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.
10 responses to “Once It Was Radio”
Relevant is the new local. Could not have said it better.
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Thank You Gary.
I’m 70 and celebrate my 50th wedding anniversary next Saturday. We are blessed with 4 children and 10 grandkids and not a single one listens or is remotely interested in radio, whatsoever! I was an owner and in this business for most of my life and still enjoy listening to monaural, scratchy AM radio and I still vigorously promote this business to anyone who will listen, but it seems I’m talking to deaf ears anymore because it truly seems no one does care about radio any longer. It has lost it’s luster to new, flashier technologies. Regarding older listeners, radio has spent way too long chasing after the younguns while forgetting the very people who were their core listeners for years….the baby boomers! No wonder the older generation has gotten away from radio, too, and moved on to other things.
I truly don’t think the future looks bright for this business. As they say …the writing is on the wall and I am so sorry to have to finally admit it. Merry Christmas to one and all.
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Don, thank you for sharing your personal radio history, along with what you are observing in your family when it comes to the use of radio by future generations.
I noted recently that radio listening in the UK far and away exceeds that of the USA. Also, both radio listening in Australia and Canada remains more popular than America.
Sadly, the radio industry has done it to themselves. They took an incredible communications invention and strangled the life out of it.
They assumed nothing would ever change and that without innovation and investment in the core advantage that radio had delivered — it’s talented personalities — that it would always be in demand.
Merry Christmas you & yours Don.
Radio has an insurmountable problem in that it is a serially delivered medium, whereas today’s technology allows instant choice of whatever we want.
While ON DEMAND is certainly important, let’s not forget that radio’s unique strength once upon a time, was providing companionship, information, entertainment, a sense of community and breaking news.
Sadly, breaking news in 2021 often is not most radio stations’ forte.
But, I’m not ready to declare radio’s issues as “insurmountable” just yet.
I love my local radio stations! Interestingly enough, my husband just purchased an Alexa and a Smart Plug from Amazon for essentially shipping cost. We have our radio plugged in and can now had Alexa “switch” our radio on (we have to manually change the station to AM to listen to our local sports casts.) And I find to that our daily local newspapers are sadly going the same way as radio. Even here is Tucson, the daily local has been purchased by a conglomerate … may not be here by next winter.
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Download the TuneIn App for your Alexa and then you can have Alexa play virtually any radio station you want to hear, AM or FM. I have that App on both Alexa and my iPhone and use it all the time.
Those smart plugs are wonderful. I have ALL of our Christmas decorations on smart plugs and on the Christmas Lights group. Sue simply says “Alexa, turn on the Christmas Lights” and all the Christmas Lights around our entire home come on at the same time.
We have five different Christmas villages, our Christmas tree, mantle and fireplace filled with Christmas lights. It’s magical.
I always remember the radios in hotel rooms were the cheap ones that were probably bought at Dollar General. Awful!
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You’re so very right. The radio industry NEVER addressed this problem and just think what a difference it might have made if it had worked to insure that the customer experience when traveling was to hear great sounding radio.
But in my travels today, I find that the AM/FM clock radio is most often replaced with a USB charging station with an digital alarm clock in it.