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Agencies say the dumbest things

It’s frightening to recognize how incredibly clueless many top ad agencies are about the realities of the radio industry and the market we – and they – serve.

“Radio is a stale medium,” says Steve Kalb, senior vp and director of broadcast media for Mullen’s mediaHUB, who notes he keeps a close eye on declining listening levels. “Every town has the same kind of format. It’s the same music. It’s very generic and white-bread. The homogenization of radio is frightening.” “We haven’t had a breakout format in some time. It’s not easy to come up with a new format, particularly with other sources of music,” says [Sue] Johenning [executive vp and director of local broadcast for Initiative].

Perhaps Mr. Kalb should be informed that the radio industry is bigger than the audience of people who listen to radio content on the radio. It includes all audio entertainment and information, regardless of channel. As those channel options proliferate the portion of listening that is radio-exclusive will naturally decline – just as it has for television, print, and all other so-called mass media. But this is Media 101 and I wouldn’t expect an agency media expert to know anything about that.

Perhaps Mr. Kalb should further question why he’s correlating the so-called “homogenization” of radio with declining listening levels. Correlation is not causation, Mr. Kalb. Listening levels are not declining because listeners want something more, it’s because they want something else. They are actively choosing control-based alternatives – they are not saying “I’ve had enough of Justin Timberlake – why can’t I find a good station for Jazz Bagpipes?”

Perhaps Mr. Kalb should also ask himself why he’s focused exclusively on the music of radio stations and ignores completely the content around that music, much of which generates the lion’s share of morning ratings for stations nationwide.

And Ms. Johenning seems unlikely to have ever seen a radio, let alone listened to one. Obviously she has missed the Hispanic formats that have been recently spawned. She has missed Liberal Talk. She has missed Jack. She has missed Rhythmic AC. She has missed FREE FM. And all that is just within the past five years.

When I read such unambiguously dumb talk from agency mucky-mucks who should know better, I can only shake my head.

Dear Mr. Kalb and Ms. Johenning, exactly what formats would you like us to install on a station near you? How many unpopular songs do you think the audience would like to hear, and how is it that you think that bad songs will keep listeners glued to their dial?

And, most importantly, when our stations follow your advice and their ratings decline, will you and your agencies still be there to make the buy?

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