Warp Speed Ahead


(By Deborah Parenti) It used to be that you could pause and reflect as the clock ticked away the hours, days, and months. And you could be assured that change, while always in the offing and sure to materialize, still allowed for an opportunity to digest events and their impact before the “newness” wore off. Not so today.

Many topics and ideas discussed at last year’s Forecast conference predictably exploded into headline issues, but some took our entire industry by surprise since the start of the New Year. For example:

Artificial Intelligence

Two weeks to the day after Forecast 2023, ChatGPT was released to an unsuspecting public, and the artificial intelligence revolution simmering behind the scenes for so long finally took center stage. Now AI is playing an equally important and controversial role in the change and future of radio broadcasting. 

Yes, AI-powered algorithms can help radio stations curate playlists and analyze listener preferences, allowing broadcasters to focus more on creating compelling content and less on repetitive tasks. At the same time, the legal and even moral implications are daunting. 

AM Radio

Some have dared to predict AM’s precarious spot on the automotive dash for years now, including our CEO, Eric Rhoads. Eric, like all the others, was skewered for even suggesting the idea. Then some EV-makers quietly pulled the plug on AM. Then, in the spring, Ford dropped its bombshell announcement about removing AM from all future vehicles. Now it’s all hands on deck in a massive all-industry movement to save the band’s most prominent home.

Broadcasters raised an alarm so powerful that an increasingly divided Capitol Hill sat up and took bipartisan action, resulting in the introduction of the “AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act,” which, gratefully, continues to gain support. Not a minute too soon, if a positive outcome is to be reached. 

What happens after the vote will fall squarely on the shoulders of AM operators, who must earn audience loyalty. Randy Michaels put it succinctly in an August 18 Radio Ink op-ed titled “Is AM Radio Legislating When It Should Be Innovating?”: “If the industry doesn’t care about AM, why should car makers care? We can ask Congress to mandate AM. Even better, give listeners a reason to demand it.” Chew on that for a while.

AM radio remains vital to our national Emergency Alert System, but is it viable outside of a crisis? Do we provide a product that attracts listeners in and of itself and offers a strong marketing platform to advertisers? Legislation can keep the patient alive, but the patient needs to participate in their own recovery or all is lost.

Journalism Competition and Preservation Act

Another issue that has received more attention, primarily in journalism circles, could hold promise for AM’s revival. The NAB has put its weight behind the “Journalism Competition and Preservation Act,” which is currently in front of Congress. The JCPA aims to allow news organizations to join forces in negotiations with digital platforms like Google and Facebook that use their content by offering an antitrust exemption. 

Considering that about 40% of AM stations program News/Talk formats, this act could be especially important to the financial survival of AM. This was the focal point of a talk by Ad Fontes Media Chief Strategy Officer Lou Paskalis at Forecast 2024. Lou is dedicated to keeping local news available and restoring advertisers’ trust in investing in news outlets amidst social change. As he told a packed Harvard Club, “Advertising alone cannot fix the broken news business, but we can be part of the solution.”

Time Is Ticking

Progress is no longer increasing at a linear rate; it’s exponential. As the speed at which we can communicate, labor, and perform accelerates, it equally closes the gap for how much time we have to respond to monumental change. Hours, days, and months to make decisions are a bygone luxury.

Yesterday’s pace is not today’s pace. Are we willing to match the tempo?

Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink. Reach Deborah at [email protected]. Read her Radio Ink digital archives here or read her latest column with a digital or print subscription here.


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