Radio: Facing An Opportunity

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stationRadio has always had an advantage in the media landscape. Unlike television, it has survived on its ability to reach people in their homes, in their cars, and via portable units of ever decreasing size. Its ubiquity, as I have often stated in the past, has been its greatest strength.

Now that the Internet has de-coupled itself from the desktop, there is finally serious competition for the radio industry for the first time. It is also, as Skip Pizzi at Radio World Online points out, a time of unexpected opportunity for radio.

You see, the changes that are happening right now are moving at a vastly accelerated pace compared to the radio industry’s prior experience with competing media. TV could only reach people in their homes, satellite radio required a subscription, et cetera, et cetara. Now there is the frantic speed with which Internet-based technologies are evolving, and the entire dynamic has changed.

To some, this is a negative. I constantly run across articles and blog posts proclaiming the “death of radio.” Personally, I don’t think that radio is endangered, I think that like any trial there is an opportunity hidden at the issue’s core.  This excerpt from Mr. Pizzi’s column states it succinctly:

While all this may sound dire, it could actually be just the wake-up call radio needs. Competition is good, and it has already pushed broadcasters to new heights. Witness HD Radio multicasting, which would probably not have been included in the format were it not for satellite radio’s emergence near the end of IBOC’s standardization process.

A more widespread example is the retooling of RBDS for presentation of title and artist data — again a process stimulated by satellite radio, in reaction to its popular metadata service. Most recently we can point to the development of rich radio-station Web sites and mobile apps, which likely would not have come along as they have were it not for Internet radio’s presence.

While the car is clearly the next (and last) venue in play for radio, there are potentially a number of ways that broadcasters can still leverage their intrinsic assets to generate sustainability in this new environment, and learn to coexist with nontraditional competitors on all platforms.

Eloquently stated and something we should all keep in mind. Yes, the media landscape is changing. It always has been since its inception. The fact that there are challenges, even great challenges, is not cause for the wringing of hands I so often see amongst those who gleefully predict radio’s demise. Rather, it is an opportunity to step up our game, to fashion content so compelling that it draws listeners in.

The other salient point is that this evolution of tech also brings powerful tools to the radio industry as well as competition. As a native New Orleanian, I could not listen to my favorite jazz and heritage station were it not for the fact that it is streamed over the Internet. Social media tools and the archiving of “on demand” audio from broadcasts allow a range of interactivity and the ability to time shift content that were unthinkable even six or seven years ago.

This is not the death of radio, it is a new era of competition. American history is replete with examples of competition causing the creation of superior products and services, and that is what we need to look at now. Public Radio has been at the forefront of the Internet revolution, embracing it enthusiastically and providing myriad examples that the commercial sector needs to pay attention to.

Remember that the “death of radio” has been touted numerous times over the past century and in none of these instances was it correct. AM radio was supposed to die out immediately according to critics when FM debuted. I think Rush Limbaugh and other talk radio pundits can attest to its continuing viability decades later. TV was the “radio killer” of its day back in the ’50s and we all know how that turned out.

There are opportunities all around us. We have only to step up and seize them!

Photo: ross_murray / CC BY-ND 2.0

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