What Purpose Does Radio Serve in 2022?

I often think about how much radio has changed since I began my career as a professional broadcaster in February 1968, 54 years ago. Local radio at that time told us who was born, who died, whether school was open or closed, what happened at the city council or school board meetings, what was going on in the world, our nation and our community. We depended on our hometown radio station for weather, sports and entertainment.

In 1968 local radio was the way we often learned about events first; it was “magical.”

Radio’s Prime Purpose

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia 6th ed. in 2012 defined radio’s purpose this way:

The prime purpose of radio is to convey information

from one place to another through the intervening media

(i.e., air, space, nonconducting materials)

without wires.

Isn’t that the same thing my iPhone does? It conveys information to me through the same intervening media without wires.

In fact, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued my broadcast license back in ’68, it was called it a “Radio Telephone Third Class Operator Permit (Restricted Radiotelephone Certificate).” This always made me wonder why it was called that, as I studied to earn this permit for the sole purpose of being able to operate a broadcast radio station, not work for a telephone company.


A radiotelephone, it turns out, is a phone that uses radio transmission. Wikipedia defines it this way:

A radiotelephone (or radiophone), abbreviated RT,[1] is a radio communication system for transmission of speech over radio. Radiotelephony means transmission of sound (audio) by radio, in contrast to radiotelegraphy, which is transmission of telegraph signals, or television, transmission of moving pictures and sound. The term may include radio broadcasting systems, which transmit audio one way to listeners, but usually refers to two-way radio systems for bidirectional person-to-person voice communication between separated users, such as CB radio or marine radio. In spite of the name, radiotelephony systems are not necessarily connected to or have anything to do with the telephone network, and in some radio services, including GMRS,[2] interconnection is prohibited.

Today’s smartphones are both radios and televisions – and a whole lot more.

First Source for Breaking News

In 2011, a rare earthquake shook our nation’s capital and then Hurricane Irene added to the area’s misery as she swept up the coast causing fatalities and billions of dollars of destruction. Both of these events disrupted lines of communication for millions of residents in the Washington, DC area.

Larry Thomas, a former Shift Commander for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services who lives in Annapolis, wrote in the Association of Public-Safety Communications newsletter, about the important role radio played in both of these natural disasters. Thomas wrote:

“Public safety authorities know that radio is the single most reliable outlet for information, which is why a battery-operated radio is so important and always part of any preparedness kit recommended by every organization from local agencies to FEMA and the Red Cross.”

Yet, stranded motorists on I-95 during a recent winter storm found their car radios providing none of the needed information they sought.

Those within range of a news station like WTOP, were kept informed, but sadly, those types of radio stations prove to be the exception rather than the rule.

Has Radio’s Purpose Been Appropriated?

When I think of all the things that made radio important in people’s lives, I can’t help but notice that these very attributes are now fulfilled by other sources, and often done better than broadcast radio. Here’s a partial list of what I’m talking about:

  • Weather: The Weather Channel, Accuweather etc.
  • News: NY Times, Washington Post, TV News Apps, other News Apps etc.
  • School Closings: Schools notify students, faculty & staff via text messages, websites etc.
  • Births/Deaths: social media etc.
  • City Council/School Board meetings: watch them online live
  • Road closures or other important information: text messages, websites, emails
  • Sports: the schools broadcast games online
  • Or to put it more simply, everything radio was famous for, today is easily accessible via the internet on a smartphone

I’m not saying these things to be hurtful to the radio industry, but to ask the fundamental question about its future.

What is Radio’s WHY?

Simon Sinek’s book “Start With Why” is a deep dive into why “some people and organizations are more innovative, more influential and more profitable than others.”

Sinek says what all the successful individuals and companies have in common is their starting point. They first clearly must define their WHY.

What I’m not reading in any of the radio trades, in any of the materials from the Radio Advertising Bureau or the National Association of Broadcasters is what is radio’s WHY in the 21st Century. Instead I’m reading about how radio is developing podcasts, streaming, centralizing their news operations around regional hubs, consolidating their radio dayparts around national hosts…and on…and on…and on.

As Sinek says:

“Any organization can explain what it does; some can explain how they do it; but very few can clearly articulate why. WHY is not money or profit – those are always results. WHY does your organization exist? WHY does it do the things it does? “

What does your radio station do, that provides your advertisers and listeners, with a unique experience that has them coming back day after day?

“How do you get there if you don’t know where you are going?”

-Lewis Carroll

The WHY for commercial radio to survive and thrive in a 21st Century world is not the same as when it was born over a hundred years ago, because both radio and the world were different then.

Without a clearly defined and articulated WHY, I fear that radio will continue to be tossed like a rowboat in the stormy sea of mediated communications.


Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio, Sales

37 responses to “What Purpose Does Radio Serve in 2022?

  1. Dick, I think the why at least for non commercial stations is curiosity. Folks open to new ideas, to learning from expert presenters about musical geniuses, who truly appreciate the beauty of thoughtful curation will continue to discover and support those stations. It’s still your lean back companion, succinctly providing local weather and news updates. And lubricating commerce with brief sponsor reminders. Keep it about passion and joy and respect for the audience. It won’t matter whether folks get us via the smartphone or the new smartooth implant, they will still seek and support radio. Be there for them, the opinion makers in iur communities and they will be there for us.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very good question, but not an easy one to answer. Back when we were radio kids, the answer was different for different folks. For some radio was a friend, for others a jukebox, and for still others, a link to their world. Seemed like in the 70s when I started radio was the only answer to a lot of questions. Today, not so much. Finding the answer to your question will be the key to having a successful radio station in today’s very crowded media environment!


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Victor Escalante

    Radio has become the “me too” of all media. Which is the same path newsprint has gone. The web democratized all the monopolies.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. If it wasn’t free, Dick, who would listen? Geo

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s why public radio and Christian broadcasters are worth learning from. People PAY to keep them going. How many would do the same for a commercial radio station?

      Thanks for weighing in Geo.


      • Call me cynical, but I think the listeners to the Christian stations see their donations as “heavenly life insurance” premiums. As for public radio, I think the very fact that they are non-commercial drives a lot of the donations. And, sadly, that makes it so much more difficult for listeners who used to accept the trade-off of “ads in exchange for programming” to do so.

        Maybe we should do what Bill Drake did at KHJ. Limit the amount of advertising, run spots in shorter sets instead of marathons … and then, when you can’t fit more in an hour, raise the rates on the philosophy of demand exceeding supply.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank You K.M. for suggesting radio needs to go on an “advertising diet” and charge a fair price for its services.

        The unfortunate situation is that the radio industry over-radio’d so many markets that was already difficult BEFORE the advent of the internet.

        Now, it may be hard, if not impossible to correct for that reality.


      • Walter Luffman

        I was a public radio donor, once upon a time. I donated to support the few shows such as Car Talk that I enjoyed hearing. At the time I ignored the fact that my money was going to support all NPR programming, including a lot I very much disliked. NPR has only gotten worse in the intervening years; no way I’d give them a dime in donations today.


  5. Bob Harlan

    First of all, we need to determine what people want from traditional radio. Especially people under 55! No one has truly done research that I have seen, that gives a strong direction. Also, in your list of what other sources provide, online weather services are not accurate. The most accurate is still the National Weather Service supplemented by a good area TV station’s meteorologist. Plus, people want the game summary and the school board summary…not spend two hours watching online. People generally don’t like long form’s use of their time. Let’s find out what people really want!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bob, thanks for stopping by the blog and sharing your perspective.

      I’ve had The Weather Channel App on my smartphone for over a decade now. Their hour-by-hour forecast has been pretty accurate. You can also call up their weather radar and see where the weather systems are in relation to your house’s location. It’s incredible the technology we can access on our smartphones these days.

      My older brother watches those local city meetings on TV and records them in case he won’t be home when they take place.

      Me? I prefer the summary rather than the blow-by-blow. That used to be what I did starting out in radio, cover those meetings and then write the recap for airing on the 11pm radio newscast and the next morning’s newscasts.

      You can’t find that on radio in most places these days I’ve lived.


  6. Gregg Cassidy

    Human companion, when not voice tracked.


  7. Radio is no longer a horizontal medium. The audience is now an array of vertical slices. Older people who don’t “get” or have apps or iPhones or even iPods. Younger people who are in their cars and don’t wanna bother to sync up their phones to the auto audio system. Individuals who are curious and want content of personal interest pushed to them, a la NPR or the BBC. Music or information lovers who appreciate a specialty program: our jazz station has a polka show and the longest running computer show anywhere that both have excellent audiences. And while some weather apps ain’t especially accurate, several people have created their versions using NWS weather data and forecasts, so getting that on your phone or computer is not a problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chuck, you should pick up a copy of Ken Dychtwald’s latest book, “What Retirees Want.” You will learn that the stereotypical “old person” is a myth. Today’s elders are the Baby Boom Generation and they’re changing the rules in their 60s & 70s just as they did in the past.

      I don’t know a younger adult that doesn’t know how to sync their smartphone with almost any device, including their car audio system. Most elders I know also can do it too or just bought SiriusXM to hear the type of news/entertainment they seek.

      The Weather Channel App has been on my smartphone for over a decade and is extremely accurate. Their weather radar can show you the active weather system in relation to where your house is located. I can tell whether or not it’s going to go over me or not. The technology today is amazing!

      I do agree that linear media is challenged in an ON Demand world. But, when something is properly curated, it CAN win.


  8. Walter Luffman

    Dick, I think it’s sadly obvious that for most commercial broadcasters today the “why” is “to make money”; any other reason for operation is an unimportant (to owners) byproduct .. or just an excuse for holding a license.

    These days, far too many stations — especially those owned by conglomerates — really contribute less of importance to their communities than the average convenience store. And in some cases, they employ even fewer people than a 24-hour convenience store.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I really appreciate this blog. I personally have asked the “what listeners want”, and it has in turn helped shape the way we do radio. I certainly plan to dig a little deeper since you pose the question.
    Thanks for asking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank You for your positive feedback Amanda.

      Some people think I’m being negative, but I’m really not. I’m trying to be realistic and get people thinking harder about what radio’s. real assets are and how to leverage them to survive and thrive going forward.

      I’m glad you are taking up the challenge.

      Keep us posted.


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  11. Richard S. Freifeld

    I think one purpose of radio today should be a source that you can count on to provide accurate information twenty-four hours a day. At it’s best, it is live (and can be local) with professionals doing the broadcasting. It can be accessed easily with the push of one button in the car on FM, simulcast on AM when FM reception may be difficult in canyon terrains, and available on a streaming platform when the listener is out of town.

    When a station is professionally programmed with excellent formatics, and it is available with reliable consistency, it has great advantages with so many platforms to potentially reach a large audience.

    When a radio station has achieved a highly reputable brand, who would you want to turn to during an emergency such as torrential rains, a large earthquake, or a wildfire? The radio station is the one connected to the fire department, police department, or official government agency. I would think people would trust the radio station over social media.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would agree with all that you said. Unfortunately, there are slim to none who are patient enough and well-heeled enough to build that kind of a radio franchise. I’ve heard it took Westinghouse an investment of 11-years to establish its successful All News format. And that was when it all began on 1010-WINS in NYC in 1965.

      Your thoughts?


  12. Dale Parsons

    Every time someone asks what radio needs to do to become relevant again, I hear the old chestnut, “be live and local”. Everything you listed, Dick, is a live and local function that is now being done better by another platform. Just being live and local isn’t going to make it. We need to discover the compelling reason for people to use their radio. In the 1950s, when the electronic eye of TV put the whammy on radio, that compelling reason became music and news. Now the online platforms can do that better and faster.

    Here’s the scary part concerning radio’s future. You and I have been in the business for about the same number of years. I realized yesterday that we have only one working radio in our house. It’s a palm sized Sony and the battery is dead. Where I live there is little radio coverage, however, when I visit town on the other side of the island on which we live, I find that I tune in streaming choices, rather than radio stations. I find no compelling reason to listen to the radio.

    We have always considered radio to be a useful household appliance, much like a toaster. My compelling reason to pull out the toaster is because I need toast. My compelling reason for pulling out my radio was to be entertained and informed.

    There’s nothing on the horizon that will be replacing my need for toast, but if a better way of delivering that toast comes along, I’ll probably switch to the new appliance.

    People have a compelling need for entertainment and information. In the future, those needs might just be satisfied by a new appliance.

    Hopefully radio won’t be discarded like my toaster will be.

    Ramblings from out here in the Hana Maui jungle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dale, there are so many of us, who grew up with radio and then made radio our careers, but today find our information & entertainment from other sources.

      Thank You for sharing your perspective from our 50th state.


    • Walter Luffman

      Dale, “Be live, be local” is just part of what radio needs. It also has to be *relevant* to the community it serves, and always entertaining. Entertainment brings in listeners when life is normal; relevance to the community is why listeners will turn to your station instead of a competitor. A station that is live and local is in great position to be relevant; but if it’s just playing the hits (or the oldies, or whatever) and isn’t in touch with emergency services and local news sources, it’s not much better than a station that’s 100-percent automated or syndicated.


  13. Walter Luffman

    Will radio as we know it someday go the way of the horse and buggy? Maybe, and I’d even say probably. But that means the industry needs to become something different — radio as we DON’T know it.

    Buggies are pretty much gone from most of America, but today we have automobiles “horseless carriages” where the engines are still rated in something we call “horsepower”. One could say we still have the buggy, just in a form that’s new and, arguably, improved.

    What will the radio industry, if it survives, look like in 10, 20, 30 years? I don’t know, but I hope it’s both different and better. Already we see big changes from the days when I was a young disc jockey. Surely those changes will continue to evolve, into “radio as we don’t know it”.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Walter Luffman

    Ice storm, and now power is out. Alexa devices are dead, of course. My options are streaming apps on my phone and my trusty CC Radio Plus. Naturally, I choose the one that runs on replaceable D cells — I always keep spares. Hooray for OTA radio!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry to hear you lost power Walter.

      Let us know how you think your local radio station is doing with keeping you informed as to what’s happening with the weather, power, etc in your area.


      • Walter Luffman

        I follow three Memphis news/talk stations. Best weather coverage by far was from WKIM, which was the only station with live-local programming during any part of the time I was without power.

        The local power outage wasn’t my greatest concern, because I knew the local power utility was more than up to the challenge; my power was restored within 90 minutes. (It probably helps that I live near police and fire stations!) I wanted much more to know about road conditions and the likelihood of more bad weather, since I had reason to go into the city the next day. WKIM’s “Nation Of Jake” program gave me just what I needed, plus updates on power outages in and around Memphis and road conditions in and around the city. Making things even better IMHO, Jake kept the delivery cheerful and upbeat, easing my concerns. I was amused (and usefully informed) when, instead of announcing school and business closings, he focused on places that were still *open* in an otherwise closed-down Memphis.

        Liked by 1 person

      • How are the Peabody ducks fairing in this winter storm?


    • Interesting that cell service did not go down.

      I keep charging cables in my cars for our iPhones and I have the ability to charge them in the house if the power goes out as well.


      • Walter Luffman

        Dick, I’m certain the ducks are doing well in their rooftop home. Around here, we know about both animal husbandry and the value of insulation — especially for valuable critters like the ducks, or the family dog.

        Liked by 1 person

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  16. Bob Burnham posted on Facebook (February 6, 2022)
    Below are my comments to Dick Taylor’s blog what purpose does RADIO SERVE in 2022?
    Miraculously, I’ve been able to carve a career by evolving myself. I know how to fix and maintain sh*t and I’ve exploited that aspect of what I do.
    Of course we LOVED the stations of the past….CKLW, WKNR, WABX, 89X, WLLZ, the list goes on. There’s often talk about what would happen if a group of us bought an existing signal And what about WJR and it’s glorious past?
    What would happen if someone put a hit radio format on the Great Voice of the Great Lakes plus maintained the full service aspect (music PLUS news & sports) ? My opinion: NOTHING. The infrastructure and talent needed for a format such as that would probably send them into bankruptcy. A few baby boomers might love it — but it’s AM — which is at the end of its life cycle. If it was combined with another FM signal AND an awesome live streaming website (and a massive promotional campaign), it MIGHT have a fighting chance.
    Here are my original comments:
    Everything in the universe, whether business, biology or man-made evolves. It has a beginning and end. Every cell in your body goes through a natural cycle. If that cycle is disrupted, Cancer forms and the end cycle approaches at a faster rate. Society, business and technology have evolved.
    Radio’s “cancer” was deregulation and forced management by bean-counters. That was brought on by that evolution and the need to preserve the investment.
    As humans, we still need to communicate. Radio however, is a reminder of what it once was, but no longer needed in that form . It’s no longer the vibrant medium we once knew. That’s gone and it’s not “coming back.”
    Today, It’s a tool for educational and religious purposes in all but the smallest markets who are slower to keep up with the evolution.


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