What Many Broadcasters Still Don’t Understand


When I read trade headlines like “who will lead Radio?” the implication is that there is this silo called “radio” which is independent from and not subject to the constraints of every other silo in the media space known by every other label.

But radio really is a gift of attention by those who are interested in our brands and in all their marvelous forms across all platforms.

And gifts don’t necessarily keep on giving.

Tech guru Om Malik put this well:

Media companies are those companies that have our attention — they can be social networks (Twitter), games (Farmville/Zynga or Candy Crush/King.com) or photo-sharing services (Instagram) or a listicle-powered flywheel of social attention (BuzzFeed). Like I have said before, they all are basically trying to get us to spend many fractions of our attention on their offerings.

Consider the way Amazon head Jeff Bezos thinks about the competition for books:

The most important thing to observe is that books don’t just compete against books. Books compete against people reading blogs and news articles and playing video games and watching TV and going to see movies. . . . If you realize that you’re really competing against Candy Crush and everything else, then you start to say, ‘Gosh, maybe we should really work on reducing friction on long-form reading.’ That’s what Kindle has been about from the very beginning.

This means the competition for radio isn’t simply other radio stations or even everyone’s favorite foe du jour, Pandora. The competition for radio is every media brand that isn’t traditional radio. Video games, YouTube phenoms, podcasts, e-books, even the Facebook newsfeed. Competitors to “radio,” all.

This is why it’s so important for radio brands to focus on content which compels and not simply obsess on diminishing assets like habit, ubiquity, the long-time dominance of the FM band, and what that FM band will look like in cars yet to be made. As choices on the dash become easier and more attractive to use, consumers will embrace them. And “radio’s” share of the usage pie will naturally decline, just as today’s top-ranked TV shows are only a fraction as popular as the top-ranked shows from bygone days when number one meant a 50-share.

I have often pondered what broadcasters could do if they turned back the clock on the six- or seven-figure investments they made in HD radio and funneled just a portion of that capital expense into the quality of their content.

Which makes your brand more compelling in the face of “fractionalizing attention”? Investments in HD radio? Or investments in superior content? Debates about the “connected car”? Or content that draws people to your brand no matter what channel distributes it? FM chips on mobile phones? Or content that demands to be heard on mobile phones, regardless of the mechanism?

The founder of Evernote, Phil Libin, famously said:

People [who are] thinking about things other than making the best product, never make the best product.

There are too many broadcasters today who are not making the best product. And then they wonder why Pandora and others are beginning to eat their lunch.

Too many broadcasters work backwards from what “the radio industry needs” or what will sustain and protect the distribution channels powered by towers. Instead, the challenge is to work backwards from the customer, because it’s the customer whose attention is being fractured. It’s the customer who is now in control.

The customer doesn’t care about the future of FM or AM. The customer doesn’t care about “radio” per se at all, in fact.

The customer only cares about what’s on it.

Because she loves the brands she loves.

And it’s up to you to create them.

* = required field
  • Content is KING.

  • Gabriel Barnes

    It seems like the Telecommunications Act of ’96 is still impacting the radio industry. Once groups cut costs by cutting talent, along with many other things, broadcasters have been trying to buy it (their soul) back with “dirty” money – annoying ads that are meaningless.

    I guess “radio” felt that since they are dealing audibly, they could sneak bad content and bad advertising by their listener with minimal effects… but just the opposite has occured! The content coming through the speakers painted an image in our mind of the station (and suffice it to say that it looks like a minor league baseball outfield fence – littered with clutter).

    Maybe the reason why talk radio becomes more popular as we grow older is because they are “more focused” on content than most music radio stations, and we aren’t young, naive “schmucks” that can be easily manipulated.

    Bring back real radio!

  • Thanks Gabriel!

    Mark Ramsey

  • Andy McNabb

    Talking each week with broadcasting CEOs, owners, managers, advertising sellers, it’s amazing – from the billion dollar boys to the front-line folk – their “connect beyond radio” mentality still is limited to simply a) streaming, b) texting the audience, c) selling pre-roll video ads and on site banners and tiles – all to limited size digital audiences that do not find their content as “must see”.

    The ad sellers are shifting clients’ radio dollars to management’s arbitrarily set digital budgets because the sellers earn higher commissions. Why do I use the term “arbitrarily”? The reason is that without defined performance metrics (as in response for clients), it’s a simple matter of selling something of lesser value for the advertiser, for as much as management can get.

    That said – it’s hard to find anyone – ANYONE – that has a digital sales or content strategy that is working for a) the audience, b) the clients and c) the broadcaster all at once that financially works at a small, medium and large market level.

    There are some large market news/talk exceptions that do well for all parties, but they are the rare exception, and they tell me that apart from compelling content, they rely on large volumes of audience to drive that success online – something that other large market, and most medium and small market broadcasters do not possess.

    It’s time to start a national solutions forum on this – Mark, you’ve been consistent in identifying the need – I ask you to be the catalyst for people to share – on an ongoing basis – what works, plus ideas and rationale about what could work, before radio gets left further behind.

  • Don Keith

    Yes, yes, yes,yes yes! I’ve been arguing for years that “radio” has been competing for the ears of potential listeners in new ways since the first 8-track player got installed in a car dash. Next time you are sitting at a stop light see how many people around you have a phone to their ears. How many of them could possibly be listening to YOUR station?

    At least try to put something on the air that might make some of those folks postpone calling Margie to talk about Sue…at least long enough to hear what that guy on the radio is going to say next or to hear a particularly entertaining set of music.

    Do you really believe she will delay that call to hear another bunch of tired, over-researched songs that can be streamed from myriad sources without those commercials even YOU say on the air are evil (“another long set of the best of the 80s, 90s and today without commercial interruption!”)?

    I’m afraid we can only speculate about your key point, Mark. Could radio have once again renewed and revitalized itself if it had invested in content instead of flavor-of-the-day non-solutions to all the wrong problems?

    I don’t believe we will ever find out.

  • The will must precede the solutions forum, Andy. This is about more than education.
    My hivio event is a start. You should be there… http://hivio.com

    Mark Ramsey

  • Where there’s a will there’s a way, Don. Some of us have the will and we will find our way.
    Mark Ramsey

  • Amy Martin

    Thanks for this, Mark. It’s inspiring to those of us who are interested in *making* that new, creative content. I quoted you heavily on my own blog: http://www.auricleproductions.org/blog/2014/12/23/remaking-radio

    Appreciate the straight talk!

  • Cool! Thanks for that, Amy!

    Mark Ramsey

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