This past week, a post from Bridge Ratings President, Dave Van Dyke, has stuck with me as I’ve read all the various news articles about trying to “Save AM Radio.” What the radio industry seems to be missing, the problem is more than AM, it’s about broadcast radio in general.
Houston, We Have a Problem
Apollo 13 had just experienced an explosion and astronaut Jim Lovell called mission control in Houston to report the problem. I think that’s exactly what Dave Van Dyke was doing when he wrote:
“With so much competition for ears over the last 22 years, radio has felt the brunt of all that new tech resulting in severe passion erosion for media that once had the playing field all to itself. Radio’s saving grace are aging boomers unless somehow, radio reinvents itself.”
And with those comments, Dave posted this chart:
At the beginning of every new year, Las Vegas is the focus for what’s coming with the Consumer Electronics Show, known simply as CES.
Fred Jacobs shared his visit to the DTS AUTOSTAGE booth and when he asked the booth’s presenter to demonstrate the radio, the person said, “you mean satellite radio?” And then, still confused by the question, started naming different streaming services.
For me, that snippet was both, very telling, and at the same time, sad.
Maybe It’s Time to Give Away Radios, Again
Back when AM radio ruled the airwaves, Jerry Lee was trying to build an audience to his Philadelphia FM radio station, he began giving away high quality FM only radios that were tuned to WEAZ 101.1 FM.
Working in Iowa, I remember KZIA 102.9 FM was one of the first stations to begin digitally broadcasting and promoting their new service by giving away HD Radios that could pick up the broadcasts.
Last week, Maynard Meyer, owner/operator of KLQP 92.1 FM in Madison, Minnesota wrote in the comments section of this blog:
“Perhaps if radio stations made actual radios available, people would know what they were! We sell them in the lobby at the radio station and we can’t get them in fast enough. The last time I got a half-dozen in, I posted it on our Facebook page…sold them all and had 28 more people asking for one. I sell basic little pocket size AM/FM/Weather band portables about the size of a pack of cigarettes for $20. Believe it or not, there is a demand for a basic radio receiver but they’re rarely available in local stores (one local hardware store actually has a couple on the shelf at all times. Newspapers sell subscriptions, radio stations should sell radios! Come on people, think outside the box! When you need prizes to give away…get some radios! When people come in looking for prize donations…give them radios! Ask your local stores to stock a couple of radios. If people don’t know what radios are…it’s radio’s own damn fault!”
What is radio?
Radio is sound communication by radio waves,
usually through the transmission of music, news,
and other types of programs
from single broadcast stations
to multitudes of individual listeners
equipped with radio receivers.
17 responses to “Radio Has a Passion Problem”
Great article; with all of the sources of content out there as you mentioned, radio is not top of mind anymore, except those of us who made a career out of it.
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Joel, you are quite correct. However, there’s really no reason it couldn’t be “top of mind,” — IF — radio once again created FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).
Disagree about giving radios away. I used to work in radio and the 1994 Telecommunications Deregulation Act did enormous damage to the industry so that owners and investors could myopically chase short-term profits whatever the public benefit costs. I think now, the problem is a lack of diversity in voices. When all you have are Clear Channel (Iheartradio), Susquehanna, and just a smattering of other players, the problem is one of content. There’s a concentration of music, a concentration of what news stories are important, and a concentration of political positions. We should never have deregulated and allowed 1 or 2 companies to own all or most of the radio stations in a metro market. Conversely, I think this means we should break up those stations to again allow a diverse, and interesting radio market which then might well get the upswell of passion you’re looking for. Giving away radios strikes me as a gimmick that really doesn’t solve the problem. To be passionate about radio means to be passionate about what is happening ON radio. Right now, there’s a monotonous mediocrity on the air as everyone dumbs down their content so as to chase an ever-dwindling number of listeners. Without good content creators making good content and being compensated for it, nothing is going to change. My current hope is for the industry to become so bland and banal that a frequency will finally become affordable enough so that the little guy can buy a frequency and start making sure good content is available again.
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Zander, the problem of media ownership goes beyond just radio ownership.
In modern America, it feels like you have an unlimited variety of entertainment and media options right at your fingertips.
Television, film, and video game companies seem to come out of the woodwork in today’s startup-centric economy. Who knows what they’ll do next? But while it may seem like you have limitless options, most of the media you consume is owned by one of six companies.
These six media companies are known as The Big 6. This blog does a pretty good job of showing just how consolidated all of our media has become. https://www.webfx.com/blog/internet/the-6-companies-that-own-almost-all-media-infographic/
I seriously doubt that things will reverse, but never say never, right?
Bob Crane at CC Crane has been selling quality radios for many years, including AM combinations with other bands.
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Yes, I know and for Christmas this year, a good radio buddy of mine gifted me with a C Crane Internet Radio. It works GREAT!
Once again I agree vehemently with Dick Taylor and really appreciate the assembly of supporting evidence. Membership organizations like NAB and NPR could and should be helping sponsor and organize receiver availability. We only have s few of the firefly radios we made left but even at a tiny lpfm efforts can be made that capture audience attention and appreciation. See https://whcp.org/firefly/ just for info (we do not want to sell any except to local listeners).
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Thank You Mike. Sounds like your LPFM is ahead of the curve.
I own a pre-tuned Power 99 (WUSL) 2 x 2″ shirt pocket radio that uses a car-key battery and the listener provides their own headphones. They handed them out at remotes. probably cost them $5. A tube WFPG 96.9 & WFLN 95.7 Sarkes-Tanzian pretuned table set with call badging. As well as that EZ-101 beast, so well built, it has bass/treble & terminals on the rear to power external speakers in a retail situation. ( and 2 CCranes)
Wonderful idea! ‘Way back when, radio manufacturers and retailers actually started radio stations in order to create a demand for the products they sold. Maybe it’s time to flip that idea on its head and have stations sell radios! Put small stores in studio facilities, but also work with local retailers to get them on store shelves. I suggest including weather bands on all but the cheapest models, maybe even HD and/or shortwave on more expensive units.
I emailed Maynard Meyer, owner/operator of KLQP 92.1 FM in Madison, Minnesota about his $20 radios which he says usually costs him about $15. He said “Although I’ve sold a variety of models, the most popular is a nice little Retekess PR-15 AM/FM/NOAA Weatherband radio which
fits in a shirt pocket or purse. It is surprising selective and sensitive and well built for an inexpensive radio.” These are currently selling at Amazon for $14.99.
I just looked on the Best Buy website. According to that, they have all types of portable radios available – IF you order it today for pickup next Saturday. So they’re not even in the stores! The only one that was readily available in my area was their in house brand, and it doesn’t have AM.
So now that we start selling radios, what does the person who just bought one listen to? Old, tired political talk? The same 300 hits in a row for the next 6 weeks because – God forbid – we play a song that didn’t make it very high on the charts but is a good song but it “doesn’t test well”? 35 minutes of spots an hour? An inferior quality because many stations haven’t replaced their transmitter – or any other piece of gear – in 20 years when we’re going up against digital services?
Radio has a bigger problem than radios not being available. It’s our content. Which generally sucks. Give people something to listen to and they will. Give meaningful prizes away. Engage the local community with programming aimed at them – not something from the bird. Play songs people haven’t heard in a long time. Get on air personalities – yes, I said personalities – who are personable and make people tune in because they don’t know what will be said next. I’m not talking shock jocks – I’m talking fun, silly, personable people that throw one liners between songs and can make you laugh going into a break. Just like the Top 40 days. Give local news and information, not rehashed trash from last week from another locale. We start giving people a reason to listen, they will. We keep doing what we’re doing, and we’re dooming ourselves. Radio keeps shooting itself in the foot. We need to learn to point that firearm higher.
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I’m 100% on the same page as you Tom.
Thank You for all you wrote.
No offense to anyone…Appreciative of the attitude and content, but every radio station that streams is already available in the palm of everyone’s hand. Yes, a slice of Americana will be intrigued by a radio receiver as much as us old codgers are…as much as the guys sitting in the corner of the Starbucks a few years ago when they rediscovered portable type writers. One of the few things the big box radio peeps got right (sort of) is the attitude of “we want to be available on all devices everywhere there is potential audience”. Don’t try to MAKE them do anything to hear you that they aren’t already doing. Do we honestly think Walmart stopped selling boom boxes because they actually sold some? Or was it because they didn’t sell them? I’m not sure we’re going to reinvent or reenergize by thinking people will carry around a radio “the size of a pack of cigarettes that will fit in a shirt pocket or purse”. It sounds like the ads for transistor radios in the 1960’s when people smoked, had shirt pockets and purses. The only thing missing are the single earphones on the little white wires. Content, a dash of local (not necessarily live but could be) oh and more content and fewer commercials/app promos…would be a start. Along with figuring out how to get someone under the age of 30 interested in the medium. All of us that typically comment in these forums are near, at or (way) beyond retirement age…there needs to be generations beyond that have skin in the game…which may also be another nail in the coffin. Nothing wrong by the way with giving away radios. But I suspect they will go to the same place the 10,000 radio T-shirt’s I’ve given away in 30 years have gone. Actually I don’t know where they went cause I’ve always joked, I never see any.
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Frank, all excellent points.
Thank You for stopping by the blog and sharing your thoughts on this subject.
66 WNNNNNNBC in New York was one of the first AM Stereo stations in the nation (nevermind AM Stereo would flop big time).
When I was on the air there in 1983, that Christmas we gave away two things on the air; the highly coveted Cabbage Patch Dolls and (wait for it……) SONY AM Stereo radios, ‘So YOU can listen to US in AM Stereo’. I still have mine (the radio, that is!).
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Those were the days Lee.
Thanks for sharing that memory.