Radio’s Been Down This Road Before


(By Bob McCurdy) A report came out several days ago titled, “Paradigm Shift: Why Radio Must Adapt To The Rise Of Digital,” which was a negatively slanted, glass quarter-full perspective of the radio industry that conveniently ignored many facts. One would have had to been cuddled next to Rip Van Winkle for the past 20 years not to recognize the need to address and react to digital’s competitive challenges, while simultaneously embracing the many opportunities it affords radio.

Indeed, radio, and for that matter all media, are not alone in the need to adapt to an ever-changing digital, societal, technological, or economic landscape. As Ford’s Scott Burnell has often said, “Evolve or die.”

A few recent headlines serve to highlight this fact. As Jerry Lee Lewis sang, “There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin on”… everywhere:

– A Third of People Want Mobility Not Auto Ownership

– Spotify’s Ability to Turn a Decent Profit Is Still in Doubt

– What, Porsche Worry? You Bet.

– Restaurant Chains Have Closed Hundreds of Locations

– Why Retail Flagships Are Running Aground

– Pepsico Complains About the Same Consumer Trends Battering Retail

– Has Amazon Disrupted Grocery For Good?

– TV Viewing Shifts Dramatically to Digital Devices

– Gen Z Threat to TV Brand Equity

– P&G Slashes Digital Ads by $140M Over Brand Safety. Sales Rise Anyway

Clearly, any industry or business that accepts “more of the same” is on thin ice, as “more of the same” will assuredly and quickly produce less.

The aforementioned report made it a point of highlighting the flight of Gen Z from radio, and indeed they currently do listen less than other demographics. But do youth listening habits change as they age? There is data that indicates it might. With the help of Nielsen, we suggested isolating data for the chart below, which suggests that radio becomes more important to teens as they become adults and enter the workforce.

To see the future, consult the past; and while the past does not always accurately predict the future, it does provide a good barometer regarding a business or industry’s ability to evolve and navigate previous challenges.

The following timeline confirms that radio has effectively evolved and adapted over the decades, sometimes dramatically, to retain its relevance and place within America’s media day:

1940: First TV station debuts

1948-1952: TV proliferation and radio star migration to TV

1952: Billboard magazine headline: Radio Is Dead…With the Lone Ranger and Jack Benny Going to TV…Bye Bye Radio!

1962: Audio Cassette Player introduced

1965: 8 Track cassette introduced

1975: CB popularity explodes

1979: Sony Introduces the Walkman

1981: MTV debuts (It didn’t kill the radio star)

1982: The CD debuts

1996: Home PC users begin sharing digitized music — Napster, etc.

1999: Introduction of streaming audio

2000: Pandora launches

2001: XM Satellite debuts

2002: Sirius satellite debuts

2004: Podcasting debuts, enabling time-shifted digital audio and video

2006: Spotify debuts

2007: The iPhone debuts

2009: Online audio options continue to proliferate — Rdio, 8 Tracks, Rhapsody, Last.FM, Live 365, Grooveshark, etc.

2011: Google gets in the audio game debuting Google Play Music

2013: iTunes radio debuts, accompanied by pronouncements of inevitable marketplace triumph due to Apple’s distribution power in smartphones

2014: Beats launches

2014: Apple buys Beats

2015: Jay-Z’s Tidal debuts (It turned out not to be an audio tsunami)

2015: Apple Music relaunches with Beats

2015: Google debuts ad-supported radio service

2016: Amazon Music debuts

2016: Deezer debuts in U.S.

2017: Pandora launches premium subscription service

2017: Pandora sold, audience declining

Radio as an industry is aggressively evolving and enhancing its audio and digital assets to prosper in 2017 and beyond. And based on its track record, it’s a good bet that radio will continue to prove pundits, like the author of this report, wrong.

It has always been survival of the fittest, the fastest, the smartest, and the most nimble in any business ecosystem. Radio’s challenges are not any more daunting than those faced by other media and industries, and our future is bright, so long as we remain as responsive to our listener’s audio needs as the previous generations of radio management.

Bob McCurdy is The Vice President of Sales for The Beasley Media Group and can be reached at [email protected]


  1. Providing unique and compelling – and documented sales – strategies for our advertisers go hand in hand with providing unique and compelling content for our listeners – whether we’re providing this on air and/or online.

    As for advertisers, all we have to do is give them what they’ve been asking us from time immemorial – 52 weeks of documented sales results that they can attribute to radio.

    Proven systems, strategies, tools and tactics can provide radio advertisers with 52 weeks of documented sales results that magnify our strengths as the pre-need, pre-search, pre-purchase catalyst of consumer consciousness. These get our advertisers’ prospects/customers on board the buyer journey; taking them to, through, and past the sale; then preparing them to purchase from our advertisers again and again.

    So, what’s needed to shake our collective selves loose from fear and inaction to generate more 52 week contracts, by giving our advertisers exactly what they tell us they need, but our industry doesn’t give them?

  2. Bob, to your point, and a very good one, responsiveness to your listener is key. Radio continues to fight against client/agency misunderstanding of it’s true strength. The reach/frequency battle continues to be fought without understanding that they are both key factors, especially when consumer decisions are made, which most of the time are the result of cumulative reinforcement, and radio is still a major force. As you say, younger generations will migrate to radio, but it’s not always about the music. They need to respond to their listeners, both current and those who are out there waiting to discover information and entertainment they like. The growth of podcasts demonstrates that broadcasters should review the music to non-music content-of-value mix, both short form on-the-air and long form because it is far more important to listeners than they realize. Radio will continue to be relevant, but like any product, listen to your customer and watch and learn where they go when they leave you, and why. It’s not always about the next song, content is key.


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