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There’s Light At The End of This Tunnel

The radio business is dead. Turn off the lights. Pull the plug. It’s over. Finished. Done.

How many times have we heard these negative narratives pushed as the press flocks to whatever new shiny toy is available until they get bored with that too? If you took your cue from these headlines, you’d see no light at the end of the tunnel and believe that live sports, specifically the NFL, is on the verge of a monumental collapse, and the radio business and television industries aren’t far behind. In the next breath, you’ll hear that digital listening and viewing is going to sit atop the mountain until the end of time, until of course the next gadget comes along and renders it obsolete.

So imagine my surprise when I saw Jim Cramer of Mad Money on CNBC (click here to watch the video) tell his viewing audience why he liked the forthcoming merger between CBS-Entercom and paint a rosy picture of the future of the radio business. Cramer did his homework, and presented a fair and accurate analysis, hammering home a message which I wholeheartedly agreed with – as long as there are cars with human drivers, there will be radio.

I’m not naive to the fact that digital and social media are powerful entities that make consumption of content and personal engagement experiences stronger. But this isn’t a case of one platform needing to live and the other to die. Those platforms actually compliment radio, helping expose each brand’s programming to a wider array of people.

We lose sight of this at times. The conversation becomes, digital is getting X, radio is getting Y, so what’s wrong with radio? But ask yourself this question, when has there ever been a time better than now to reach people with audio content and advertising messages?

Allow me to answer that for you – never.

I’m not the only one who feels this way either. Two weeks ago in Austin, Texas, Entercom CEO David Field was honored by the NAB for his contributions to the radio industry and during his speech (skip ahead in the video below to 1:02:00) he emphasized a few facts that too many disregard. Radio reaches 93% of Americans which amounts to an estimated 270 million people. It’s the number one reach medium weekdays from 5a-5p. It’s the very best at local audience activation, the least disrupted medium, and it can be argued that it provides a better return on investment than any other media business.

But despite these truths, there’s another that exists too – radio is severely undervalued.

If you listen to the analysis and projections of informed media experts like Jack Myers, you’ll hear that we’re on the verge of entering a new bright age for the audio industry. At the RAIN Podcast Business Summit in June, Myers said something that grabbed my attention. He shared that Google forecasts that in the next five years, 50% of all searches will be conducted by audio. Myers declared audio as “undiscovered beachfront property,” adding that it’s about to become the hot part of every creative agency.

In years past, we relied on people in a local market enjoying their programming in the comfort of their car and our opportunities to reach them beyond the vehicle depended on their interest in listening to audio via their home stereo or walkman. People who moved away from their neighborhoods couldn’t stay connected to their hometown radio stations, and social media wasn’t available to promote content or station promotions, advertising messages or other listener benefits. If a radio station was lucky, they might receive a little bit of marketing money from their ownership group to buy billboards or ads on television or the newspaper to convince people to check out their programming.

Now, everywhere you turn there’s an opportunity to put your content in someone’s ear. People are glued to their phones, which offers the ability to listen to and enjoy more audio content. We log on daily to social media platforms and immediately receive notifications of what our favorite media brands are doing, thus giving us another reason to tune in. Depending on the strength of your brand’s relationship with the audience, fans may also receive email newsletters or texting alerts, which serves as another reminder to sample the content. We also can walk into our homes now, sit down on the couch, and instruct Amazon Alexa or Google Home to play a piece of programming that we have an interest in hearing.

Massive opportunities exist for every audio operator in the content creation process. These are incredible times that we must take full advantage of and we can’t allow the gloom and doom to temper our enthusiasm.

Are there challenges to overcome? Of course. The press will continue negatively positioning the medium regardless of the rise of podcasting, smart speakers, phone use and better in-car listening experiences, and advertisers will likely be slow to adapt and continue shifting dollars to other industries while ignoring the power of what the audio business provides. Then there’s the issue of needing advanced measurement and stronger data to satisfy buyers and business owners, and compete with larger companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google who are generating massive revenues and delivering a deeper analysis to show brand’s the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns in resulting in earned business.

I’m not saying the road ahead is easy. It isn’t. But we’ve got incredible momentum on our side, and can’t forget how valuable it is to sell a product which matters to people, and has an ability to reach them in every direction thanks to modern technology.

If there’s one modification I’d like to see in the future it’s an evolution of the way we brand our industry. We don’t work in the radio business. We work in the audio business. You might even take exception with that and say we’re in the entertainment business. Our future isn’t determined solely by an FM/AM position on a dashboard. It’s about reaching people with quality audio programming everywhere and anywhere they can hear or see you, and the last time I checked, no entertainment business was better suited to do that across multiple platforms than the audio industry.

I’ve said many times that there are three types of people in this world – optimists, pessimists, and realists. I pride myself in being a realist, but when it comes to the future of the audio industry, forgive me if my optimism shines thru. It’s hard to turn it off when you believe in what you’re selling.

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