More Deregulation = More Degradation

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(By Ken Dardis) In 2013, Larry Rosin, President of Edison Research, said: “It’s not that long ago, when there was a code of omerta in the radio industry, where if you point out a problem, you are the problem.” I was a problem for almost 20 years prior to retiring in 2014. Before that, nearly 30 years were spent working with knowledgeable broadcasters. It was a good time to be in radio. Like many of my generation, we went from on-air to sales, sat as newscasters, and managed stations in an industry we loved.

Over the air creativity was exploding, the type not heard on radio anymore. Each station in a market had its own program director, production director, traffic director, continuity and promotion departments, plus six full-time air talents 24/7 (albeit there were rare exceptions, but that was industry SOP). We had the talent and time to make “great radio.” Great radio was needed because we were one of only three ways a metro’s population received news, information, and music. Today, anyone can find local information within seconds online — when they want.

That times have changed was emphasized in “An Argument For More Deregulation,” a Radio Ink article appearing Thursday. Radio Ink editor Ed Ryan quoted Galaxy CEO Ed Levine. Mr. Levine is also Board Chairman of The New York State Broadcasters Association, Inc. (NYSBA).

Reading it I cringed, precisely because I was a radio “problem” for 20 years. My statements pointed to radio’s lack of digital awareness. Producing over 10,000 radio and TV commercials, coupled with a fluency in what computers were capable of and how to make that happen (I wrote software code since 1968), led me to early observations about many radio/online initiatives. Some are listed below. All are the basis for why Ed Levine’s call for deregulation is not workable. In 1996 dereg received a chance, the same as Sweetjack, Radio Heard Here, HD Radio, Less is More, and many other radio initiatives since — each failed miserably.

This isn’t about operating with an ability to scale or fearing new competition, the logic used by Mr. Levine to deregulate further. Business has changed, and we do not need to “save” radio. Though, we do need change to meet expectations of businesses and audiences served today.

Scaling only works when used correctly, yet radio industry executives are still trying to mold the Internet for their use instead of finding which Internet applications can be best used by radio.

No matter how many stations a group owns, we hear much about creating “compelling content,” and somehow we nearly always end up with a shallow remnant of past programs. NPR’s experimenting is promising; too bad these attempts at creativity are missing from its commercial cousins. (Few who say “compelling content” know how difficult it is to consistently make it.)

Before blaming heavy regulation on radio’s flatlining, try doing something new.

On the advertiser side, when is the last time radio answered an advertiser’s call for accountability or restructured its pricing model? It was given an opportunity in 2006 with Google’s offer to sell available inventory, but radio turned its back. Imagine how much farther along the industry would be in understanding digital’s potential if it had accepted a partnership with the one company that appears to dominate Mr. Levine’s comments.

This is not the time to kick around numbers of how radio is being kicked around. I can supply an equally heavy set of data showing how many boats were missed by the industry, but I retired and am not into researching this as I did for so many years. I do know the data exists.

My last point: If Mr. Levine truly wants to “make it a fair fight,” I’m sure he’s all for paying performance royalty fees for over-the-air broadcast of music. Non-broadcasters are required to pay for playing music online. The broadcast industry’s participation now just seems fair. That would be a good first step to leveling the playing field.

Ken Dardis spent 20 years in radio, from on-air to GM. He now runs Audio Graphics which he launched as a radio and television advertising production company in 1991. He can be reached at audiographics.kd@gmail.com. Check out his website HERE.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Maybe, Ken, when station operators figure out how to exploit their own local potentials, they might be in positions to consider the appropriate means of engaging with and through other media.

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