For those outside the radio industry, for some reason, the impression people get is that radio is afraid of digital. Poppycock! If you’re a radio insider you know you’re doing everything you can to embrace digital, battle an unregulated, nearly commercial-free group of competitors, and operate your business so that it serves listeners, advertisers, the community, and, oh-by-the-way makes money.
Looking back at the 50th annual Country Radio Seminar in Nashville last week, it’s clear the digital world is creeping into what was once radio’s private domain. And, Country Radio Broadcasters, and country artists, are totally fine with that. Should radio be?
You have at least one really big team member you can always count on — Garth Brooks. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.
Three of the current CRB board members are now from the digital world; Ryan Redington from Amazon Music, Brittany Schaffer from Spotify and Debra Herman from Shazam.
In addition to that, the digital players dropped down some major bank at CRS. Amazon sponsored the opening night reception which featured 4 country acts, including Zac Brown. And, Brooks announced he was extending his exclusive deal with Amazon. The country superstar was a big part of CRS this year, sitting on a panel and playing an intimate 2-hour show at The Bridgestone Arena for CRS attendees following the opening reception. And Amazon was right there with Brooks.
Is all of this overlapping of digital and radio a good thing for our industry? The number of Amazon smart speaker devices in the home is growing while the number of radio’s is clearly declining. It’s a struggle to even find a radio at a Best Buy these days. And, while 40,000 radio stations can be streamed on an Amazon device, there’s way more entertainment to choose from than the old days of the clock radio. If you ask Garth Brooks which he prefers, while he is clearly a fan of Amazon’s technology, he’s still a big believer in radio.
Variety quoted some of what Brooks said on a panel at CRS. “If we had Alexa when George Strait’s first album came out, I’d have worn that lady out.” Brooks also provided radio with some much needed ammo, which is especially helpful when it comes from someone of his caliber, a mega-superstar artist with a following so huge, he can now produce hits without either radio or digital. Brooks said, “terrestrial radio is an 800-pound gorilla that ain’t going nowhere.” He said radio is always where fans will come to discover new music. Another great quote for radio to use courtesy of the king of country music. Brooks went on to say what he loves about both radio — and digital. “I love the fact that this isn’t an either/or thing. I can hear it on terrestrial radio, and I can wear it out on streaming. To me that’s the true partnership here.”
Then Brooks did a little bidding for the radio industry. Brooks and Amazon VP of Music Steve Boom sat on the panel together at CRS. And Brooks pitched Boom a radical idea, as reported by Billboard, based on his belief that radio was the place consumers go to discover music. Brooks suggested Amazon look into monetizing radio’s impact, such as when a listener is streaming a radio station on Amazon and wants to purchase a song, radio would share in the revenue. The country superstar said, “Eighty-six percent of discovery is from radio, but radio doesn’t see those retail dollars.” That suggestion had to have radio executives falling out of their chairs, especially when other organizations are hounding radio to “pay its fair share” to just play songs on their terrestrial stations.
Billboard reported Boom was surprised by Brooks’ proposal. You think? Regarding working with radio, Boom said, “We would love to work closely with radio. I would love feedback and know what you’re doing and how it’s impacting streaming.”
Boom also said radio should not fear digital, at least when it comes to Amazon. “The opposite has happened from what the fear was. It brought music back into the home. It’s in your family room, it’s in your kitchen. It’s a communal listening environment and radio is a huge part of that.”
The radio industry has not been passive when it comes to digital. iHeartRadio has been around for years now. Iit’s on practically every device imaginable, other than the toaster. Yet! And under Entercom’s leadership Radio.com is poised to become a digital player. And radio stations have been aggressive at making sure they are easily available on smart speakers by creating skills for those devices.
But here’s what could be the biggest and best line for radio from the entire event last week. And it’s new news to us and great news for you. Boom said: “Tens of millions of hours of terrestrial radio is being listened to on Echo every month. We just brought radio into the home. That’s why we’ve seen such great growth of music. We’re not bound by a device.”