Smyth: It’s Time To Answer The Smart Speaker Call


(By Peter Smyth) When you need help, who do you call for? Alexa, Cortana, or Siri? Or maybe you just yell for Google. Voice assistants have become mainstream in a big way. The latest number from Edison’s Infinite Dial research says that almost 80% of us are aware of “smart” assistants or speakers, and an estimated 65 million (23%) of us have one or more at home.  

Surprised by those percentages? You shouldn’t be. Ever since our smartphones started talking to us, we’ve been in the voice assistant (r)evolution. Of the various assistants on the market today, Alexa is the frontrunner with a substantial lead. Voice control has rapidly evolved to be more accurate and intuitive and may eventually become the standard interface between man and machine.   

What got my attention was a PWC study from last year that ranked how we use smart speakers. The top response was “ask a question,” followed closely by “listen to a streaming music service,” which almost 42% of the sample did daily. “Listening to radio” was down the list in fifth place with 26% daily usage. 

That gap is significant and should be a call to action for radio stations — we are now competing on an easy-to-use, convenient delivery system with two of the biggest competitors for music services, Spotify and Pandora. We need to play a strong defense and make sure that our stations are equipped with Alexa skills, Siri integration with mobile apps and Car Play, and other innovations from Google and Apple as they refine their voice products. 

Radio stations can creatively use the smart speaker platforms not only for our air product, but also for on-demand audio to highlight what makes our station special beyond music delivery. This can take a variety of forms like morning show excerpts, concert and music reviews, or interviews. It can be another platform to spotlight and promote the station personalities and programming.  

I know that it is a constant headache to find dollars and man-hours to address the endlessly changeable world of digital delivery, but it is absolutely necessary if we are to maintain the loyalty and interest of our audiences. Each of these tech innovations takes another bite out of the reach and time spent listening to broadcast radio. We are still the dominant audio source in car, but at home listening needs help. Clock radios are non-existent and it’s just too easy to turn to a smart speaker or computer and order up a streaming playlist. It’s our challenge to give them a worthwhile reason to listen, at their fingertips. 

Playing defense is not as exciting as a high-scoring rout, but it wins games.  And we need to win this latest challenge to keep our medium a vital part of listeners’ daily habits. All we have to do is be there when they call for us. 

Former Greater Media CEO Peter Smyth received Radio Ink‘s Lifetime Leadership Award at Forecast 2019 in New York. Smyth ran Greater Media from 2000 until it was sold to Beasley Media Group in 2016. During his career, Smyth served as Chairman of the RAB’s board, as President of the New England Media Association, and as an elected member of the board of the NAB.


  1. While TheBigA provides that which should not have to be stated at all – the obvious, one has to wonder if anybody else with any influence is paying attention to even the slightest degree.
    Short answer: They don’t seem to be.
    This makes TheBigA’s comment even more viable and critically time-sensitive.
    Radio’s situation is, indeed, ridiculous and absurd.
    The industry is worthy of boos, hisses, cat-calls and extreme derision.

  2. Historically radio stations have been a “distribution platform” to distribute audio content. Now, we have numerous “distribution platforms” to distribute audio… including radio stations, mobile phones, smart speakers, the smart hub in cars, and more. So radio is no longer needed as a distribution platform. However, radio stations ARE needed for their content… if the content is unique and compelling, and if there is more than just music being offered (music is now available on a plethora of platforms.) Stations with compelling content will survive and prosper. Stations focused on voice-trackimg and not investing in their content, will not survive.

  3. Peter is spot one, again!
    Our Industry, radio, has always done a very-very poor job of promoting itself!
    I would venture to say that most radio stations, air the words, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Alexa and Siri nearly as many times as they say their own call letters. We promote everyone else products very well, it’s time you promote our own and not just once in a while, promote it with consistency, frequency and great creative. Hmmm, that sounds familiar! Do what you ask business owners to do every day, and that is to promote themselves! I think you will find the rates on your own stations very attractive!

  4. Let’s just say that a station can be streamed/accessed through some form of voice activation.
    We can also, with some confidence, predict how that listening experience would be woefully unsatisfactory.
    What, then, could radio offer as an excuse?
    “The dog ate my homework?”
    “Radio has to compete even though it has a wooden leg?”
    “The owners won’t let us make any improvements – even though we don’t know what those improvements would entail?”
    “We still play the Best Music?”

  5. When it comes to radio ranking fifth in listenership, I do not see that as a concern, I see that as a huge victory. At home listening has been virtually non-existent for quite some time. This is a gift, and we know it. We just need to enable the creative types at our disposal to help us find the most effective way to promote this technology. The listenership will increase, I assure you.

  6. Earlier this year I wrote about this, and last year shot a video demonstrating issues. When I get the chance, I’m going to do another video to show how Google does a better job finding radio stations than Alexa based on responses I gathered. It was interesting to see how many people with smart speakers in their bedrooms had no idea that they could listen to their local radio station on them.
    We need to make sure it’s easy for listeners to find our radio stations simply by calling out the name of the station, which makes it difficult if our station names are not unique (ie; there being more than one Q105’s), or if our info isn’t correct on TuneIn or iHeart. We also need to work with Google and Amazon to make sure listeners can find us by the very names of our stations (ie; Google can easily bring up 1077 The Beat, Alexa could not…even though they both are getting audio from TuneIn), etc…


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