(By Deborah Parenti) The pages of this issue are filled with retrospectives and glimpses of the future, all centered on 25 years.
That’s because “25” is a significant milestone. “Silver anniversaries” are celebrated by married couples, and 25 is often used as a marker — a quarter of a century of progress, innovation, or sometimes simply survival. And so we look at 25 as a reflection of where we’ve come and where we are going over the next 9,125 or so days.
In reviewing the past 25 years, it is striking how many events have been either impacted by, or relied on, radio’s presence.
As notable as the first text message — sent 25 years ago, in December of 1992 — was, radio has continued to be a primary source of connectivity.
When it comes to dissemination of critical news and information, particularly at the local level, no medium has served its audiences better than radio. That’s something that hits home every time a manmade tragedy or natural disaster strikes. From its earliest days as a communications marvel, radio has continued to serve an integral role in the fabric of this country for the past 25 years. And there’s no reason to think that will change in the next 25 (note to Apple).
Meanwhile, what has become painfully obvious during recent crises is that the major tech and social media companies have been unable to live up to what might be called “radio standards.” And for all the protestation that they are not “media,” it is called “social media.” Digital-only platforms, social media in particular, have been unable to crack down on the spreading of inaccuracies, oftentimes risking escalation of misinformation or worse.
The root causes and issues are complex and would take more than this column to cover adequately, but suffice to say that blaming in part algorithms and non-human elements only spotlights the problems of immature technology. There simply isn’t enough monitoring and human intervention. And with a reported two-thirds of people now getting news from social media, that’s a scary proposition.
The point was further driven home by the recent Napa wildfires. When numerous cell towers were damaged, many residents were left lacking vital information.
Radio, on the other hand, especially local and live radio, shares a deep and human connection with listeners. It has for far more than the past 25 years — and no matter the platform, will continue that personal relationship for 25 more and beyond. We need to remind everyone — clients, listeners, and ourselves — of the outstanding service radio provides. We need to showcase this side of radio, especially to ad agencies and clients who may find themselves, or their families and friends, affected by the next disaster. Because if radio is connecting on news, information, and comfort levels, it can certainly move product as well.
Furniture store and auto dealer success stories are great. We should continue to herald those. But they may also have become predictable. Let’s tell our story from another angle — the very human, sometimes life-altering angle. The one that sends thousands of battery-operated radios to Puerto Rico residents coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria (thanks to the NAB, the National Alliance of State Broadcasters Associations, and some U.S. broadcasters).
Let’s remind buyers how Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria demonstrated the reliance of local governments, safety officials, listeners, and even employers, who bought time on stations to communicate with employees, of the power of radio.
And let’s wrap those stories around another area in which radio shines.
Radio delivers what it promises. Schedules run as ordered. Performance is documented. Advertisers know where their spots have been placed, on whose show, and alongside what type of content. And they know when commercials have run and who they have reached. Maybe that’s a story that needs to be hammered home more to Madison Avenue.
In comparison, as digital advertising has grown, accountability issues have also grown. It’s a serious concern, so much so that in a widely reported move, Procter & Gamble pulled over $100 million in digital spending last year due to an ongoing lack of clarity concerning how and where that media spend was being used. Interesting to note, in the face of that reduction, sales were up 2 percent.
Here’s the bottom line. No other medium shares, cares, lifts spirits, communicates with inflection and not just characters, provides a vital community link, and serves its constituents, from listeners to advertisers, quite like radio. And Radio Ink looks forward to covering radio for 25 years to come!
Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink. She can be reached at [email protected]