Radio Needs To Fight Like This Is Our Last Chance

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(By Eric Rhoads) In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Bob Dylan wrote, “When I started writing songs as a teenager, and even as I started to achieve some renown for my abilities, my aspirations for these songs only went so far. I thought they could be heard in coffeehouses or bars, maybe later in places like Carnegie Hall, the London Palladium. If I was really dreaming big, maybe I could imagine getting to make a record and then hearing my songs on the radio. That was really the big prize in my mind. Making records and hearing your songs on the radio meant that you were reaching a big audience and that you might get to keep doing what you had set out to do.”

Several years ago, when I met Barry Manilow, he told me that the biggest moment in his life had been hearing his song “Weekend in New England” on the radio for the very first time. Being on the radio was the big dream of his life, and in spite of all the things that have since occurred in his career, he said nothing topped hearing his own songs on the radio.

Radio is a recurring theme as artists around the world have spoken of the special moments in their careers. It’s not unusual to this day for country artists to thank “God and radio” when accepting awards. And for good reason. Radio remains, in spite of all the other new influences impacting music discovery, a special place for musicians.

What concerns me as a radio “lifer” is that we as an industry may be ignoring those other influences and pretending that everything is the same as it has always been. Nielsen tells us radio listening has not faltered, and has even grown. But I can’t help but wonder: If radio had a true sample of all persons, rather than a small sample representing the whole, would we still be as strong as we once were?

Since there is no logical way at the moment to find this out, should we assume things are as good as ever? Or should we assume that many things are eating into our audiences?

I think we must assume that all these other wonderful technologies are gradually stealing our listeners.

Why?

Let me first ask this: What if we had a record of actual listening (not estimated) for all persons using radio and found listening had dropped by 50 percent? How would we react? Would we do anything differently? I suspect we would.

The instincts of a lot of us, based on our own private samples of one or two high school or college kids, tell us that the smartphone has replaced everything and that radio is not on these young people’s radar. Though Nielsen data says this isn’t the case, I cannot honestly tell myself that it’s likely we’re really as strong as we once were.

But where we stand on that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that our content is so fresh, so engaging, so unique that it is pulling in new interest from audiences. I wonder, as I hear the formulaic radio we’ve all produced for decades, if we can’t make it better. As I listen across America’s dial through the TuneIn app, I’m still hearing the same positioning lines, and even Star Wars sounders. With few exceptions, not much has changed since the 1970s.

Further, our overconfidence in our position, combined with a lack of cash, means we’ve become an industry that tells everyone else why they should advertise — but don’t do it ourselves. We’ve seen a decrease in promotions, on-the-street visibility, and talent appearances.

If we knew our audiences were gone, would all that change? Would we fight to get them back? Why, then, are we not doing that now? Why are we not fighting to keep them?

Since our rivals want our audiences, and have lots of play money (financing without the need for immediate profitability), we should be protecting our turf with our lives, because one day something good could take it all away. Perhaps the next panel of Nielsen households won’t show radio listening levels so high.

I encourage you to enter 2017 with a sense of paranoia. Gather your team and ask, “If we were in the battle of our lives to keep our listeners, what would we do?” You see, you probably are in the battle of your life.

Or of course you can remain overconfident, keep your head in the sand, and do nothing — but you might feel foolish one day soon when you find your listeners have left you. History is littered with dead companies and whole industries that thought nothing could touch them, that nothing would ever change. That is, until one day, it was all gone.

Radio is very viable, and presumably still strong, yet you should fight every day like it’s your last. Because keeping listeners is 100 times easier than trying to get them back.

Eric Rhoads is the CEO and Publisher of Radio Ink. He can be reached at (P) 561-655-8778 or e-mail [email protected]

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Eric Rhoads
Eric Rhoads is Chairman of Radio Ink magazine and can be reached at [email protected]

16 COMMENTS

  1. No, Chris. I have spent the entirety of my career in the trenches – where most of the bleeding is done.
    Besides, most of radio is being run with the sophistication it takes to maintain a dry cleaning outfit. But, with less personality.

  2. Chris:
    Radio keeps playing these unending commercial stopsets and denying listeners hate it and it will not work the way it use to work. At times radio is unlistenable as stations continue to cram as many cheap spots between songs as possible.
    Ed Ryan
    Editor
    Radio Ink Magazine

  3. Oh Eric… again? Ronald T. Robinson, have you actually ever run a radio station or just worked as talent?

    Eric, a bunch of years ago you brought forward a kid who was going to “make your 1940’s technology irrelevant”. What’s he doing today? Yes you are still out there using the old model of fear to sell ink and paper. But have you noticed that YOUR industry is the one tanking? How many magazines are slowly going away with their cousin the newspaper? TV? Now that the networks are allowing direct access of their content and content providers are going to new places (Netflicks, Amazon, Hulu etc) what is left there?

    Radio works because it remains ubiquitous. Your model works because you keep selling the snake oil. Tell people the world is ending and then sell tickets to conferences. Don’t get me wrong… it’s a great gig, but it was old 15 years ago.

    And as to the question someone posted as to why the “industry” is not responding here… its because we have heard about the sky falling one too many times.

  4. Makes me wonder.
    The CEO issues such a strident admonition to the general industry and almost all the readership renders themselves silent.
    Is a form of denial running rampant? Perhaps there is some indifference.
    Or, as a healthy conspiracy theorist might project – perhaps there are hidden agendae in play.
    Hard to say with any confidence.

  5. I am afraid to report that Rick is waving a flag at a parade that has already passed by. And the marching bands have all been the traditional participants. All that’s left are those few lingering viewers who are saying to each other “Wasn’t that terrific!? Well? Wasn’t it!?”
    Radio hasn’t accomplished squat on its own and for itself in the last decades. That it gets listener attention at all is the amazing irony.

  6. Radio Listener’s Facts & Figures

    Radio is the Google Model: Content is free . . . just listen to a few ads.

    The radio Model has been the same since it started. Give people the content they are looking for free and sell messages into it.

    Radio works because it’s ubiquitous and free.

    No one ever has said they don’t want a radio in their car.

    Cell phone companies are changing their phones to include over-the-air radio
    Receivers.

    Radio is a director – it directs to web site, sales, etc.

    Media Analyst, Gordon Borrel said “radio drives more traffic online than any other medium including the internet itself”.

    Radio is the last thing a person hears before making a retail purchase

    There is an intimacy to radio. It’s there on your drive to work, in the subway, in your kitchen—even in the bathroom, as president and CEO of New York Public Radio Laura Walker points out.

    But sometimes money speaks louder than words. Terrestrial radio is cheap for advertisers and free for listeners.

    Ms. Walker tells a story of two young hipsters discovering that you don’t have to pay for bandwidth if you listen to the radio instead of stream it. “Young folks are discovering that you can turn on the radio for free,” Ms. Walker said. “There is no entry fee.” (streaming – if go over parameters of your plan – there’s extra charge for bandwidth) (Unlimited, but turns faucet down to a drip)

    Here are the Facts:
    (Source News Generation Broadcast Resource and Nielsen)

    Radio is the leading reach platform: 93% of us listen to AM/FM radio over the airwaves, which is higher than TV viewership (85%), PC use (50%), smartphone use (74%), and tablet use (29%)
    265 million Americans (6+) listen to the radio each week, close to 12 hours

    Trends

    According to the Pew Research Center, “traditional AM/FM radio…continues to reach the overwhelming majority of the American public audio as a platform is stronger than ever as more and more ways to listen continue to emerge.” News/talk/information stations are one of the most popular broadcast radio formats, with an 11% share of listeners among the age 12-and-up demographic in 2014.
    Radio is at the Top of the Heap for Listeners
    (News Generation Broadcast Resource)

    Millennials (12-34): 92% listen to radio or 66.5 Million Listeners per Week.

    Generation X (35-49): 95% listen to radio or 58 Million Listeners per Week.

    Baby Boomers (50-64): 94% Listen to radio or 58 Million Listeners per Week.

    Silent Generation (65+): 86% Listen to radio or 53 Million Listeners per Week.

    Proportion of the Listener’s Time Listening to Radio
    (Source: Nielsen)

    Listening in Car: 23%
    While Working: 16%
    Chores at Home: 15%
    Activities Alone: 13%
    EMusic channels on TV (5%)

    Time Spent Listening to On-Demand Audio
    (Inside Radio, December, 2016)

    Radio (50%)
    Music Videos on YouTube (8%)
    Ad Supported Pandora (6%)
    Ad-Free SiriusXM Radio (5%)
    TV Music Channels (5%)
    Other Streaming Audio (4%).
    Ad-supported Spotify, “other” (2%)
    Podcasts 2%
    Ad-free Pandora (1%)
    Ad-free Spotify (1%)
    Ad-supported SiriusXM (1%)

    Despite the growth in new streaming options, AM/FM radio listening continues to dominate….Streaming services have grown at the expense of time spent with owned music, not AM/FM radio. In Q3 2016, AM/FM shares are 14-times bigger than Spotify and 8-times bigger than Pandora.

    Satellite Sirius XM (merged)

    SiriusXM uses six satellites that cost one-quarter billion each to set up. They have 200 channels that reach 5% of radio listener market Stock price is stuck around $4/share or less for 10 years.

  7. Like an old, tarnished penny, Dave, I keep insisting that the leg up and the way out for commercial radio is to start paying attention to its model-of-communication. This current model has been around forever and has not been conscientiously taken up and examined by anyone in radio’s chain of authority.
    After all, I wonder, what else is there? Communicating to audiences – on-air and on behalf of local advertisers is what we (allegedly) are supposed to be doing.
    We have, as you suggest or imply, been ignoring the services we supply to listeners and advertisers alike.
    I suggest radio treats these aspects of the medium as “gimmes” or “throwaways”. They are neither. There are severe consequences now and more in the future for the refusals to begin the process.
    Even though it may be even partially true, trumpeting radio’s penetration and a buck, ninety-five will only get us another cup of coffee.
    Even as you suggest, that many of our boats are getting below the waterline is not a challengeable situation.

  8. Everyone on this page is making great points. I’m not sure any of us got into “radio” because we thought we’d be millionaires. We all wanted to do great things in this awesome medium. Radio still has the magnetism and aura it had from the first time someone spoke into a microphone and someone else 50 miles away heard their voice. Someone somewhere thought investing in radio would be a good business prospect. They talked the government into allowing multiple stations to be owned by one company. Competition was slowly diminished. There are a lot of us who found ourselves in the same building as our former competitor. Stations need to compete among themselves, and create a better product for the listener and the advertiser. The listener is hurt by an 8 minute cluster of spots. The advertiser whose spot is 12th in the set is hurt. The overnight juke boxes hurt the medium. Radio these days seems to be driving people to searching out the pureplays by emulating them. No one’s come up with a new model for the medium-yet. In the waning days of music on AM I had a general manager remind me of the leaky boat. As the hole gets bigger, the job of bailing it out gets tougher. Radio operators should do what their advertisers need to do. Present the best product possible for the consumer. This may shift your focus away from putting 80% of your revenue to the bottom line, but the investment should be worth it.

  9. Eric,
    I agree with every word in your article. As someone who founded an AM in a large market, I have seen a steady deterioration of my station’s “necessity” over the years as barriers to entry fall to the level of a smart phone with an embedded microphone and camera. To maintain my ground, I’ve been forced to swallow the cost of two FM translators which probably are worth more than my AM. All the while, I’ve been adding more and more services. Recently, KCAA listed its 20th audio and video service.
    Every time some group of pimple faced teenage nerds come up with another POS to wow their friends while getting rich quick, I’ve got to add it to KCAA’s list of services and promote it to a generation who thinks AM only refers to the time of day.,
    Anyone in traditional media who falls behind with lose. We will either be drowned by this title wave or become part of it.

  10. While accentuating the positive is a noble pastime that is relished in most quarters most of the time, doing so at the exclusion of other, harsh, dangerous and not so satisfactory factors serves no one.
    Radio has been plugged up and crippled for decades and were it not for the traditional reach patterns and the quasi-momentum the medium has been enjoying, many of us would have already become caddies and greens keepers.
    Some in ownership and management are correctly fearful. Some have taken up whistling in the dark. Some are considering sacrificing goats, but without any real expectations.
    Eric’s admonition is the correct one.

  11. Radio Listener’s Facts & Figures

    Radio is the Google Model: Content is free . . . just listen to a few ads.

    The radio Model has been the same since it started. Give people the content they are looking for free and sell messages into it.

    Radio works because it’s ubiquitous and free.

    No one ever has said they don’t want a radio in their car.

    Cell phone companies are changing their phones to include over-the-air radio
    Receivers.

    Radio is a director – it directs to web site, sales, etc.
    Media Analyst, Gordon Borrel said “radio drives more traffic online than any other medium including the internet itself”.
    Radio is the last thing a person hears before making a retail purchase
    There is an intimacy to radio. It’s there on your drive to work, in the subway, in your kitchen—even in the bathroom, as president and CEO of New York Public Radio Laura Walker points out.

    But sometimes money speaks louder than words. Terrestrial radio is cheap for advertisers and free for listeners.
    Ms. Walker tells a story of two young hipsters discovering that you don’t have to pay for bandwidth if you listen to the radio instead of stream it. “Young folks are discovering that you can turn on the radio for free,” Ms. Walker said. “There is no entry fee.” (streaming – if go over parameters of your plan – there’s extra charge for bandwidth) (Unlimited, but turns faucet down to a drip)
    Here are the Facts:
    (Source News Generation Broadcast Resource and Nielsen)

    Radio is the leading reach platform: 93% of us listen to AM/FM radio over the airwaves, which is higher than TV viewership (85%), PC use (50%), smartphone use (74%), and tablet use (29%)
    265 million Americans (6+) listen to the radio each week, close to 12 hours

    Trends

    According to the Pew Research Center, “traditional AM/FM radio…continues to reach the overwhelming majority of the American public audio as a platform is stronger than ever as more and more ways to listen continue to emerge.” News/talk/information stations are one of the most popular broadcast radio formats, with an 11% share of listeners among the age 12-and-up demographic in 2014.
    Radio is at the Top of the Heap for Listeners
    (News Generation Broadcast Resource)

    Millennials (12-34): 92% listen to radio or 66.5 Million Listeners per Week.

    Generation X (35-49): 95% listen to radio or 58 Million Listeners per Week.

    Baby Boomers (50-64): 94% Listen to radio or 58 Million Listeners per Week.

    Silent Generation (65+): 86% Listen to radio or 53 Million Listeners per Week.

    Proportion of the Listener’s Time Listening to Radio
    (Source: Nielsen)

    Listening in Car: 23%
    While Working: 16%
    Chores at Home: 15%
    Activities Alone: 13%
    EMusic channels on TV (5%)

    Time Spent Listening to On-Demand Audio
    (Inside Radio, December, 2016)

    Radio (50%)
    Music Videos on YouTube (8%)
    Ad Supported Pandora (6%)
    Ad-Free SiriusXM Radio (5%)
    TV Music Channels (5%)
    Other Streaming Audio (4%).
    Ad-supported Spotify, “other” (2%)
    Podcasts 2%
    Ad-free Pandora (1%)
    Ad-free Spotify (1%)
    Ad-supported SiriusXM (1%)

    Despite the growth in new streaming options, AM/FM radio listening continues to dominate….Streaming services have grown at the expense of time spent with owned music, not AM/FM radio. In Q3 2016, AM/FM shares are 14-times bigger than Spotify and 8-times bigger than Pandora.

    Satellite Sirius XM (merged)

    SiriusXM uses six satellites that cost one-quarter billion each to set up. They have 200 channels that reach 5% of radio listener market Stock price is stuck around $4/share or less for 10 years.

  12. Even a semi-functional radio station is accomplishing some of what Davis is promoting.
    I respectfully suggest that an extremely important point has yet to be made, that being: Radio has got to get so much better at what we do – and quickly.
    Davis and I will both remember that the spots being read today are the same ones we were hacking out then – the exception being the the placement of the decimal in the price point. Also, there was more talent on the air more often and for longer breaks.
    There are very few laurels on which contemporary radio can rest.
    It’s like Eric sez.

  13. Whoa—-where did this come from?

    Here is what GOOD RADIO can do that streaming, Pandora and all of the others can’t—-CONNECT listeners to their local communities. Things like local promotions and contests, local news, local PSA’s, LOCAL COMMERCIALS, and local air-talent CONNECT people to their communities—-and nothing does that better than LOCAL RADIO. To the extent that you, as a local broadcaster, are continuing to evaluate and re-evaluate how you are CONNECTING your listeners to the local community—-you are playing a “good hand”.

    I believe that the latest research underlines that local radio is doing that better than anyone else. Yep—we are not the newest kid on the block—-but as long as we endeavor to CONNECT our listeners with their communities—-we will continue to be the BEST. Should we be complacent? No. Should we have an understanding about what enables us to be successful? Yes—-and make sure that we continue to do it the best we can. That’s what my 53 years working in radio have taught me.

  14. Eric, you have been saying this same crap for years. Which leads me to believe that you want radio to fail. Why are you even publishing a radio publication. Move on.

    The reason radio is still relevant is because people are lazy. It is still easier to simply push one button than it is to program a radio station app like Pandora. Plus radio has local content.

    I see all these stations putting in fruitless effort into their digital front. Why? It is pointless. With Facebooks algorithm maybe 10% of your follower actually see your post and that is if you have a really engaging post. Same goes with all social media efforts. there is a lot more I can say but why waste my time? Eric will still spout unverifiable nonsense.

    Instead of putting time into digital endeavors focus on making your FM station better. Period.

  15. Someone in Eric’s position is obliged to make the point in somewhat more diminished terms – “head in the sand”.
    There are others who would postulate that radio’s leadership have their heads firmly inserted, uh…. elsewhere.
    From here, it seems that management’s job is, like a slathering junkyard dog, to protect what is behind the gates – and at all costs.
    The last couple of decades have clearly demonstrated the willingness of leadership to pull back, slash expenses and to hunker down. There have been no bold moves, no innovators, no conscientious considerations of the status quo and no invitations to assist in beginning such a process.
    Meanwhile, the ostrich reference continues when it is pointed out that radio, if nothing else, can and has been laying massive eggs – a product that makes a tasty and satisfying omelette – for someone else.

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