPhones in our 2006 Subaru and 2009 Honda. It has allowed us to take the music we enjoy streamed in our home with us when we’re on the road.
Radio celebrated its 100th Birthday in 2020, and at that time I read an article entitled, “Commercial Radio is 100 Years Old. Can It Survive?” The article featured the thoughts of four industry veterans weighing in on how they’d “fix” a “medium that remains popular, but lacks innovation.”
The article’s author cited Statista’s research which found 57% of Americans listen to audio online, pondering if radio might last another ten years, let alone another hundred.
The veterans basically focused on the fact that radio was portable, free and local; and that its success is driven and made possible by its personalities.
Portable, Free & Local
My smartphone is portable and allows me to tune into the world for music, entertainment and information.
When it comes to something being “free, “ we have to define what is the cost of our time to sit through a long stop-set of commercials for things we don’t want or may need, versus owning an unlimited data plan from our cellphone provider.
Time is money, what is your time worth?
And lastly, when it comes to local, in today’s short-attention-span world…
Relevant is the new local.
When the supply chain was disrupted by the global pandemic, cargo ships sitting outside the Port of Los Angeles became a local story for every community.
In today’s connected world, relevant content rules.
For radio to have a place in people’s lives going forward, it will need to develop strong personalities that deliver relevant content to the audience it wants to serve.
Radio stations that focus on the medium’s strengths, will have advertisers lining up at their door.