Each year I attend the NAB Radio Show, and after a few days of meetings, attending sessions, and celebrating individual and brand achievements, I’m re-energized. The amount of wisdom shared in each room to help fellow broadcasters, and the private conversations conducted throughout each hotel, serve as a reminder that we’re working in an incredible business, one which remains important and exciting to those earning a living in it.
There is this public perception often presented that radio is lagging behind, failing to adapt, and not built for the future. I’ve called out the industry myself a few times because it sometimes can be its own worst enemy, and stand in the way of progress. Though there are issues to be solved, and competitive challenges have increased, rapid innovation continues, and each time we set our feet it feels like we’re forced to pivot, it’s also an exciting time because the demand for our content and personalities is as high as its ever been.
The majority of people I’ve spent time with in 2018 continue to believe in the present and future of the radio business. They see fields of opportunities rather than landfills of misery. During my conversations in Orlando, I heard similar feedback. The difficulties facing brands aren’t ignored, but most are optimistic, open to new ideas, eager to find solutions, and recognize the limitless options that exist to reach audiences thru multiple platforms.
A great example of this was last Thursday’s session on smart speakers featuring Fred Jacobs of Jacobs Media, Jeremy Sinon of Hubbard Radio, and Charles Steinhauer of Westwood One. All three gentlemen talked about the surge of smart speakers, the challenges they provide, and their importance to the radio industry’s future. Sinon in particular did an excellent job of playing some examples where Alexa created headaches for a few stations, and then showed how to develop skills to overcome those challenges. The message for the room was to understand the opportunity this new technology provides and not forget that it still requires investing time and resources to develop skills so your brand can perform its best.
As I sat there listening and processing the information Fred, Jeremy, and Charlie supplied, I thought about how it relates to the big picture of the radio business. Every brand, personality, and executive has problems to deal with, but solutions are available if you’re willing to invest the time to identify them, and take action.
Another session I attended that peaked my curiosity was on artificial intelligence. Traug Keller of ESPN, and Hartley Adkins of iHeartmedia were featured along with a few other broadcasters, and one of the best parts of the session was when an ESPN sample video was shown featuring Scott Van Pelt as a voice assistant. It gave the room a peak into the future. Keller delivered one of the best lines of the conference when he said “here we are talking about artificial intelligence and I don’t think any of us really know what it even means.”
He was right. Too many times in radio we hear of the potential of new technology, and immediately rush into it because we’re hoping it’s the magic bullet. Maybe AI will be a powerful tool to assist our business. But what if it isn’t? I’ve been to a number of shows since launching my company in 2015 where VR was touted as the future of TV watching, Nielsen was in danger of being replaced by other forms of measurement, and radio was read its last rites, and here we are in 2018 and all seem to be doing fine.
Don’t get me wrong, I see the projections. Radio is viewed as a flat to down business, while mobile and social media are seen as golden tickets to greater fortunes. Not only are both a huge part of each person’s daily routine, but they also offer better metrics to judge audience interest and advertising results. Meanwhile, radio lingers with an antiquated measurement system that doesn’t capture the true impact of each brand.
There’s also the reality that smart speakers are now owned by nearly 25% of Americans, and that number is expected to increase in the next few years. Larry Rosin of Edison Research did a stellar job of highlighting this during his session. I especially agreed with his data to support why music and sports brands would be wise to eliminate traffic. I did that as PD of 101 ESPN and 95.7 The Game and both stations turned out fine. The most important message though is an obvious one that can’t be stressed enough. As voice-enabled technology takes over the inside of our vehicles, brands lacking strong recall, local content, and recognizable talent will be in for greater challenges.
We also heard a bunch about the unstoppable force known as podcasting. That seemed to be a heavy focus of this year’s conference. Norm Pattiz, Darren Davis, and Suzanne Grimes offered their insights and optimistic views of the space during an action packed session which included Jewel, Mario Lopez, Elaina D. Smith, and Kaitlyn Bristoe, and I share their enthusiasm for it. It allows talent to showcase creativity, brands to introduce original content and new voices, and the biggest winners are the listeners since most content options are ad free or significantly lower than what they’re exposed to on terrestrial airwaves.
However, until radio operators share an equal confidence of earning income in the space similar to their terrestrial properties, I think it’s going to be an uphill climb. Should we be selling podcast subscriptions? Video shows? Will people continue to listen if we include more ads in our podcasts? There’s no shortage of content or promotion for podcasting, but monetizing it is the largest issue. Measuring it in a way that satisfies advertisers is another big challenge.
Last but not least, I attended the Snacks, Suds, and Stories session which included Mike McVay, Mike Golic Jr. and Chris Oliviero. McVay always does a great job hosting these sessions because his personality, humor, and passion grab your attention, but what really stood out this time was something Oliviero said.
When Chris was asked to describe the best moment of his broadcasting career, he said he’d answer by sharing his best and worst. The worst he said was the day he learned Howard Stern was leaving terrestrial radio, He said it felt like a piece of the industry died that day. His best moment, was his final day with Entercom.
Now before you read into that last response, Chris’ explanation was that it meant he had written the final chapter on a successful 20+ year career. He was proud to represent CBS as an executive, and when the company sold, he stayed on to help Entercom navigate thru the merger. He felt he did what he set ought to do, the job was complete, and it was time to walk away.
I knew exactly what he meant. When I left San Francisco in 2015, I did so with zero regrets. I knew the station was built for future success, the same way I left 101 ESPN in St. Louis in 2011. I wasn’t interested in moving to NY and doing the same thing. I proved to myself and my bosses that I was a strong PD, and I was ready for a new challenge. I didn’t know it’d become BSM, but had I not left SF, I’d never have realized how much I love this.
After three days of meetings and attending sessions, I left Orlando with the understanding that not all is rosy in radioland. There are many mountains to climb, and it seems that just when we reach the top of one, another pops up. Challenges are to be expected though, which is why I don’t see the industry as laying in a hospital bed on life support as some others do. When I add it all up it comes down to this, some see challenges as problems, others as opportunities. The way you view it will determine how you respond, adapt, and ultimately perform.