When you think about innovation, what comes to mind?
Typically, we think about serious breakthroughs or the clichéd term, game-changers. The personal computer, the iPhone, and the Internet itself.
For the past dozen or so years, Paul and I have made the trek to Vegas for CES (formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show). Why do we go? We’re in search of innovation – a quest to see around the corner to learn what may be next. And we’re never disappointed by the experience. Many of the companies you’d expect to see are on display at CES: Amazon, Samsung, LG, Netflix, Google, and legions of other big names in tech, all trotting out their latest and greatest devices and advances.
But an oddity is all the other companies, organizations, and agencies that are on hand, meeting and greeting CES attendees. I’m talking about the U.S.P.S., Toto toilets, and even the FBI (I’m still trying to figure that one out). John Deere has been very active of late with self-driving tractors and other futuristic ag tech, and even RCA and Victrola are displaying their electronics, including actual radios.
And then there’s Delta Airlines, the first commercial aviation company to display their wares at CES. Back in 2020, their CEO, Ed Bastion, keynoted at CES, and the company created a major exhibit, showing off their innovative spirit.
So you might be wondering what a commercial airline could possibly unveil at the world’s largest consumer technology gathering that would stand out and get noticed.
One of the coolest innovations was a partnership with Sarcos Robotics. The product is a wearable exoskeleton called Guardian XO (pictured) It allows mechanics, bag handlers, and other workers literally doing the heavy lifting to increase their strength and capabilities wearing this amazing hi-tech suit.
Another technology was called Parallel Reality, a collab with a company called Misapplied Sciences. It was a concept designed to help air passengers traveling through airports by displaying personalized information about itineraries. The concept was to enter the airport, look up at a video screen, and see your personal information – your flight, your gate, your miles, etc.
Last month, Delta’s Parallel Reality Technology became a reality at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. You walk through the portal (below left), a device scans your boarding pass, and the display (below right) instantly lights up with your info.
OK, it’s not a flying car or a restroom that expands to your height (wouldn’t that be amazing?), but it’s a wonderful example of how innovation comes in all sizes, types, and varieties. And travelers are enjoying test driving it.
It proves that any company can innovate. They just have to elevate the process to priority status.
And you know the technology will only get better, more personal, more useful, and more seamless over time. Air travel should be more fun and enjoyable. By positioning itself as the world’s most innovative airline, Delta can win an all-important “hill.”
And then there’s innovation in radio – NOT an oxymoron. And I have the receipts to prove it.
Back in 2014, we launched a campaign to celebrate innovation in the radio broadcasting industry. And for about a year, we celebrated inventions, novel ideas, and creativity throughout the industry. All told, we awarded nearly 70 of those snappy trophies you see pictured at the top of today’s post to innovators from all different walks of radio life. The premise behind “Radio’s Most Innovative” was that Silicon Valley wasn’t the only locale where cool ideas are spawned. Each Friday, we highlighted an innovator in radio broadcasting, and those designated received one of these mementos.
Our “R.M.I.” awards ran the gamut, from Andy Economos, inventor of Selector, to Dr. Demento, inventor of himself and a crazy radio show featuring novelty songs that enjoyed a nice long run on rock stations throughout the country. And we saluted a real doctor, Dr. Ruth Westheimer (pictured), who spawned sex/talk radio in the 80’s with her wildly successful and hugely buzzworthy “Sexually Speaking” show. (Why isn’t a new version of this on the air somewhere?)
And then we high-fived NPR’s “Car Talk,” the most unlikely public radio show of all time, featuring a couple of wisecracking auto mechanics from Boston lighting up the airwaves. Its executive producer, Doug Berman, would go onto a create another public radio hit you may be familiar with, “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!”
We even surprised ourselves by how many truly inventive ideas happened on and off the radio airwaves, as well as how many truly creative people roamed the halls of radio stations all over the country…and the world.
There was Dan Vallie’s National Radio Talent System and also the innovative WNYC Studios. And out-of-the-box on-air ideas like Alan Almond‘s “Pillow Talk” program on WNIC/Detroit, as well as Jeff Smulyan‘s first, the all-sports station, WFAN/New York. Initially, many said neither would work. Well, they were wrong.
During these many weeks and months of honoring great ideas, we saluted the first station that went “All Christmas Music” (KEZ in Portland), KSHE/St.Louis’ “Real Rock Museum,” and public radio group PRX’s clever “Podcast Garage.”
This would be a great time to honor radio innovators again, because if there was ever a time to celebrate invention and ingenuity in our business, it is right now. But as I’ve learned, if you don’t make it a priority and you don’t recognize and reward the true brainstormers in your midst, they probably won’t happen. Most employees in radio – up and down the org chart – are pretty busy dealing with the tasks at hand.
Who has time for invention?
The fact is, most of your employees – in the air studio, the sales cubicles, the traffic department, HR, and the executive wing – are thinking about new ideas that might make the company or (gasp!) the industry better. But there’s typically no forum for them to emerge. By asking for and elevating innovation, creating a structure where it can be displayed, and rewarding the best of these labors, companies will no doubt surprise themselves with the input. Not only will they discover that some of the most unlikely members of their workforce are smarter and cleverer than they thought – they just might find that next big innovation that can propel a new initiative for the company.
Elon Musk and his ilk don’t have the market cornered on innovation. Neither does Apple or Google. But they make it a priority – something they expect and even demand from their people.
It can happen in your company if you create an environment that celebrates it. I’ve met a lot of creative people over my five decade career, but none as brilliant, smart, and energetic as the people I’ve met along the way in radio.
What will be the most innovative idea to come out of radio in 2023? I have no idea, but I know the concept is out there, waiting to be discovered.
If we encourage it and give it a chance to break on through.
Speaking of innovation, Paul and I will be back at CES 2023, and you’re invited to join us. We’re still nailing down the particulars, but it looks like we’ll be running two tours in January, especially curated for radio broadcasting professionals. We’ll go public after Labor Day, so stay tuned. We hope you can join us at CES for a truly amazing experience. – FJ
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