Radio’s Problem After the iPhone 7


Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock you know that Apple released its latest iPhone last week, and the announcement came with all the usual pomp and publicity.

But what does the iPhone 7 mean if you’re working in the radio industry?

The key thing is the much noted removal of the 3.5mm Earbud jack, an output device that – until now – has been ubiquitous.

Sure, Apple will provide a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter in the box along with some standard Earbuds with a Lightning connector, but anyone who is buying Apple products in part for their design style (which is virtually 100% of their market) will ultimately shun (or lose) any adapter and graduate either to Lightning Earbuds or – more likely – to wireless Bluetooth Earbuds like Apple’s “AirPods.”

And that has consequences for radio, folks.

Because what Apple is really signaling is the end of wires. And it’s very likely that other device makers and the consumers who choose between them will fall in line and follow suit. Because let’s face it, we all hate wires.

While it won’t happen all at once, you can say goodbye to wires, folks. Both for listening and soon for charging.

But here’s a problem for radio:

Wires are necessary for the clunky gadget produced by Nielsen which connects Earbuds to your mobile device for that incredibly tiny fraction of radio listeners who actually comply with Nielsen’s request to use it (note to Nielsen: Asking modern mobile phone users who take pride in their cool new devices to attach your ugly intermediary is like outfitting someone in a finely tailored suit and finishing it off with a Hawaiian shirt).

So if you ever thought you were getting PPM numbers from mobile devices before, you can forget about getting them in the future, no matter how much listening transitions there.

Meanwhile, for those of you obsessed with NextRadio, wires are also necessary for the proper functioning of that technology, much talked about in radio circles but largely ignored among real consumers.

The solution for broadcasters targeting digital audiences is to find those audiences where they want to be: Streaming and listening on demand.

The solution for ratings is to use metrics which are census-based rather than sample-based – to use so-called “big data” rather than the herky, jerky small data provided by too few PPM devices in too few households.

Radio was born without wires.

The future of radio is likewise wireless.

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  • Pedro Juan Hernández

    Thanks Mark, I really enjoy your interviews. They help me train the iHeartMEDIA AE in the Orlando region.

  • Thanks Pedro! 🙂

  • I could probably write half a dozen paragraphs agreeing with The things you brought up here. But let’s stick to the big one. As much as I consider the people involved in the project my friends, I think it’s time to admit that FM radio in cell phones is, for all intents and purposes, dead.

    When I was watching the Apple presentation, the very first thing that came to my mind is if you have a wireless audio delivery system, you’ve now disconnected the FM antenna. No antenna, no signal. And no chance any manufacturer is going to take up the space in the inside of a phone for an FM antenna. The product cycle from drawing board to consumer use is 3 to 4 years for a brand-new from scratch cell phone. Adjusting a current design to remove the headphone jack and improve Bluetooth can be done significantly quicker than that. So it will take a while before wireless headphones become ubiquitous, but it’s going to happen and the forces that want to put radios in phones will lose by the sheer weight of the consumers who are tired of untangling chords.

    The consumers in the market place rule. I promoted and supported AM stereo. I kind of liked quad FM. And for a while I really truly believed that HD Radio could solve some of our industry’s problems. But unfortunately I think we need to add a radio in every cell phone to that list of good ideas that the consumer didn’t care about.

    Time to objectively look at the technology landscape and the dearth of compelling content and figure out how to make radio own a niche in consumers’ minds.

  • Yes, wireless will absolutely become ubiquitous – and faster than anyone thinks.
    Thanks Mark

  • Chris

    Hi Mark, I have to disagree with your conclusion.
    1. While the wireless tech is interesting and more convenient than having wires dangling from your ears, the earbuds have one huge advantage: They are cheap to replace and easy to find. Most decent Bluetooth earbuds still cost $20-$50, while wired earbuds can be had for $5. Everyone has five or six Bluetooth earpieces because we forget where we put them or forget to charge them. Where the technology will go is that Bluetooth or other wireless earbuds will be able to act as antenna for a mobile device.
    2. Radio is the most democratic form of media there is. No hotspots, no download fees, no access costs or passwords. Last year, commercial radio posted $14 billion in sales. Radio isn’t going anywhere.

  • Chris

    The niche broadcast radio owns is “locality.” I’ve spoken to several owners of so-called internet radio stations. They tell me about all the listeners they have all over the world. I always ask the same question, “Who is paying for it?” Very few underwriters will pony up ad money if potential customers do not live within their sales area. Broadcast radio delivers an actual audience within a localized geographic area. That’s the advantage of broadcast radio. Of course, another advantage is sitting in your driveway. There was never a better convergence of technologies than the automobile and the car radio.

  • Hi Chris, one should never bet on price over value. If it were all about price then folks would be walking around with cheap flip phones not $800 iPhones. Killing the wires has value that cheap earbuds can’t match.
    Your comment that “wireless earbuds will be able to act as antennae for mobile devices” is new to me. I have not heard that before. It’s certainly not true today from what I can tell, and I don’t imagine there will be a consumer-driven push to make that possible in the future any more than consumers have been driving for antennae in phones to date.
    As for your comments about the radio industry, they are not relevant to my post. My post has nothing to do with the overall wellness of radio over the long term. It has to do with the narrow issue of consumption of audio on mobile devices and the extent to which it comes from traditional “over the air” radio. I’m not debating your metrics about the industry’s health.

  • Again, you’re arguing a point that I’m not arguing. There is no comparison in the ability of some stray Internet radio station to monetize versus an established local station. But established local stations need mobile platform distribution too, and that will be online.
    Meanwhile I think there are plenty of better tech convergences than the automobile and the car radio. Indeed, if that particular convergence were so perfect, then broadcasters wouldn’t be so worried about the future of the dashboard and the consumer’s relation to it, especially when cars drive themselves.

  • Chris

    You don’t like the Automobile and Car Radio Convergence? You think there are plenty of better tech convergences? The car radio is the single-handed reason why radio is still King, according to Nielsen. I mean, what’s the second thing people do when they get into their cars? Until broadband becomes absolutely ubiquitous and free, there will be radio. People have been predicting the decline of radio ever since TV entered the landscape. There are no cars being sold without radios. That means that smart phones are not taking over that function in the car.
    Your point that broadcast radio stations need a mobile platform also ignores what most people are doing when they turn to radio. They’re driving. Do you surf the web when you’re driving?
    Sure, have a website as a supportive feature. But a mobile platform negates the advantage radio has over all other forms of media: You don’t need your eyes.
    FM chips in smart phones are not going away. The most recent demand for smartphones to have activated FM receiver chips in the US was strongly supported by FEMA because radio can stay on the air even when the power goes out. How else can communities get emergency information during a disaster. I have a small card of coiled wire in my smartphone that acts as an antenna without the earbuds.There are alternatives to the earbud antennas.

  • Okay, how about the Internet and the mobile phone? Or the telephone and electronics small enough to fit in your pocket? Those are just two. But again, I’m not debating the long term health of radio. I’m only arguing that that listening will not come by wires on mobile phones. And to the degree that listening shifts to mobile phones or mobile experiences powered by mobile phones (as in Apple Carplay and Android Auto), that listening will shift away from radio and to radio via IP.
    Meanwhile when cars are self-driving – and that’s coming – you will do much more via then Internet than simply surf the web. And it will be all about using your eyes.
    Thanks for the back and forth, Chris!

  • Russell

    Its nice to see someone else making sense on here. There are so many people trying to dismiss FM for whatever reason. But even if no one listened to FM, it can still be used to give people emergency information when internet/calls fail. During 9/11 or recently Hurricane Sandy, FM played a major role in giving the public information. Because of this, FEMA supports FM in smartphones. But carriers go out of their way to deactivate FM when it is already built into smartphones. Why?

  • Nobody here is trying to “dismiss” FM, But technology doesn’t work backwards and consumer expectations don’t move backwards. The issue is not with FM but rather with the idea that radio “belongs” in telephones because there is no evidence consumers want it there and the evidence indicates they don’t choose for or against phones because they do or do not get FM radio. This is a consumer non-issue of consequence only to the people who invest in towers and in the exclusive licenses granted those towers by the FCC.

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