(By Kevin McKinney) The notion that Facebook and Google are stealing ad revenue from radio is completely false. Radio is giving revenue to Google and Facebook. Nobody is stealing. So why do consolidators claim this? They use the Internet as an excuse to convince legislators to allow them to gobble up more stations. The horrible irony is that the more they consolidate, the more they push revenue to Facebook and Google.
If radio is to compete, it has to be unique to each region. However, consolidation stamps out local flavor when companies downsize to show profit. That’s the only way they know how to profit: to buy, gut, and sell. It’s bankers and high finance elites who are pushing for consolidation because they are the only ones who benefit. The winners make money off of the financial agreements and management strategies. The quality of the product is irrelevant so long as they can collect their management fees and interest.
Twenty-two years ago consolidators went to Congress with an urgent message. They said they had to consolidate radio because cable TV was threatening their industry. The notion is laughable. Cable TV never did threaten radio, nor did color TV, black & white TV or…the latest boogie man, the Internet. The medium of radio is only threatened when radio pretends to be live with phoney voice-tracking and absentee programming. No human would choose to play the endless loop of corporate music and commercial marathons that listeners are served.
Consolidators are also wrong to refer to the Internet as broadcasting. Broadcasting implies it is cast for a broad audience. The Internet is a packed menu of narrowcasting. There is no regulation to ensure that the content is family friendly or any market pressure to give the best content per hour. It’s just a library with social media attached to it. Radio, on the other hand, could have the advantage of being local and thoughtfully curated for the maximum relevance for the largest regional audience. Only people in Cleveland want to hear about Cleveland charities, and small Cleveland bands that they might see at small local clubs. Sadly, Cleveland will have to go to Google and Facebook because radio is not serving them anymore.
I remember when rampant consolidation made radio stop playing local bands in rotation. I looked everywhere for an option to replace what I’d lost. Eventually, the Internet came along to provide some solace. What I miss, though, is finding that content at the same time as everyone else. I miss being able to sing new songs with strangers. We can all still sing Queen together but there’s no critical mass discovering the same song at the same time for podcast listeners.
The loss of that critical mass is a loss for our economy. Shame on consolidators for robbing communities of their ability to hear themselves en masse. Consolidators are begging for competition to go away. Which is confusing because they got rid of competition 22 years ago with the Telecom Act of 1996. What they really want, is an excuse to fire even more staff and claim those savings as a short-term profit. They know they’re lying to us about their motives. But are we awake enough to see through this?
Competition makes great businesses thrive. Competing radio stations try to outdo, one-up, outperform, out-cool, and be more connected to the listener than their rivals. Once upon a time, the world culture was the beneficiary of the competition in hundreds of American cities as local DJs became ambassadors for local music movements, cultural developments, and local businesses and charities. The thirst to be #1 is what spurred stations to introduce the best bands to audiences.
There is still a glimmer of hope for radio. Let’s start by asking what is good for the consumer rather than what is good for radio. It’s by serving the customer that radio can be relevant again.
The consumer is not asking for more cookie-cutter format-copied radio. They are not asking for radio to pretend that it’s Twitter or anything on the Internet. Radio is an analog technology in a world full of people trying to escape a digital world. The future of radio would be bright if there were live DJs who were allowed to play the music they wanted to and speak about what they wanted to. Radio would shine as the most powerful communications medium on the planet if there were locally run, live, spontaneous communications occurring over it. But that’s not the case. And so we may pass the time on Spotify or doing one of the zillion things that social media is urging us to do or react to. I don’t know about you, but I want my local radio back for my sanity as well as the health of my city. It’s time for media policy to be taken back from Wall Street and given back to the citizens of this country.