Will More Data And Tech Help Radio? 


(By Ronald Robinson) Recently, another audience measuring system has been introduced, and with some fanfare. Well, let the bells ring out, let the trumpets blare, let the banners fly. The system does one thing: It measures radio listening only in late-model vehicles. No in-home returns. No at-work measuring. No demographic distinctions. (Note the signs: “Snap out of it. Retreat through these doors!”)

The only necessary measurement required by individual stations in every market can be described as follows: Instead of suspiciously questionable or faulty audience measurement, a station’s sales representatives could go to the street and accurately and convincingly demonstrate superior returns on investment for its advertisers. All that is required is for the on-air staff to become more effective and appealing communicators, and for a copywriting staff to acquire the skills to produce more effective commercials. This is not jungle voodoo or witch doctoridge. Nor does it fall into the category of rocket surgery.

Accepting the above premise, however, does have this niggly downside: It puts the boots to, not only the validity but the longer-term utility, of what more recently has been provided as “valuable data.” This would also include that (strongly alleged) “93% reach” thingy.

To his great credit, radio’s most excellent friend, Bob McCurdy, of the Beasley organization, has been providing stellar data about radio’s demonstrated efficacies. Were the info to be taken to the street and found to be advertiser-acceptable, improvements could, indeed, result in some significant improvements in revenue.

Further, and on a semi-regular basis, stories are being put forward where this or that advertiser is experiencing impressive returns on investing in radio. (Pick a percentage point.) Some readers may have also noted how these reports come with disclosures that the key elements always included “creative” that goes beyond the sloppy, Pablum-esque, banal, annoying, and generally inefficient copy.

My fantasy, essentially — my mantra — and my ongoing message, is about what would happen if radio rejected the decades-long abdication of its responsibilities and its own best interests through applying a wholesale slaughter of its own, now, no-longer-available but incredibly effective resources.

Plus, and there’s always something else, radio’s ownership and management seem to be salivating, if not outright drooling over another fantasy of their own — that being, emerging technologies, particularly of the cheapy, plug-&-play variety, that will be arriving just in the nick o’ time to save their bacon, and to make the next payment on the boat. (“5G is God.”)

What they forget and/or ignore is that radio, while also being a neurologically twisting, electronic medium, is also most effective as a medium when delivered and received by actual biological, carbon-based units — what we like to call “people.”

Those who are foisting the “live & local” concept are also aware of the expenses involved in taking that tack; and also realizing how so few individuals can slip into those positions with any useful knowledge, skills, or experience. “Farm teams”? That’s just another vaguely remembered, weird concept.

On-air personnel and crafters of the “creative” are going to have to be thoroughly retrained and introduced to audiences and advertisers. That is to suggest that standard returns on investment really aren’t that useful — not to get anybody’s attention. What is needed are spectacular returns on investment! (Accept no substitutes.)

While the standard-issue, and generally accepted, whine is that “the Internet killed radio,” the truth is closer to “radio saw a beast in the distance, lay down, cowering, grew hungry and thirsty — and fearful of getting wiped out.”

To be sure, radio is a medium that is utterly dependent on communications that are written and delivered by humans. The whippings in the public square have decimated the ranks and have provided sufficient examples of pour encourager les autres (to encourage the others).

I am reminded of Tom Petty’s 2002 release of The Last DJ. The culling of radio’s talent had begun more than a decade before. So, whaddya gonna do now?

Ronald T. Robinson has been involved in Canadian radio since the ’60s as a performer, writer, and coach, and has trained and certified as a personal counselor. Contact Ron at [email protected]


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