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Is Radio a “Dinosaur”?

“How do we avoid being dinosaured out?” That was a question for the RAB’s Jeff Haley from the Conclave audience, and he was ready for it. One of his answers is that radio needs to be available on all kinds of new mobile/digital and cell phone platforms, like the Microsoft Zune (which also enables song-tagging and purchase). And yes, there have been conversations with all kinds of device manufacturers, like Apple. The other hard question from the audience came from Phil Wilson, who said “there’s less and desire by radio companies to invest in their product.” Haley is practical. He says “2009 is a year about making your payroll, keeping your franchise alive.” But he notes that 7,000 U.S. terrestrial stations are now streaming, so they’re at least making that much of an investment in a digital future.

Let's ignore the fact that there were evidently only two "hard" questions and focus on these questions – and the answers.

First, the question "how do we avoid being dinosaured out?" is not only grammatically suspect but also the flat-out wrong question.

I say that because it presumes that the world is here for OUR pleasure and satisfaction and survival.  It is not.

The right question is:  "How does the radio industry leverage its strengths to provide superior value to an audience with an endless variety of digital options?"  And that leads to the further question, "What do we mean by 'radio' in a digital age?"

The answers to those questions, of course, have little or nothing to do with distributing our content on other devices – because it's the same content we already distribute universally on devices every consumer has at home, at work, and in their car.

If we ask the wrong questions, we will most assuredly get the wrong answers and follow the wrong strategy.

On the second question about investment in the product, saying that 2009 is a year to survive is a cop-out which simply dramatizes the notion that we should have planned for all this before we got slapped upside the head by the current recession.  Most of the trends currently in play were in play before this recession. And lots of folks saw them coming.

The best way to survive is to plan to thrive.  It's to restructure so as to leverage opportunities based on a consumer-centric model, not a broadcaster–centric one.  The idea that streaming is, in and of itself, a strategy for the future is naive.  It's WHAT you stream that counts.  And what ELSE you do that fits with your advantages and the needs of your current and potential audience – online or on-air or in and around the actual community your brands serve.

The most fundamental change we're witnessing today is the power returning to the audience.  Choice is suddenly in their control, and they intend to use it.

This is a time for A-players and A-strategies.

And that begins with asking the right questions and seeking the right answers.

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