Groundhog Day


(By Mike McVay) Last Friday we recognized Groundhog Day, the day when a marmot meteorologist predicts the end of winter. As Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow after being plucked from hibernation on February 2, we are all supposedly in store for an early spring this year, as opposed to six more weeks of winter.

As a phrase, Groundhog Day has had a new meaning since 1993. Today it’s used to define an event or circumstance repeating over and over, in reference to the Bill Murray and Andie McDowell movie. So if we were to apply Groundhog Day to radio, it would mean that we keep doing the same thing without ever changing.

We expect radio to have a resurgence, but we do nothing to make that reality.

When one closely examines radio and its history, there have been very few changes since the launch of what was once known as Top 40. That was a seismic shift… that happened 70 years ago.

Album Oriented Rock was another. That happened 54 years ago.

While talk radio existed before Rush Limbaugh became a nationally syndicated host, he is recognized as the talent who brought an audience back to the AM band while changing the game for an entire format. And that was 36 years ago.

There have been variations of existing formats like Adult Variety (think “Jack”), but very little in recent years has created a seismic shift in content.

Maybe my desire for a new approach is futile. When radio was changing the media landscape there was only Radio, TV, Newspapers, and Magazines. That was it. When I speak to friends of a certain generation, they brag about the once huge listening audiences of legacy media. There’s seldom acknowledgment that the level of competition today is greatly magnified because of technological, social, and familial changes. Entertainment and information are portable and on-demand. Radio isn’t just competing with radio today. It’s competing with everything, everywhere, all at once (to reference another movie).

A dissection of what could be a possible lifeline would necessitate a willingness to change and break out of “Groundhog Day” behavior. We must first realize that audio listeners today curate their own experiences. That means that radio content has to be everywhere: over the air (OTA), Online, On Demand, On Podcasts, and mobile by being on apps – not just a landing page for an app. Apps must be high-tech and enable live, on-demand, and rewind capabilities. They should provide unique streams and information and communication between the listener and the talent. Looking to the future… it may even contain the ability to skip songs.

Smart speakers put radio back in the home and the workplace, which is a great opportunity for the medium, but too few have balanced audio levels or create glitch-free transitions. As a result, they have downgraded the listening experience. Perfect sound quality should be the standard, not the exception.

Digital delivery is nearly equal to OTA listening. The same can be said for those who have not considered the opportunities available to radio with the Connected Car. Quu is one example of a company that is enhancing the in-car radio experience for advertisers and listeners by employing the senses of sound and sight.

My perception is that too few in radio are focusing on being a multi-platform product. There are other businesses whose success is dependent on delivery that are more committed to perfection than radio. If you, like me, believe in radio and its reach, that’s cause for concern.

It’s not enough to be “good enough.”  Content has to be at a higher level, be that investing in local personalities, using syndication, or voice-tracking. That isn’t settling.

But radio is being judged today against media that you can’t ignore. Media that’s new, fresh, and engaging. Radio, like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, continues to live the same day every day expecting a different outcome. We know what to do. Will we ever have the stomach to do it?

Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]. Read Mike’s Radio Ink archives here.


  1. ‘Good enough’ never is. Why is it that the non-comms (and not just NPR) are generally doing a far better job of working multi-platform than the rest of radio in 2024?


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