I read an article recently from a fellow named James Cridland who fancies himself as a “radio futurologist” (wish I would have thought of that). He’s from the UK. On a recent trip to America, he spent time in Las Vegas and did touristy things like drive to the Hoover Dam and Red Rock Canyon. He rented a car for his travels and to his frustration found there was little to listen to on AM or FM radio. After getting tired by the lack of variety (translation anything worth listening to) on Las Vegas radio he chose the “Bluetooth” function on the car radio and start streaming music from Google off his smartphone. He wrote of its ease of use, his smartphone’s convenient features and how he felt sad American radio had fallen to such a lowly place.
About 5 years ago I thought the frustration of listeners was a generational thing. People my age had to be happy with radio. That was until my wife and I made a trip to Chicago with another couple. Chicago is a 5-hour drive from where I live in Cincinnati. Our friend struggled for hours with a little FM transmitter she attached to her iPhone so the internet stream she listened to could be picked up on her car radio. Every few miles she needed to adjust the frequency, which she did. All the way north on I-65 she kept changing the radio searching for an available frequency. It was obvious she would rather struggle with content she thought of as good than listen to bad content with ease on terrestrial radio.
Sitting in the backseat I thought, “Uh oh.” That’s when I knew. My friend and I were born just a few days apart. We’re virtually the same age.
Predictably, a few of the comment posts on Cridland’s blog, which spoke of his experience and the coming “connected dash” in cars, found defenders of radio’s status quo (which is pretty common):
Are you saying all radio broadcasters should start worrying, or just those providing the kind of second-rate content you found in Nevada? If you have the best content, optimised (sp) for digital presentation, isn’t the connect dash more of an opportunity than a threat?
Or my favorite:
I’m not that concerned, all James did was the modern equivalent of putting on cassettes or CD’s in the car as an alternative to radio. Did personal CD’s or tapes affect radio? Nope.
These comments come from people who feel radio has always survived the next cool technology and it will again…eventually. Radio always adapts, they believe. It always has.
Complacent thinking such as this is why everyone in radio must be afraid. Complacency has no place in our world today, a world based on innovation and change. There are too many choices and innovation is happening at a speed too difficult to keep up with.
With a little history lesson, let me explain why it’s different this time.
- One-way mass communication was created with the invention of the printing press in the 1400’s. This technology, along with curated content, remained the primary method of communication for around 500 years.
- Broadcast (radio and later television – a similar technology) came around in the 1920’s and provided instantaneous one-way mass communication of curated content. The difference between broadcast and print was it was instant. A CD or a cassette (as mentioned above) provide instant communication to the consumer too and it’s still one-way and still curated.
- Then in the early 1990’s the internet arrived and provided for instantaneous two-way mass communication with no curation. The difference is it’s two-way and not curated.
Today, everyone has a transmitter and can instantly speak to millions and those millions can respond back. No filters. No curation. This is why it’s different this time.
It’s true. Radio did adapt to movies, television, 78’s, 45’s, 33’s, 8-tracks, cassettes and CD’s and each of these provided one-way curated content. The internet and the “connected dash,” Cridland spoke of, provide for choice, control and 2-way communication.
Here are some sobering facts gathered from ratings data you may not want to hear. Radio has been in decline since 1983. That’s not a typo. 1983 was the year radio hit its collective AQH peak (average quarter hour listening). Between 2010 and 2012 there was a 9% decline of listening in radio’s PPM markets (basically the top 50 ranked radio markets in America).
Radio may not survive the disruption this time without great leadership and innovation.
It cannot survive those who choose to believe radio will survive because “it always has.”