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Who is Going to Tell Radio's Story?

By Ed Ryan

More stunningly high listening numbers were released by Arbitron yesterday, giving radio's "storytellers" more evidence that the listening public loves us like a brother. Radio remains the companion of the people, the place they go to discover music, the go-to device when Mother Nature pays an angry visit. Over 241 million red, white and blue-blooded Americans listen to radio every week, according to Arbitron. That's 92 percent of the population. It's been a consistent number from Arbitron if nothing else.

What has also been consistent is, despite those high numbers, radio's stuck-in-the-mud revenue. And the industry's inability to translate those extraordinary numbers into a $35 billion business as Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman said it should be. For well over a year we've heard the same story...we just need to tell a better story. Can we get a date on when the story will be ready? And, will there be a designated spokesperson?

Not only do the people love you, people with money really love you. If you believe the Arbitron numbers, it's hard to fathom why every advertiser walking planet earth, that desires to stay in business, isn't salivating to get his message out using your station. More than 95 percent of adults in the coveted 25 to 54 age range, with a household income of $75K or more, and a college degree, tune in to radio every week. That's 26 million people in that demo. And, Arbitron says, nearly 70 million, or 94 percent, of adults 18 to 49 making $75K or more, tune into radio on a weekly basis. 

Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman, in his Forecast 2013 keynote address last week said, "Radio is one of the three big media. It actually always has been even when the third was newspaper not Internet. We need to act like one of the three big and we need to get paid like one of the three big."  Throughout the day at Forecast 2013, there weren't too many speakers willing to go out on a limb and predict revenue growth for radio in 2013. And in 2012, despite high expecations for political advertising dollars, radio revenue, as reported by the RAB, was flat to up a trickle.

Let's correct the record. There was one prediction about radio's revenue future at Forecast last week. It came from Media economist Jack Meyers who said from 2013-2015 expect to see radio's legacy advertising decline 2.2% And from 2016-2020 another 2.1% decline. That would take radio from $16 Billion to $13.4 billion industry. Myers believes that "legacy" advertising will shift to digital (he predicts $5.5 billion by 2020). Perhaps, but there is also the unanswered question of how much of that is really digital or would it have come in on the spot side anyway. The numbers today are very fuzzy. Myers also called Bob Pittman the "$3 Billion man" stating he is "making a significant impact on digital revenue increases."

We have heard a lot of radio's leaders talk about telling a story last week. But we also heard that back at the Radio show in Dallas and the NAB show in Vegas in April. What's the deadline for this story anyway? Horizon Media CEO Bill Koenigsberg explained to everyone exactly what needed to be done. "Your story has to be reinvented. I don't think you are telling it the right way. Engagement factor with listeners is not being told to advertising agencies the right way. With the story being reinvented, you can win." Thanks Bill. Do we need to write that up in an essay, bullet points, or a nice outline?"

So, what is radio's story? And enough about how consolidation killed the cash cow or local is the ONLY way to generate significant revenue. Despite all those changes to the outside world, if you believe the Arbitron numbers, the people still love you. Is radio doomed to be a low-single percentage growth business from here on out as Radio One CEO Alfred Liggins has said on several occasions? Can radio only grow when the economy is soaring and the transactional business flows across your fax machines? We ask all of you, those of you in that mud every day calling on clients, putting together presentations, taking the rejection from clients, writing the orders for your station...what should radio's story be?

(7/22/2014 1:38:46 PM)
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(12/6/2012 10:03:40 PM)
Quite so, Chuck. Our so-called Creative Departments no longer have the resources to produce much of anything that would be valuable to an advertiser and tolerable to a listener.

Even so, "radio creative" has always been a misnomer and an oxymoron - most of the time. Maybe 90% of it is just pure slog.

Actual creative people have been condemned to the role of hacks; are chugging back cans of alphabet soup and recording the crap that emanates from the exercise.

- Ronald T. Robinson
(12/6/2012 12:30:55 PM)
Oh, radio tells a consistent story: "Our attentive, motivated listeners are loyal to our station..." That story focuses almost exclusively on the delivery vehicle.

Do direct response practitioners push their brand of envelope, expecting that the copywriter will "come up with something" for the letter?

If instead of selling the container, radio sold great creative, revenues wouldn't be shrinking, would they?

- Chuck McKay
(12/5/2012 4:11:55 PM)
Dave Gifford's premise that too few stations provide good sales training is right-on, as far as it goes. But once we've learned how to ask for - and get - the money, we also need training in how to write and produce commercials that will bring our advertisers the ROI they deserve. Measurability and accountability at the granular level, however, is *not* the holy grail. Coupons/offers are more easily measured than branding messages, but the power of the latter to grow a business is undeniable.

- Rod Schwartz -

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