Every day the radio business and the business of higher education are faced with lots of choices that will affect them in the years ahead. Here are my thoughts about some of the choices they should be making right now.
Do what only you do best.
Before the era of instant communication and search engines, both radio and colleges provided many services that people couldn’t get anywhere else. If you wanted to know if the snow storm cancelled school, you turned on the radio. If you wanted to earn a college degree, you attended college.
Today, schools will text message the status of school opening to teachers, students and staff the moment a decision has been made following a big storm. Radio is no longer necessary to fulfill this message delivery task. Likewise, anyone who wants to learn about anything – including earning a diploma in that discipline – can do it online. You don’t need to go any further than your computer.
Radio needs to take a hard look at everything it does that was important to their listeners and eliminate all of the things that the listener today gets faster and easier from someplace else. Colleges likewise need to re-think their mission and focus on those things that it does best and that only they can offer.
Thinking you can stop a changing world.
People have been warning the radio industry for years at annual conferences that the Internet was going to change things for them BIG TIME. I know, I attended most of those meetings regionally and nationally over many years. But radio continued to do what it had always done and thought that the changing world would stop at their door. Higher education pretty much is doing the same thing. Both are highly computerized, but only to do what they’ve always done a little faster than before.
Think of the possibilities.
The Internet provides every business the opportunity to do things that were not possible before there was an Internet. Did established businesses like radio or colleges seize this new opportunity? No. Google, Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc did.
But it gets worse. Pandora used the capabilities of the Internet to build a streaming juggernaut. Listeners can build their own “radio stations” and skip songs that they don’t like. University of Phoenix grew to 600,000 students* in over 100 degree programs. A website I visited listing the top online colleges framed the issue of an online education this way:
“It’s up to you to decide whether you want to attend a large, recognized online university or a smaller, less known college. As long as your program is accredited by an authorized agency, you can receive an education online that is as valuable as your campus experiences.”
The radio industry could have created Pandora. Higher education could have created University of Phoenix. Heck, Kodak could have created the digital camera – oh wait, they did, but didn’t pursue it because they were invested in making and selling print film.
History is a great teacher.
When TV came along in the 1950s, it stole radio’s programming and people. All those must hear radio shows in the evening prime time hours moved to television. The family that gathered around the radio in the living room now sent the radio packing to another location in the home and TV took its place. Radio operators quickly began developing programming that only radio could do. They found a niche and filled it.
Colleges did this too. Many began as normal schools and grew to teachers colleges. As the needs of the nation changed, colleges grew to universities.
What makes today’s world different is the changes both radio and colleges made might be called evolutionary. Today’s world has brought on a revolution in communication and learning.
The pressure to not make mistakes is daunting. The big radio companies have large debts to service. Public colleges and universities are more privately funded by tuitions, alumni, endowments, grants etc than they are public tax dollars. In order to play it safe institutions try to avoid risks. Avoiding risks means keeping things status quo.
Nothing stays the same. Things are either getting better or getting worse.
There’s no time to waste.
Both radio and colleges need to be creating incubator programs that are allowed to make mistakes and fail. Thomas Edison put his research activities on finding the right filament to power his light bulb this way: “I have not failed, not once. I’ve discovered ten thousand ways that don’t work.”
If there’s one lesson history has taught us it’s that if existing industries don’t create the future, somebody else will.
*University of Phoenix’s numbers have declined almost 60 percent since 2010. The enrollment drop has been attributed to operational changes amid criticism of high debt loads and low job prospects for university students according to published reports.