The Next Broadcast Band

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(By Ryan Wrecker) Timeless skills like storytelling will forever hold value. Personal habits and listening preferences, however, will evolve when new technology presents itself.

Take the music industry as an example. It’s hard to believe the biggest disruption was introduced just 15 years ago when Apple debuted iTunes. That means an entire generation will never set foot inside of a record store.

Music discovery has become less organic and more calculated. A similar shift just happened in cable TV. Last year, Netflix surpassed cable television in subscribers, forcing the industry to rethink how they distribute and introduce content. Suddenly the restraints of strict network programming were lifted and left behind altogether.

But what about radio?

We’re under the impression that we need to fight to maintain, even if we don’t have the same existential that other mediums are facing. Much of that drive can be attributed to the competitive nature that many programmers have. But the next big idea is still out there and can happen. “The best leaders are those who realize these aren’t the easiest of times, but all the signs are pointing up,” said Tim Moore, cofounder of the Audience Development Group. “The fear of loss is 10 times more powerful than the anticipation of gain.”

Radio continues to grow in both reach and revenue, plus the latest research from Edison’s “Share of Ear” still indicates radio is the strength of all audio mediums. I asked Tim what makes radio strong compared to the other mediums. He says from a listener standpoint it’s because personalties are important, or more important, than the music itself. It’s something that music and cable doesn’t have, as long as we don’t fail our listeners and take the personalties out of the equation. “We met the enemy, and it’s us.”

Maybe we can learn a lesson from radio. I was curious about how the industry first reacted to the FM band, so I called longtime St. Louis personality and local legend Johnny Rabbitt. “Everything was gradual, it wasn’t overnight,” he said. It was introduced before WWII, but a combination of a lack of radios and a lack of interest really stunted the growth. With few receivers and content that wasn’t all that exciting, stations didn’t invest much time into it’s counterpart. “FM was not magic, it was just radio on a different band,” unlike television which had a lot of interest that drove it to quicker mass popularity.

By the late 1960s, enough radio receivers were in the marketplace and it started to take off. More importantly, agencies were starting to buy into FM stations, and by 1970 it was off and running. Some of the most creative format innovations were happening on the FM dial, including what Johnny Rabbitt did by launching one of the very first progressive rock stations — KSHE.

To me, that sounds very similar to the route podcasting is on today. We’re even starting to get more agencies investing in the new medium.

Maybe we should look at digital audio as the next big broadcast band.

We found a way to make our content more accessible, which will benefit the schedule-shifting listener. But what we haven’t been particularly good at is using new technology to take our industry to new heights. What made Apple or Netflix so powerful is that they didn’t just make their product more accessible, they made it better. Maybe our job is to make radio better by using our tools in a different way. Or maybe we advance radio by applying what we already do in a different way.

Some things never change. Radio as an industry is not one of those things.

Ryan Wrecker hosts Overnight America on KMOX in St. Louis. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrecker or e-mail ryanwrecker@gmail.com.

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