Every few years, the radio industry goes through changes – some are big and some are seismic.
We may be entering the latter zone now. As the Entercom/CBS Radio deal nears its closing, radio will be impacted by the territorial changes taking place. And make no mistake about it – many other companies will be affected by this event, whether they participate in the buys, the sells, or the swaps – or even if they don't. Like a radio version of the game of Risk, broadcasting companies are realigning and reloading.
But industry changes run deeper than that. A young, new FCC Chairman is making his presence known, the NAB has committed to a strategic automotive plan, and podcasting is emerging as the next big thing, while “Alexa” is emerging as a promising new type of radio for homes, work, and other locations where AM/FM radios were once ubiquitous.
In short, radio is going to become an even more interesting and challenging place to work, grow, and succeed – if you have the right skills, you've networked well, and you have an understanding of where the puck is moving.
Many of the old-timers who truly love the radio industry – or at least the business they grew up in – will be highly critical of these changes, declaring radio simply isn't what it used to be.
And they're half right. The business is roiling, but disruption also spells opportunity, creativity, new jobs, and new sources of revenue. All of that crystalized for me when I read an article written by an Australian broadcaster, Sean Craig Murphy, that first appeared in Radio Today based in Australia.
Sean owns the Australian Radio School, and his observations about “the good NEW days of radio” have a relatable ring of truth for radio broadcasters here in the U.S. and Canada.
Below are Sean's 7 ways radio is much better now that it was for announcers than it was last century.
1. There's infinite more ways to demonstrate your creativity
Got a great idea? In the 80’s and 90’s, if you were a music jock, you turned that great idea into a great talk break. And ahh….well, that was pretty much it.
Now you can repurpose the shit out of that mother. It’s a Facebook post. It’s a video. It’s an exponential, integrated digial campaign. It’s a blog. It’s a vlog. I’m a flog.
And we haven’t even started on podcasting.
Radio is now a hungry multi-platform creative beast. It needs radio announcers to feed it.
2. Technology makes your job easier and your content superior
When I first started, a razor blade was a DJ’s best friend. (Splicing. Not chopping.) Now you have a bank of touchscreens, on-air production capabilities that shit all over what actual producers had in the 80’s and a couple of little things called the internet and social media.
3. It's healthier being a jock this century
Can you imagine sitting in a small room full of cigarette smoke for 6 hours in a row? The answer is probably YES if you’re over 40 and NO if you’re under that age. Trust me it’s f***king disgusting. And we haven’t even mentioned the loose attitudes to drugs and booze that caused breakdowns and breakups.
4. No more F***ing “Art of War” by Sun Tzu
Google it if you’re a millennial. For programmers in the 90’s this was their bible and if you were an announcer that didn’t fit in this warrior mould you were doomed or ostracised. Thankfully modern radio attracts and embraces all different types of personalities.
5. There's many more entrance level jobs
At a minimum, there’s twice as many radio stations now as there were when I first started. Sure, lots of them network some daytime shifts, but most of the regional radio stations have local AM and FM brekky shows and a fair swathe of those are two-person teams.
6. It's easier to be a national or global star
Thanks to social media, podcasting and smart phones you can go viral with a video or have an international following with a podcast. The internet and live streaming of radio also means more widespread recognition of your work no matter what station you’re working at.
7. You don't need to have a clichéd balsy voice to succeed anymore
These days it’s all about, buzzword alert AUTHENTIC and interesting voices with real personality. Turn the radio on any day and you’ll hear Fitzy being everyone’s favourite bogan, Em Rusciano camping it up and Smallzy representing the squeakier end of the spectrum.
Gone are the days you have to sound like John Laws or Sandra Sully to win.
Now on this last one, you have to use your American radio imagination. Sean's talking about jocks like Gary Owens and Charlie Van Dyke – voices of God on the airwaves. But guys like Steve Dahl and Howard Stern a few decades ago, and new stars like Woody and Bobby Bones today have proved it's more about your authenticity of your content than the depths of your pipes.
This is a strong list, and it got us thinking. From a North American perspective, what could we add to this list – core reasons why radio today is a better environment than “back in the day?” So to keep it going…
8. You can take your fan base with you
Just a decade ago, when you left a station (their decision or yours), you had to virtually start over again. And hope your new station would market you. Today, social media, blogs, and email databases have enabled talent to make the audience portable. Management may not love this, but we've seen it happen in recent years – a lot. Well-connected air talent can move listeners – by the thousands.
9. The Internet – Google, Wikipedia, and other sources – are prep's best friends
Sure, prep sheets are still helpful and effective, but the world is at your fingertips (or by uttering “Alexa” or “Hey, Google”), providing easy, real-time ways to get it right, figure it out, and even answer those calls that begin with “I've been thinking about a song….”
10. The ability to hear virtually any station in the world
Gone are the days of flying to L.A. or Miami to monitor a hot station or jock. With streaming, virtually any radio station or DJ is available with a keyboard stroke or two. In the early days of most on-air careers, wannabe DJs modeled themselves after successful personalities in larger markets. It's a lot easier to hear them all now without spending a dime.
11. You're always in touch with the audience (and the industry)
Thanks to social media, the funnel has been flipped. The audience has a voice, providing you with instant feedback on bits, polls, or when you screw up. You don't have to wait for the phone to ring. And Facebook groups make it easy to network with industry peers for advice, brainstorming, or even that shoulder to cry on.
12. There are more women on the air
OK, we're nowhere near 50:50 in radio's version of “Battle of the Sexes,' but the gap has narrowed considerably over the years. Yes, there's a long way to go, but it's easier for women to hold down prime dayparts, including morning drive than it was “back in the day.”
13. Podcasts open up a world of creativity…and expand your persona
Just about every air talent has interests that go well beyond the parameters and boundary lines of their show or format. But thanks to podcasting, a morning guy who loves cooking can create a podcast that's all about food. And finally, jocks buried in part-time roles or as sidekicks can bring out their unique personalities by starting their own podcasts.
14. You can do more than “four and out the door”
The need for highly skilled air personalities now goes well beyond what's coming out of the transmitter. Video editing, social media prowess, voicetracking skills, and the ability to be a true ambassador for your station or company have never been more in demand. Aside from new jobs at stations and in broadcast companies (digital sales, video content creation, event marketing), the need for more diverse skill sets is an ongoing need. Talent that can fill in some of these “holes” can provide an event greater value proposition to the companies and brands they represent.
This could be a much longer list. And with your additions through the “comments” below, perhaps it will be.
Looking at today's radio environment through a different lens turns around the conversation about how the industry ain't what it used to be.
Every industry – especially arts and entertainment – must evolve as tastes and sensibilities change with the times. And of course, technology alters the game and how it's played, too.
So what's better about radio in 2017 than back in “the good old days?”
Special thanks to Sean, Radio Today (Australia), and AC Airchecker, along with Mike Stern, Bill Jacobs, Seth Resler, Chris Firmage, and Paul Jacobs, all of whom contributed to this post.
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 1,200 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.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.
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