CES 2023 is in the books. It's hard for me to believe the big event in Vegas took place just four weeks ago. For us at Jacobs Media, we enjoyed “a first” on our tours, now in their fifth year. While we've had many “tourists” from the C-suite – CEOs, COOs, CFOs, CTOs) – this year marked our first air talent.
Most of you know Sheri Lynch from “The Bob & Sheri Show,” now for three decades, broadcasting from Charlotte. The show's “new” flagship is Beasley's K104.7. Sheri, along with co-host Bob Lacey, wake up thousands of listeners on about 70 affiliate stations all over the U.S.
Sheri has another distinction – she wrote what has become JacoBLOG's most viewed blog post ever – “The Top 5 Radio Topics That Get The Phones Ringing,” originally published in 2017.
There's not much in the field of entertainment Sheri hasn't accomplished, winning numerous awards for her show, including Most Influential Women in American radio more times that you can count. She's an author, an actress, and a podcaster. Her newest podcast is “True Weird Stuff” (and it lives up to its title).
Sheri's has a great eye and ear for what makes listeners and all of us tick. Her observations from CES provide great perspective from the performer's point of view. Let's put it this way – she saw stuff the rest of us didn't see.
BTW, Sheri took some of the photos that appear in this post. – FJ
“What does CES have to do with radio?”
It’s a question I heard a lot in the weeks leading up to CES 2023. Friends, colleagues, even my family wondered why in the world I was heading to Vegas to be part of something that seemed more about talking toilets, robot bartenders, and this year’s take on a flying car than anything connected to what I do in radio.
And I get it. Every year CES gets a ton of mainstream press, all of which seems to focus on the most experimental and futuristic offerings.
Which makes sense, right? You’re going to get a lot more clicks on a story about an AI-driven interactive sexting app than you are on a modest but critical innovation in lithium ion batteries.
And CES is about the new, about what’s coming just around the next curve. It’s about dreaming the future into reality and so what if some of the wildest things on the CES floor never make it to market?
Those ideas and concepts are meant to inspire – and they do. And radio? We’re over a hundred years old now. Sure, it’d be swell to just rock on the porch and tell war stories and leave all this crazy new technology to the kids to figure out. But the next stop after that is the grave, y’all. It is.
So when I’m asked what in the world CES has to do with radio, my answer is: everything. It’s the Consumer Electronics Show – and wherever the consumer is headed, radio needs to be heading, too.
The thing is, radio cannot take for granted the consumer will take us along for that ride. Literally. The automotive section of CES is thrilling and amazing and terrifying. Why? Because that is the one place where radio has always owned prime real estate. We don’t anymore.
I was part of a group that had to be dragged away from a Mercedes with everything except a king-sized bed, a cold martini, and a radio option on the dash.
I guess it’s possible it did have a radio option somewhere, but everyone clustered around it was too busy being awestruck by the Batman movie playing on the giant screen where a radio used to be, by the eye-tracking technology monitoring driver distraction, by the six and a half foot tall German genius explaining it all, by the sheer, epic, freaking coolness of what is essentially a supercomputer/entertainment hub that happens to be shaped like a car.
Are you thinking, “OK, but that’s a long way off. A lot of that probably won’t ever really happen. And even if it does, it’ll be a tiny fraction of the auto market and people love radio and of course radio will be an option on the dashboard. Like it always has been.”
Except, no. We already know that simply isn’t a given. Not anymore. Manufacturers of electric vehicles have already broken the bad news about the problem of AM radio and electromagnetic interference. Oops. Are you thinking, “OK, but let’s not panic. FM radio doesn’t cause that problem, right?”
No, it doesn’t. But FM has an entirely different challenge that isn’t one bit easier to overcome. It is evolving from being a primary option for information and entertainment in the car to being just one of many options on a beautifully designed digital display. One of many. And FM’s neighbors on that screen will include – already include – the most highly branded, funded, promoted, and popular content platforms on Earth. Just in time for Gen Z to hit the road. Zoomers were born into a world that for them has always been a 24/7 self-curated, on-demand playground. Will they take radio along for the ride?
Are you in a cold sweat yet? Because we haven’t even touched on some of the innovations aimed at children’s entertainment and education. Are you thinking, “Whew, we program to adults 25-54 so who cares about what kids are up to?” I’ve got some tough news: adults 25-54 are not immortal beings sent here to make sure that there is always an audience for Maroon 5 and Journey. They will not live forever. And they are going to be replaced by people who, from toddlerhood, have had the extraordinary power to manipulate media and content to suit their exact preferences and needs in the moment.
Us telling them how we used to sit next to a boombox cassette recorder just waiting for the radio station to play our favorite song so that we could press ‘record’ sounds an awful lot like your grandpa going on about paying a nickel to see a movie in a theater. In other words, “Blah blah blah.” When you see what’s coming for children – and how companies like Disney are racing to partner with these developers and inventors – well, what you’re seeing is the future. It’s that simple. So how does radio envision and strategize its own future without trying to understand and accommodate and appeal to this next generation of listeners?
I was a little bit of a unicorn at CES, because I’m on the talent side of the equation. I’m a content creator. Why was I the only one of my kind to sign up for the Jacobs Media CES tour? I’d love to see more radio content creators at CES. I think it’s a good and important investment for our industry to make. Because if there’s one thing I know for certain about the future of media, it’s this: content is key. Content is everything.
Whether it’s the connected car, a smart speaker, a smartphone, or a wifi-enabled toilet with built-in speakers and snack bar, nothing matters more. Consumers do not care if their favorite song or show comes to them via an over-air broadcast signal or a stream of binary code. They. Don’t. Care. What they want is to tap Play and have the content they want right there. Right NOW.
Radio has been in the content creation and distribution business for over a century. The enormous technological shift we’re wrestling with, however painful, should be one we can navigate. I say “should” because we have to first get out of our own way. What makes radio unique and compelling has never been towers or transmitters or frequency or amplitude. That’s just how we’ve reached listeners. Until now. But none of that is what keeps listeners coming back. It’s what we deliver via those towers and transmitters that matters. The word for that is “content.”
Don’t just wonder what CES has to do with radio – come to Vegas next year and dive in.
Sheri's brand new podcast, “True Weird Stuff,” is all about everything and anything from Bigfoot to the things that go bump in the night. It's available where you get your podcasts, including Apple, just a click away.
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