Surprise! Radio Disney Doesn’t Need Radio!


So Disney sells of all of its Radio Disney station assets – 23 AM and 1 FM –  save for its LA flagship, which is evidently a content creation hub and not simply a means of distribution.

…and the radio industry goes wild!

What does this mean? What is Disney signaling? Does this even matter? These are the questions that were on everyone’s lips last week.

But to me, the larger question is this: How come this took so long?

Does anyone think Disney chief Bob Iger awakened one bright day in the summer of 2014 to discover that his army of primarily AM radio distribution points was not particularly relevant to an audience of kids, tweens, and their parents, all of whom enjoy more choices for more ways to receive Disney content than ever before?

Let’s face it, the last time an AM radio station was particularly relevant to a juvenile audience it was the summer of 1975.

Yeah, but Disney’s not a radio company, you might say (forgetting that elephant in the room called ESPN). No, it’s much more than that actually, and you should be, too.

Disney is all about consumers and their interests and connecting the dots between them. Disney is about producing and distributing content to audiences who salivate for it via the most effective and efficient means possible.

Indeed this is the problem. Radio companies think they’re in the “radio business” rather than the same business Disney is in, producing and distributing content to audiences who salivate for it via the most effective and efficient means possible.

This was fine when distribution was scarce and expensive. But what about now that distribution is abundant and relatively cheap? Now the real value in legacy distribution channels is your ability to be a gatekeeper for the content that sparks the passions of your audience, and the real obligation of the custodians of those channels is to build, grow, or buy new and rising distribution links to your consumers before your competitors do.

See, Disney is not wed to any distribution channel. Disney is wed to its audience, and so should you be.

Some radio analysts have called for a massive PR campaign to tell the story of radio to advertisers and audiences alike.


Do you really think this is simply a problem of bad public relations?

If so, you’re sunk. Sorry.

I think this misguided notion derives from the old school belief that anything we pimp relentlessly enough will invariably sell. Sadly, that only works when what we’re pimping is a good idea that consumers and advertisers actually resonate with. And that explains the funeral procession of bad radio industry ideas that litter our publicity history and have caused not so much as a blip in the consciousness of the consumer public: “Radio Heard Here,” anyone? Sure!

Unless you’re a fan of Radio Disney, of course, then the phrase is actually “Online Radio Heard Here.”

HD Radio? NextRadio? Ho hum, say consumers to these and other ideas that generate excitement only among the readers of radio trade publications – ideas built to perpetuate a distribution channel, not to delight an audience.

What Disney’s sale of radio assets really signals is that distribution is bigger than any one channel and the importance of those channels evolves over time. Some channels become more important, others become less so.

But if that’s true, then what’s steady, unchanging, enduring over time?

Could it be the content?

I don’t know. Let’s ask ESPN and Star Wars and Marvel and Mickey Mouse.

* = required field
  • Mike Haile

    Thanks Mark for your straight forward calm analysis of this story.

    Two decades ago when Kids Radio began with a couple of different content originators, AM radio was the perfect platform to expose a potential audience to this product. The prices were right to purchase AM stations to give them a footprint in dozens of markets vs. the wildly escalading prices of FM during the onset of duopolies and later outright consolidation. Disney could thus be in 40 plus markets with AM signals vs. spending the same money to be in 3 or 4 markets with FM’s.

    When my daughter was seven she saw and heard what Radio Disney was all about when we were at Disney World. She loved it. Every time we went to a major market in the next three or four years we listened to Radio Disney in the car non-stop. I am certain there were millions of kids when were exposed to Radio Disney in the same way.

    Using AM radio early in building the Radio Disney brand made it quickly a viable franchise. Before somebody jumps up and says that Disney is golden everywhere I would invite them to look at the rate of store turnover of Disney Retail Shops in shopping malls around the country. They come and go, in and out of malls.

    Radio Disney built their early business plan on doing dozens of on location appearances yearly in every market. Being a “real” radio station gave it legitimacy in the eyes of traditional retailers.

    This is nothing more than a math equation than involves the reduced need for traditional physical assets for a 3 to 12 target demo.

    My guess is Salem, Liu or some other broadcasters will find these AM signals perfect
    vehicles for distributing and reaching an audience for their relevant “CONTENT”.

  • Hi Mike!

    I’m trying to decide if your first sentence is facetious….

    I think you’re arguing that AM radio was good enough to reach a ton of kids twenty years ago. That’s tough to argue with. It’s also tough to argue that in those days there were no alternative ways to hear Disney content that you didn’t already own. So good enough was literally good enough. Today, it no longer is.

    And what you describe as Disney’s “math equation” is one that affects us all.

    One note: The Radio Disney brand is really not a brand at all. Disney is the brand. And that is what Disney wants to build. Audio was and is simply one manifestation of that brand.

    I’m not suggesting Disney is “golden,” just that they see the world wisely in this case.

    Thanks for your comment, by the way!

  • & Pixar Too Mark! 😉

  • Rusty Hodge

    Especially for content like was on Radio Disney, it’s not live or time sensitive and for the most part is more likely to be consumed on demand. They’re still keeping the ESPN stations, because there are technical advantages to AM and FM for live sporting events, namely no latency/buffers to delay things. But that too is changing. As you say it’s the content, not the transmission method, that really matters.

  • Mike Haile

    Thanks Mark,

    My first statement was serious. I have always appreciated your thought and dialog starting, writing style.

    Radio Disney’s case, they spent the money on the resources to
    understand listener expectations throughout the last 20 years. The
    result in 2014, they reached a point where they decided a reallocation
    of resources was needed to continue to deliver on listener expectations.

    We know what happened when AM Top 40 operators in the 70’s
    let heritage rule their strategic thinking. They did not make the
    effort to truly understand the changing expectations of their quickly
    diminishing number of P-1 and P-2 listeners.

    Creating compelling
    content first starts and then evolves by truly knowing our customers
    (listeners and advertisers) day after day year after year. A genuine on
    going effort on how to deliver on listener expectations. Fortunately I
    work for a company that believes and practices those two proceeding

  • Yep! Thanks Vaughn!

  • All true. Thanks Rusty

  • My Pleasure!

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  • delete

    Mark, there is something to what you said. He woke up a while ago and because they are so huge and slow to make things happen…they did just get around to dumping not profitable stations.

  • delete

    Well, they are in the content creation business and they should just turn the delivery part over to the experts 😀 (hint) hey! My name isn’t delete!!