The response to last week’s blog “What Purpose Does Radio Serve in 2022” was formidable. The question struck a nerve with radio people, and lots of you were quick to share your feelings.
Then Fred Jacobs blogged about the passing of Howard Hessman, famously known as Dr. Johnny Fever, morning DJ on the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, in an article titled
“When Radio Was Cool.” Fred included a link to my blog article which brought in even more comments.
Here’s just some of the comments from readers I received (some edited for length or content):
Dick, I think the why at least for noncommercial 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 smart-tooth implant, they will still seek and support radio. Be there for them, the opinion makers in our communities and they will be there for us.
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!
Radio has become the “me too” of all media. Which is the same path newsprint has gone. The web democratized all the monopolies.
If it wasn’t free, Dick, who would listen?
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. Let’s find out what people really want!
Human companion, when not voice tracked.
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.
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.
Great points Dick! Commercial Broadcasters have to rediscover their WHY. I also agree with Mike Starling’s points of what makes local radio great. There are better jukeboxes out there just like in the 1950’s when television came on the scene. Commercial Radio has to go back to being “The Original Social Medium” in order to stay relevant. It can’t be a jukebox with all the technical drawbacks of terrestrial radio. You can’t be a jukebox with static, fade, power and signal direction changes etc. Live and local with relatable personalities will bring audiences back. Again, terrestrial commercial broadcasters have to find their WHY!
It has no real purpose or relevance any longer. Commercial delivery system and ATM for corporations. It no longer serves listeners or the public
Interesting read, but sadly something I loved so much and enjoyed working in is lost to the almighty dollar and greed without any insight as to what is going on, and no road back.
I started as a DJ in 1956.
For decades I had “the dream” so often reported online by former or current DJ’s where you are behind a console and everything is going wrong. Even after I was in management and 40 years after my last shift. The past 5 years I no longer have that dream. My recurring night sweat is being in a station with an office and being ignored by everyone as I desperately try to find a format or solution or any little thing I can do to be relevant. It’s the obsolete nightmare and it’s worse than “the dream” ever was.
Radio used to have a monopoly on music discovery and breaking news, but it’s still a viable medium: it still frees up eyeballs for other tasks like driving. I still prefer to listen to NPR than any podcast. Newsradio for up to date information. Am also addicted to the many college radio stations where I live, introducing me to mindblowingly excellent music that I’d never find on streaming services or anywhere else. In homes with smartspeakers, it’s a lot easier to tell Alexa to play a radio station with music you like than it is to get Alexa to do a playlist from a streaming service.
I remember listening to something called “Hometown News” on KBOA in Kennett, Missouri when I visited my grandmother in the 1950s and 1960s. You NEVER, EVER disturbed her when “Hometown News” was on because it gave the obituary listings, farm prices, and police reports from the region. Local service at its finest. When I began working at WGNU in 1974, I called the local funeral homes for the obituary listings, as well as the local hospital for the birth announcements…and trooped to the local police departments to gather news to rewrite for our broadcasts, I felt like I’d come full circle from KBOA. Today, I know of only one radio station that does anything like that today…in the nearby town of Alton, Illinois…WBGZ AM-FM. Today most radio is little more than per-inquiry broadcasts for retirement programs, health nostrums and whatever the national (read multi-station owner’s) representative thinks will sell…pardon my rant, but radio DOES NOT serve the same purpose it did in 1968!
When hands and eyes are busy at other things, radio still pleases.
I do listen to all-news and especially NPR in the car – On Cape Cod we still have a cluster that shares news between a couple of their outlets, and they are worth listening to, but radio bean counters and “consultants” along with canned satellite streams are drowning the baby. Baby is blue and turning purple. I remember when we offered a valuable service to listeners. WHDH-AM, WBZ-AM in Boston, WQRC-FM on the Cape. I feel like Willy Loman, now…
Deregulation has greatly hastened the demise of our service.
Service is the key word. HDH and BZ sounded like a service first and a business 2nd when I was young. Deregulation swapped those priorities around.
I have always wondered what we will do if something unthinkable were to happen and there are very few battery or generator powered radios available. Internet down, No TV. Nothing.
Albert J. McGilvray
I live in a town with seven radio stations. Not one has a newscast.
I like the Lewis Carroll quote. I believe ex-Beatle George Harrison updated it with his belief, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
I agree with some of the commentators that people want encapsulated news, not sit through school board meetings, but radio can only do that if it is truly local. Our local station went belly up and merged with another local station so now when it is not airing syndicated content it is a regional station at best, which underserves both of the markets each individual station handled before.
For a station to determine its own “why” would require a complete revamping of FCC regulations regarding ownership and licensing. Stations used to be required to serve “the public good” in order to hold a license, and I admit I don’t know if that language is still in the regs, but it should be. Frankly I highly doubt the government would be able to get the corporate media to give up the power they’ve amassed. Too many legislators are bought by corporate interests.
There may be localities that are still served well by their local media outlets, but they are slowly being absorbed the closer they are to major metropolitan areas. Just like big box stores are doing to retail, the mom & pop radio stations are finding it harder to survive in a shrinking market. The public needs to understand this does not bode well for their ability to be informed and make better choices for their daily lives, but who out there will sound the clarion call?
“. . . in the public interest . . . “
No, radio’s purpose was squandered
It’s a very strange business now. Almost nothing is local…It’s all about feeds from the main office. People mean nothing.
Contrary to Sinek’s quote, I contend that the WHY for most group owners is, indeed, money or profit. These and similar groups wasted no time in closing studios/offices and firing staff as soon as regulations said they no longer had to maintain a presence in their community of license. How does that serve the public interest?
Radio gave up when Wall Street invaded. The operators took the money and told listeners to buzz off
That is indeed unfortunate, but listeners are and have always been the product, not the customer. As you know, it’s the advertisers who pay the bills. However, if stations had no audience, they would have no advertisers. And maybe that’s the ultimate solution: the audience will have to completely defect to non-radio sources for its news and entertainment before radio operators sit up and take notice
The FCC unleveled the playing field by allowing Mega station owners in the same market and the stations stopped serving the Interest of local listeners.
I get the distinct impression many here are wanting to view the world thru a 60s 70s 80s lens.
Bulletin: The entire world has changed.
(And to be fair, a large cohort clearly didn’t read anything past the headline. I know there weren’t pictures, but reading is FUNdamental … unless you just want to be the old man yelling at a cloud …)
WHY didn’t he provide an answer?
Purpose? Radio has major problems, brought on by itself and the change in ways listeners can now receive news and or entertainment. More and more hardly ever, if ever listen to radio. That number grows. Radio is in competition with all platforms of music and news, yet it still acts like it’s the only entity out there for that.
I’ll be honest… The only times I listen to terrestrial radio are when I’m on the air and when I’m in my wife’s car. Other than that, it’s streaming in the house and SXM in the car.
It still wakes me up in the morning and entertains/informs as I prepare for the day in the bathroom. Satellite in the car & on the computer,
Interesting we’re told we need more local content. Oh, but don’t give the scores of last night’s local game; they can get that on their phones. Oh, don’t do school closings on-air, that’s what your website is for. Don’t mention the school board meetings, no one cares. Don’t make the tamest joke about the Mayor; corporate doesn’t want to defend your butt. If you’re simply going to give everything away to the Internet or what’s left of newspapers, maybe quit whining? Yeah, I may play 2 4 minute clusters an hour, but I’ll talk about the local food bank and church free soup Saturday, too. Or, should I just tell people it’s on our website. And, yes, we still carry local games. And make $$ on them, despite several companies trying to push local radio out. When I was a newbie, I told a guy in Radio longer than I was I wanted our station to sound “slick.” He said you can be so slick you can skip right off. What I should have said was “professional.” While doing good content.
Thanks for posting this thoughtful article, Dick.
The radio station I volunteered with in the 1970s when I was in university (Queen’s University Radio in Kingston ON CFRC AM and FM) will be 100 years old this October. I’m involved in the committee to celebrate the centennial, and the relevance of this station in particular in today’s world is something I’ve thought about a lot recently.
I still listen to my local hometown station in the Toronto area (suburban neighbor of Toronto, 100K population) – local news, driving/traffic conditions, community events, music from the 1960s-1990s, local personalities (I rent a vacation cottage from the morning host once a year). I think local ‘small town/city’ radio still has a place.
(Dan Shire) It’s questionable whether the radio station I worked for (WBAA) will celebrate their 100th anniversary on April 4 2022.
John M Stephens
There are two issues here. If you are listening to radio via their WEB stream or via their over-the-air signal, you will hear their commercials. 4+ minutes of commercials is not a long break by today’s standards. Many music stations run over 10-minute breaks (20, :30 spots) and to me that is unlistenable. And frankly, that is what drove me to XM and now independent Internet radio. Now cell phone carriers are inserting spots at the beginning of a connection. But these are very short.
Having worked in radio for 23 years 7 min is the absolute longest break I have ever seen run on any station I worked on. I am sure folks run longer ones but it’s not good radio.
I would love to hear you write a positive article someday rather than article after article that sounds like you have such a sour tone toward the industry that gave you a long career.
I agree. Lotta bitchin’ from old Dick Taylor. Sad what people become.
Negativity sells and you’re in it for the clicks. Which is fine. But at least be honest about it. The sky isn’t falling.
I listen to CKDO, Oshawa. Good local newscasts, community coverage, music I enjoy.
Dick Taylor – all you mention is true. All the things radio did in 1968 are now done by a multitude of websites. But most sites are singular in their mission – radio was the generalist that gave you everything in one place. It was your one-stop for everything you needed entertainment and information wise. But when radio tries to imitate someone’s iPod or Spotify etc., it becomes superfluous and irrelevant
I think it can still serve its traditional function in small towns. But it takes a dynamic owner and staff integrated into the community in every facet.
I spent a while working at KWRE in Warrenton, Missouri. At the time (1991), they even sold high school graduation congrats announcements. Small town is where it’s at!
Indeed, radio’s original purpose has been appropriated by new tech, but radio still does one thing better: It can reach an entire service area during a widescale power outage.
How many mobile network towers would need a generator to continue operating? Phones themselves might only have enough juice for a day or two. A radio station can continue to serve the public with one generator at the transmitter. Portable radios can operate for months on one set of batteries. Until new tech appropriates that, radio is still essential.
In the quake of 1989 here in the Bay Area, KGO was useless because two of their towers were knocked down. KCBS was on the air but what information could they relay? They were able to get some reports in due to two-way radio and some cell service. But what can you really do in a disaster anyway?
I’m older than dirt itself but I listen online all the time. The only time I use the radio is when I’m in my car. That isn’t often.
I live in hurricane country. Hurricane Ida wiped out AT&T service in most of Louisiana. ZERO information available. No streaming anything. Meanwhile. we were up and running on generator power (for 11 days at one site!) giving out information on where to find food. Where to find shelter, fuel, potable water, etc. People were sitting in their cars to charge their phones, enjoy some A/C (August in Louisiana is miserable with no A/C)….and they were all listening to their radio.
It’s over if you have internet
I liked it when you could count on hearing news headlines and a weather forecast every hour. I liked it when the announcer would introduce the record he/she was getting ready to play. I’m so frustrated with much of radio today that I listen to CDs , Pandora or Yes, SPOTIFY.
Many disagree with me because they think radio as we KNEW it is magically going to come back. Guess what…it isn’t! Changing the technical mode of how the carrier is modulated, analog vs. digital isn’t going to be its magical savior either. That was approved and how many stations has it improved??? As I have said over and over, STUPID owners and STUPID management have thumbed their nose at the LOCAL market. They have abandoned their purpose and so the LOCAL market has abandoned them! In their ever present STUPID “do it on the cheap” mentality they have raised the middle finger to those who were their bread and butter. Their answer these days is to blame talent, the internet and demographics. Of course, there are exceptions and maybe a few stations which are still doing a fantastic job in their local markets.
D Peter Maus
Radio’s purpose hasn’t changed. Radio has simply abandoned its purpose. Because it’s too much work.
Dick, again, a truly well written and researched post. I agree with your sentiment and a lot of what you had to say. I also agree with most who posted a comment. I still believe in the grass roots needs and benefits we fulfill on behalf of a listener, but as with anything, we have to evolved, and must continue to. The point is to serve the audience. It’s still the reason licenses are held, in the public interest. So much more to say, but I will go on the air tomorrow and continue to try to meet my listeners needs. Thank you so much!
IMHO, in today’s world, SIRIUS/XM is the thing! For me, at least, the ULTIMATE radio tuner. Nothing will bring back the great glory days of top-forty radio, but the satellite service is the best that it gets in this day and age. SO much to choose from, for every age, gender, ethnicity and taste!
Radio in 2022 serves zero purpose for me and Sirius/XM serves no purpose for me either. Here are the reasons. 1-Any song that I would want to hear, I already have in my computer. 2-I would respond positively to DJs who have quick minds who could do adlib humor. Those DJs are extinct. They were even extinct during the heyday of oldies radio in the 80s and 90s. I will use New York City radio as an example. There was a huge difference between what WABC, WMCA, WINS and WMGM were doing in the 60s to what WCBS-FM was doing in the 90s. Dan Ingram is a good example. He sounded at his best on WABC in the 60s and didn’t sound the same on WCBS-FM in the 90s because their format was too constricted for what he did best. Even in the 90s, WCBS-FM spent very little for jingles where WABC spent $45000.00 per year for jingles every year from 1962-1973. I always found that any program director of an oldies station who said we want to sound like a current radio station who happens to play oldies is just an idiot. Today, in 2022, with music that I think is the worst it’s ever been and three generations of DJs who have no idea how to be entertaining, there’s no reason for me to ever listen to the radio. Now let’s talk about Sirius/XM. 1-They use minimal bandwidth for their music channels and their audio is lousy. 2-I already own the songs that I would want to hear and voice tracking does nothing for me. 3-I have no interest in any kind of talk radio. 4-I have no interest in radio sports play by play because I can see it all on tv or a computer.
Michael Angelo Pileggi
During times of war, radio comes in handy
In all of history, has there ever been an industry that required constant validation as much as radio?
Your article speaks to the problem I face daily when driving. It reminds me of Bruce Springsteen’s hit, “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)”.
I don’t live in a small town, it’s around 250,000 people with 2 AM and 7 FM stations. There are plenty of large towns around me, but there is nothing on. And when there is something on, such as a weather report, it’s often the wrong day or in some situations a generic place filler.
Radio has lost its soul, but I don’t know how you get it back. It’s like a forest burning down, and the only option is to plant new trees. First task is to find those willing to plant trees, then you have to wait until they grow.
Those of us who commented and pleaded with the NAB and FCC hit the nail on the head. Consolidation will stifle competition, which in turn will take radio to the lowest level, or make it moot.
The web offers everything most radio stations have had for over 100 years, and millions of variations on those
choices. But, IMHO: most importantly, and something radio & TV can do zero ever to counter act: the internet is ON DEMAND, 24/7/365, worldwide. To have any chance at financial survival, radio stations need to create not just “compelling content”, but UNIQUE compelling content that can’t be found elsewhere. And, that takes $$$$$ to pay talented people to create. Automating a version of the same old, same old is just an attempt to hang on as long as possible. But, we all know what path that will take: eventual extinction. Just being real.
Brian Pierce Cozadd
I read your “why” essay, as well as a similar “why” post last September. I’m as frustrated coming up with radios “why” now – as I was in September.
My wife & I both had long, nearly 50 year radio careers and after long discussion she says the “why” is local sports. I don’t have a “why” yet. I can out-cume any smaller market station with my phone. When everyone is media – nothing is special. No one loves radio more than me. But, the business model is toast. I’m just glad I’m not an owner. I had significant company stock but sold it all in 2007.
I still enjoy the randomness of selection on what passes for radio today. Even Sirius…I love The Beatles but sometimes I have to go away from The Beatles Channel and get something else. Same for channels like 60s on 6 and 70s on 7…which they’ve moved…too much sameness. I find myself gravitating to Pandora more.
And if you made it this far, just one more well thought-out comment from
This social media nonsense that the big companies have insisted on their talent’s participation has only made things worse. Radio talents are required to be UP UP UP on social media and over the top online to get people’s attention when it seldom if ever translates to ratings. If the talent is annoying on social media, nobody in the world will want to listen to them on the radio, especially when they only talk three to four times an hour, to begin with, in this PPM world. Also, the managers who insist on all of this social media marketing of their brands don’t take into consideration of the mental health toll it can take on the talent who are already struggling for relevance in the media, rating shares, and now the pressure of having to get enough views on TikTok and Instagram. That’s just one more metric in which jocks are measured now. Stations have decided to hire social media experts as air talent, which doesn’t translate to the overall success of the brand when young people don’t listen to the radio, to begin with, and the remaining older listeners find TikTok jocks to be off-putting. When you start to dissect all the wrong turns radio has made over the last twenty years, it starts to make your head spin. Bottom line, you don’t need deejays to tell you the names of songs anymore. You don’t need deejays to tell you the latest celebrity gossip. You don’t need any air talent that provides little to no entertainment value outside of social media. News and traffic information? No need. You can get music, content, information, and entertainment on your smartphone in your connected car on demand and when you want it now, without twenty commercials an hour and inane endorsements from no-name radio jocks. Radio better start figuring out their WHY, and FAST. The hourglass is running out of sand as their audience ages. I am a Gen-Xer, who was a successful air talent, and I LOVED radio. I treasured the very medium, its history, and everything about it. But in the last several years, the undisputed truths about technology replacing radio have become very clarifying as I’ve been away from the industry and began to rely more on podcasts and streaming, myself. The things that made radio great are no longer draws when there is no personal connection and fifteen minutes of commercials an hour. My friends, who are now grandparents, have told me stories about riding around with their grandchildren in the car, and their grandchildren have literally asked why they can’t skip past a song when they are listening to a local station. That generation will never embrace traditional terrestrial radio. Ever. I spoke at a school about four years ago for a very awkward career day. This classroom of fifth-graders could not have been more disinterested in me, what I did, or why I would even do what I did for a living. The one question that came up regularly was, “Don’t you get lonely in there?” I had to think about it, and compare it to the days when I’d walk into a radio studio and the request lines used to ring off the hook, and listeners would call and participate in my program. When I realized that reciprocity had ceased to exist at that, my final radio station (in a large market), I had to reply, “Yes. I do get lonely in there.”
Coming Next Week
First, my gratitude to so many of you who took the time to write really detailed comments. I really appreciate hearing from you and yes, I read them all.
Next week I will share some thoughts about what radio needs to do in order to be relevant in people’s lives in 2022 and beyond.