How to “Rescue” Radio


How to “rescue” radio? Doc Searls has some ideas, and Doc’s a very smart man. He is, among other things, the co-author of the classic The Cluetrain Manifesto that anticipated social media and the power of the social consumer by a decade.

I don’t agree with all of his points, but I’ll share a few of the most interesting here.

First, he redefines radio as “streamed audio,” unbound from “transmitter mentality.” This is a familiar conversation in radio circles, of course – and one that keeps bumping up against business model realities that are realities only for those who are beholden to traditional business models. My conception of “radio” is much broader and relates more to branded entertainment and information content across platforms (think Marvel or Disney or ESPN or NPR), but Doc and I agree that the content side is hugely important. In the final analysis, you can only go across platforms when you have the quality unique and compelling content to do it. Indeed, that should be our goal.

Here’s some of his advice:

Normalize to the Net. That doesn’t mean just “digital first.” It means recognizing that the Internet is your coverage area, and the new native land for all forms of radio, including Satellite.

Yes. And that means you must be worth consuming for listeners whose choices are not limited by geography. Being “local” therefore isn’t as important in this context as being “relevant.” Being unique and compelling with – as Seth Godin calls it – “best in the world” content becomes the only way to thrive.

Transmit over the air in HD. Yes, HD has problems, and the adoption rate is still low. But it’s an all-digital bridge between net-casting and over-the-air.

My opinions on this matter are well known since I predicted the cold shoulder the consumers are giving HD almost 9 years ago. Consumers are speaking with their ears and their devices, and they are moving from analog to digital without using any “bridge.” Besides, too many broadcasters who have HD see it as a way to flood their markets with me-too ratings spoilers rather than add true value to the listener or client experience.

Have truly unique programming. If you’re running what dozens or hundreds of other stations are running, you’re just a relay.

Don’t take it from me, take it from Doc. Don’t be “just a relay.” Relays are commodities and commodities will never thrive in a world with choices and without boundaries.

Look toward making more money from subscriptions and voluntary donations than from advertising.

I absolutely agree. Part of our business model paralysis is that we steadfastly refuse to do what non-commercial stations do every day: Look to our fans for our support. When you worship your fans rather than your ratings you very often end up with more fans and higher ratings. Since listeners will pay for value, not just “radio,” that’s where the emphasis should be. More on that in another post one of these days.

Lobby to get rid of the completely aversive royalty system for webcasting, and its inequities with over-the-air broadcasting. Replace it with something sane and respectful of the all-digital world in which we now live.

Yes, yes, and yes.

Thanks for focusing on radio, Doc. The industry needs more attention from thoughtful outsiders. Indeed, that’s why I launched hivio. Wanna come?

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  • Doc, thanks for the clarification….

    I agree COMPLETELY with your HD radio take here. One correction: While they wanted to make money from equipment makers and broadcasters, several broadcasters were and are iBiquity partners. That’s why many broadcasters invested (i.e., wasted) millions of dollars worth of promotional time on air to push HD radio to an audience that was less interested in technology than in solutions to whatever problems they faced.

    While I agree that consumers can’t accept what they have never had a chance to sample, they can certainly reject it. Audio quality is notoriously irrelevant for radio listeners (you left out “quadrophonic sound” in your illustration), which is why SiriusXM squeezed so many channels into their finite bandwidth.

    What really happened with HD Radio is that consumers don’t buy radio’s – they buy things that contain them. The technology, where it was installed, used, and heavily promoted, failed to take off because it didn’t solve a problem that consumers really had or have. Not the variety of satellite – not the personalization of Pandora. My 9 year old piece discusses some of these things.

    I hear you on the pro-HD argument. But in my opinion it is way too late indeed!

    And that’s why so much of my attention is focused on blockbuster content – that which is unique and compelling. Yes, it’s hard to create and nurture. But isn’t everything worthwhile?

    Thanks again, Doc. And thanks for signing up for hivio! I do hope you can come.

  • Don Keith

    Mark, good post as always, but I laughed out loud when I saw the “Subject” line of the email of the post I received: “How to ‘Rescue’ Radio from Mark Ramsey Media.”

    I didn’t realize you were such a threat to the medium! 🙂


  • Hey, it got you to read the post, didn’t it?

  • HD Farce

    You forgot to add the iBiquity mantra, “HD makes FM sound like a CD, and makes AM sound like FM”. Let me guess – you don’t get any digital dropouts, either, and IBOC doesn’t cause adjacent-channel interference.

  • Robin S

    Wont need HD radio. It’s all going to come over the net in high quality sound to wherever the consumer is.

  • Robin S

    I’m going to ask our brand ambassador to go to present at Hivio. is there room?

  • If they’re signed up at http://hivio.com they have a shot. But it’s invite only! So signing up is the first step.

  • Robin S

    we lost our brand ambass shortly after this and had to find a new one but I had fun and learned some things listening all day. Jaime made me promise to come next year.

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