As my Uncle Bert used to say, “If you wait long enough, everything comes back into style.”
Maybe he was talking about radio and the amazing press run the industry has enjoyed over the past few months.
It seemingly began with the 93% reach number that made the rounds back in June, backed up by the credibility of the Nielsen imprimatur.
And it continued a few days ago in an excellent article by Rikki Novetsky in Medium with this smiley face title:
“Almost every American still listens to radio. Here’s why.”
Novetsky’s article looks at some of the struggles that public radio is experiencing as streaming is down while podcasting is up. But the strength of her story is focused on her non-radio view of radio:
“Based on the Nielsen statistics, it seems there is something about listening to a voice while also driving in a car, taking a run, or sitting at work that has maintained a lasting appeal amongst Americans.”
And that shared, common experience impacts radio’s new competitors. In a blog post last June about the debut of Apple’s Beats 1, we ran a quote from their main DJ Zane Lowe:
“Part of the last three months has been desperately trying to come up with a new word that’s not radio. We couldn’t do it.”
And then earlier this month at the Podcast Movement conference in Fort Worth, Seth Resler sent out this tweet about podcaster Roman Mars’ speech:
So maybe radio is back in vogue. It may not have as much momentum as it had in those old “Radio. It’s Red Hot” days from the ‘70s. But as more and more analysts realize that one heckuva lot more people make radio a part of their media and cultural lives than Pandora, Sirius/XM, Spotify and BuzzFeed, you can feel a warm glow.
But let’s not get irrationally exuberant here. Because Rikki Novetsky also quotes another love letter to radio that appeared in Neiman Labs back in February, penned by Joseph Lichterman:
“Radio has traditionally been a local business – bound by the strength of a transmitter’s signal the same way a newspaper was defined by how far delivery trucks drive in the morning.”
Radio is still a local business, and its FCC licenses validate that fact. But there’s also no mistaking that many radio stations and the companies that own them have gotten off message over the last couple decades as economic pressures began to eclipse service.
The same analysts high-fiving radio in recent weeks and months almost invariably point to some of radio’s key assets – local market presence and proprietary personalities. Those are the assets you don’t hear on Spotify, Pandora, or the “70s on 7” satellite radio channel.
Yet, too many stations have mortgaged those benefits in order to please Wall Street or their boards of directors at precisely the time when they should be the defining differences between broadcast radio and everybody else. Smaller markets have been ravaged by cost-saving efficiencies that make cross-country road trips a mindless blur of unmemorable syndication, incapable of reflecting a hometown ethos.
Investing in local market personalities and infrastructure rather than networks, voicetracking, and other so-called efficiencies fulfills the industry’s promise. But over time, many broadcasters have veered away from that philosophy, leaving themselves vulnerable to the tsunami of choice and personalization the web brings.
So let’s take a moment and appreciate the fact that some national publications and writers are realizing radio’s value. But let’s also ask ourselves whether we’re doing everything we can to take advantage of the medium’s inherent strengths and deliver a product that is truly unique, essential, and connected to the people and the communities we serve.
The hype is great and it feels good – for a change.
Now we have to live up to it.
Thanks, Steve Goldstein.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,000 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.