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Radio asks the Wrong Questions

“What’s the future of radio?”

“How does radio compete against Pandora et. al.?”

“How can we get FM on mobile devices?”

“How do we stay in a prominent place on the car dashboard?”

These are typical of the questions I hear.

And what makes them all similar is that they are asked from the inside-out. That is, the implicit assumption is that radio’s past must be sustained into the future, and with a few tweaks here and there we can dial up our relevance (pun intended) and dial down our risk.

This is equivalent to the consumer products company that asks “how can we make a new product that we can successfully sell?” – as long as that product is envisioned, made, and sold to fit with all the previous products the company has sold in the past and, ideally, to the same consumers.

As James McQuivey asks in his wonderful new book, Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation


Instead of asking “How can we make a new product that we can successfully sell?” the disruptor asks: How can we give people something they really want.

Consider that Arbitron’s PPM device doesn’t measure “what people want” – it measures what PPM devices are exposed to.

Over the long run, “playing the PPM game” will increasingly diverge from “what people really want” since exposure to a scattered and deficient sampling of “beepers” has always been a poor proxy for consumer desire and will be significantly poorer as options explode onto the scene with keen attention to the fundamental issue that should be at the heart of the entire radio exercise in the first place:

What people want.

Recently I was brainstorming with a (non-radio) media client and business models were central to our discussion – business models that swirled around the fundamental challenge of giving people what they want.  “We’re too dependent on ad revenue,” they said.  “We need to increase our subscription revenue to make up for falling ad dollars.”

That leads to the question: “Subscribe to what?” And the answer is: “Whatever people want that is within our current or potential capacity to provide.” But here’s the point: It starts with the consumer – not with you.

Radio’s utility is not just a function of its ubiquity – it’s a function of providing unique value over the generations – giving people what they want. When TV blew onto the scene radio adapted to provide new unique value. And now here we are again.  It’s time for the kind of transformation nobody working in the industry today has ever seen.  And while that’s too bad, that’s the way it is.  We need to get used to it.

It’s not about new ways to sustain the status quo.

It’s about giving people what they want in an era when they own the choices and they own the control.

Are you “pro-radio” or pro-consumer?

Do you really have a choice?

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