What’s NOT Going to Change About Radio?

It’s human nature to wonder about how our world will change and most times, what we think will change or maybe what we worry might change, doesn’t.

So, why do we do this?

Most likely because we all want to know what the future will bring and this is why fortune tellers are still in business or why we watch The Weather Channel. It’s definitely not because they always get it right.

What’s Going to Change in 10 Years?

I just finished listening to Bob Pittman, CEO of iHeart, on the Borrell Local Marketing Trends podcast on how radio will change in the years ahead. Gordon Borrell and Corey Elliot wanted to know “how radio will remain unique over the next 10 years, whether its dependence on advertising revenue might need to change, and whether we should be calling it ‘radio’ at all.”

What was his answer? Well you can listen to the podcast HERE, if you really want to know. But I can save 23-minutes and 15-seconds of your time by telling you it doesn’t matter what he said, because he’s probably wrong, and that’s OK, because no one will remember what he said a month from now.

What’s NOT Going to Change in 10 Years?

I remember reading that Jeff Bezos said people constantly asked him the “change in 10 years question,” and he said the question they should be asked is “what won’t change in 10 years.” Both Bezos and the brilliant investor, Warren Buffett, believe this is a very important question you should be asking yourself about your business or industry.

“When you have something you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it,” says Bezos.

Radio Personalities

Over the Labor Day holiday weekend, Rewound Radio presented the sound of classic Chicago Top 40 radio with air checks of WCFL (Super CFL) and WLS (The Big 89 – The Rock of Chicago).

When I was growing up both of these radio stations greatly influenced me and were responsible for creating the desire to make radio my lifelong career.

Listeners to this special Labor Day Weekend presentation on Rewound Radio said they loved hearing their favorite radio personalities once again.

The program was not broadcast over any AM or FM radio signal, but was only streamed on the internet to a worldwide audience.

In fact, this past July 2022, more people watched their favorite programs by streaming them versus a cable TV subscription. Streaming, says Nielsen, is now “the most popular way to consume content.”

The one thing that Bob Pittman did share in his Borrell interview worth noting, was that in focus groups people didn’t call our medium, “radio.” They called what they listened to by the station’s brand, as much as we don’t refer to our mode of transportation as a “car”, but as a Ford, Chevy, Honda etc.

So, having a unique brand for your radio station is very important. The one unique brand every radio station in America has are its FCC call letters, like WCFL or WLS.

Dan Mason

Dan Mason was recently inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame 2022. Dan said he grew up in Louisville, Kentucky listening to Cawood Ledford, the voice of the University of Kentucky sports for decades. It was Cawood that created the desire in Mason to be on the radio and he never pictured himself in the executive suite. But Dan Mason would rise to the president and CEO of CBS Radio, which he retired from at the age of 64.

Upon retiring that position, Mason quickly return to his first love, that of being on the radio and broadcasting sports play-by-play.

Dan Mason believes that great radio depends on two things: 1) community & companionship for the listener, and 2) having integrity.

For the listener, both of these are created, and earned, by the radio station’s air personalities.

And that’s something that’s never going to change.

4 Comments

Filed under Education, Mentor, Radio

4 responses to “What’s NOT Going to Change About Radio?

  1. Change has always been an extremely slow moving vehicle within the radio industry. To put this in a historical context, I worked directly with David Saperstein in the early years of Metro Traffic Control when we’d be told in no uncertain terms by owners and GMs “If my music audience wants traffic reports they’ll go to the news talk station and come back to us after.” It took six years to convince radio that traffic reports were the only element it could put on its airwaves that that the audience would immediately respond to.

    As part of management at the nation 4th Sports Talk radio station I cannot emphasize the times we were laughed at – with a “how are you going to make a radio station revolving around sports work?” That was the last major format change made – circa: 1987.) I’m still waiting for something to change in how commercials are constructed – not the high number of, but the way they are presented.

    As for crossing the bridge of trying to convince the industry that digital was something it should get involved with, from the years I tried between 1998- 2010, when going into a meeting I would decide how to discuss this topic based on three criteria: 1) was there a computer in the room; 2) was it close to the desk; 3) was it turned on.

    There is one moment that everyone needs to be aware of though. It’s relative to Bob Pittman and how radio trade publications gave false impressions of movement in digital for radio. Trades found it nearly impossible to question the veracity of any statement saying less than “radio was evolving in digital.” The results when a person did was them being ostracized – Mormons call it shunning. In 2013, Larry Rosin, President of Edison Research, said the truth out-loud for the first time and, surprise, it got published: “It’s not that long ago, when there was a code of Omertà in the radio industry, where if you point out a problem, you are the problem.”

    But I write today to point out another quote, made by Bob Pittman in 2011: “…broadcasters shouldn’t become too hung up on digital revenue.”

    People do not remember statements and, if anyone takes the opportunity to bring statements to light they find the industry’s news sources as the first to remove them from the category of being an expert.

    This won’t change due to executives not wanting to go through a learning process, or spend money to bring experts in from outside the industry to lead a digital charge. How many times were programmers made head of digital programming? (I remember on incident in New York City where iHeartMedia promoted one programmer with no experience in the field to this position, for the city’s entire group of stations – circa: approx. 2009.)

    Nobody in radio today will ever hear the truth about how hard this industry fights to remain the same. It won’t be reported and, if it is, the person reporting it will soon find themselves’ looking for work in another field.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Walter Luffman

    I spent an hour yesterday listening to a “history broadcast” of 77WABC/New York. Throughout its history and whether doing music or talk, WABC was unique because it did things right: top-notch personalities, a strong local connection (difficult over such a huge metro area), and a constant insistence on quality in its product. Growing up, while my location in Tennessee made WLS/Chicago “my” nighttime station, even I knew WABC was The Best and wished I could catch it on my transistor radio.

    There are still a few stations I would consider great, and more that I think are very good. Most of these are independently owned or parts of smaller chains that permit a degree of autonomy. Too many of the rest seem to sacrifice quality for consistency throughout their ownership groups. “McDonald’s radio” is consistent, but it’s seldom great. Too few stations have kept the Good Parts that made them legends we fondly remember.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mike Buxser

    As the radio industry continues to go thru more cutbacks or should I say the annual cutbacks, have you noticed who is being let go in this round? The corporations continue to ignore the research that clearly shows what makes radio stand out is relatable and friendly personalities. But in this round the main victims appear to be programming and operational people with 20, 25 and more years of experience. Radio lifers. This is very concerning. Cutting out the most experienced is obviously being done because they earn the most. What’s next?

    I’m convinced that the large corporations want nothing more than 20 unit stop sets, personality free or boring voice tracks, and radio stations that run unattended because they simply don’t care. They are more concerned in meeting quarterly financial goals with no long term plan or vision for the future. Sales people are trying to sell multi stations, web sites and digital. The proposals I’m seeing on the retail side include a little of everything they offer. Let’s throw it at the wall and see what sticks.

    The best radio I’m hearing today is being done by smaller companies who still have a strong bond with their communities. They are truly serving their listeners and advertisers. Unfortunately these operations are few and none get the publicity that the big guys get.

    I’m very concerned about the future of this industry that I love.

    Liked by 2 people

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