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AM Radio: With Friends Like This…

Everybody loves AM radio, right? Everybody needs AM radio, right?

Hmm. Maybe not.

Imagine a world where a new auto model dispenses with AM radio, but even so experiences blockbuster consumer demand.

Of course, I’m talking about Elon Musk’s forthcoming Tesla Model 3:

Elon Musk, during a conference call hosted by Goldman Sachs a few days ago, articulated that annual demand for the Model 3 could eventually surpass 700,000 units. As a point of reference, the cumulative number of Model 3 reservations currently checks in at more than 500,000, an impressive figure to say the least. “We anti-sell the Model 3,” Musk said just two months ago. “But our net reservations continue to climb week after week. No advertising, anti-selling, nothing to test drive, still grows every week.”

By my estimates, that would rank the Model 3 as one of the top-five selling cars or trucks of the year.

How, then, to explain the PR missive – er – member stroke – er – letter from the Southern California Broadcasters Association bemoaning Tesla’s “puzzling” decision to exclude AM radio from the new Model 3, just as Tesla has banished it from its other models in the past?

With boffo demand like that, exactly what’s “puzzling” about the decision?

Indeed, the decision would seem to be irrelevant to demand, neither a good nor a bad thing from the consumer’s standpoint. Hence the huge demand!

From Tom Taylor:

Here’s part of the letter to Musk, about the unique nature of the L.A. market – “California represents a 53% share of all electric cars sold in the U.S.” And this – Southern California radio offers not just companionship, entertainment and music, but also programming in “English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Farsi, reflecting just a few of the 220 different languages and dialects spoken in Southern California.” There’s another angle – “We understand you may be launching your own streaming music service for your vehicles and we applaud that idea. But consumers need real time information as well as music and the need to be informed is critical for all of us who drive every day.”

Yes, consumers need real time information, and anyone who has ever sat in front of the oversized dashboard panel in a Tesla knows the car is built to enable that information – and so are the drivers of that car who bring their real time information with them every time they pocket their smartphones.

What the SCBA is really saying is that folks need this information from AM radio, and that is patently false. Musk knows it, 700,000 Tesla buyers know it, and the overall radio audience (which has been fleeing the AM band for years) knows it. Even the SCBA knows it. How can they not?

It seems to me that the challenge for the information providers in the radio industry is to distribute that information in every conceivable form and on every available platform to the consumers who want that information. Their challenge is not to lecture a company and its founder when their minds have long since been made up and the toll they have paid with potential buyers has been nil.

I get that SCBA is “just doing its job,” but the job of sustaining one direction against treacherous headwinds should lead one to ask whether that’s a job worth doing. Maybe another job would lead to a longer lifeline for the content that lives on AM and the folks who work so hard to create it.

There’s great stuff on AM brands all across the country. Focus on getting it to consumers. And focus on the information needs of people who have turned off the AM band for good. Just look at the remarkable focus of public media as they compensate for the losses of younger listeners to their radio brands with tremendous growth among those same listeners to their digital and on-demand assets. It can be done, but it requires a strategic commitment and a big dose of reality. There's great stuff on AM brands all across the country. Focus on getting it to consumers. Click To Tweet

Don’t focus on forcing your platform on automakers who don’t need or want it and who actually feel the AM band’s image is bad for their brand.

Such attempts are not only hopeless, but they position the radio industry as feeble and out of touch.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t wake up every day and go to work to be positioned like that.

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