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Is Music Radio Really “Utterly Screwed”?

Yesterday’s post, which referenced Holland Cooke’s remark that “music radio of any flavor is utterly screwed” has gotten a couple of interesting responses, and I want to address them briefly.

First, everyone needs to understand that, of course, Holland is being deliberately melodramatic because he’s making an important point – and people in our biz want to ignore important points that differ with their current reality and, as a result, have the potential to complicate their lives.

Second, it was suggested to me that Holland’s argument is off-base for contemporary music radio (as opposed to older music radio) because contemporary radio acts as a filter for what’s good and what’s popular. Contemporary Radio is, as this industry vet wrote, a “trusted music filter.”

Well, sure. Contemporary Radio is how hits are made, after all.

But is Radio always going to be the only – or the most important – way that hits are made? Will Radio always be the new music filter listeners trust most? I’ll bet that once upon a time Radio broadcasters said “Who cares about this TV thing, Radio will always be the place to go for broadcast drama and comedy programs.”


yes, Radio’s job now is to create hits. But let’s not forget that the TV networks are also the traditional hitmakers – and they now collectively own less than 50% of the viewing audience. And hits can now come from cable networks, too.

It’s perfectly conceivable to me that a tech-savvy generation of music fans will accept a variety of music sources as their hit-makers. And the most important of those sources will be the tastes of their friends. Historically, “the tastes of their friends” has been defined by airplay. But increasingly there are more direct and personal ways to assess “what my friends like.”

When I can get music streamed to my phone by someone OTHER than the local radio station, why shouldn’t I prefer THAT source? What, exactly, makes the local new music station so “trusted,” anyway? In most cases, I don’t think it has that much trust.

In San Diego, 91X was a legend – but that collective equity and listener trust was overturned in a matter of months by a new station that understood the interests, values, and hot-buttons of its audience better. Where was the “trust” in 91X?

Contemporary music fans are notoriously fickle. And notoriously welcoming of new ways to get what they want. Isn’t this one of the problems plagueing Contemporary Rock and Alternative stations nowadays?

So what’s the answer?

The answer is that music alone is not the answer, folks. Holland’s argument was essentially that. Unless there are compelling personalities associated with your radio station – especially if your focus is on contemporary music – then you’re warming up listeners for someone else’s audio stream.

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