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Radio: Here comes the future, ready or not

I have been struck in recent days by the reaction of many broadcasters in these tough times.

Here's my observation.  Tell me if it matches yours.  There's increasing lip service to digital strategies, yet almost none of the recent job shufflings in radio that I'm aware of include any announcements about the beefing up of digital divisions, digital deals, digital sellers, etc.

Instead, I hear quite the opposite.  "We can't let sellers get distracted by these penny-on-the-dollar digital baubles, some say, when they need to fight double-hard to sell that premium over-the-air time."

While this reaction is understandable and very human, it also misses the point altogether.

And that point is this:

The world has changed.  Overnight.

If the problem is that over-the-air dollars translate to digital pennies, fix that problem. Don't avoid it.

Yes, this change is being heavily exaggerated (or accelerated) by the recession (which, for the media industry, is much worse than a recession).  But the change is real and it has been coming for some time.

That change will continue to roll over the radio industry and the "good old days" of exclusive ownership of the airwaves and exclusive ownership of radio channels and exclusive ownership of audio advertising and exclusive ownership of audience attention will never return.

Now is the time we need to figure out what we're really good at that the world wants and do that thing. And it is not simply selling over-the-air ads better, harder, or faster.

In his new book What Would Google Do?

, author and blogger

Jeff Jarvis examines several ways in which our world has changed.  Among them:

– Customers – not you – are now in charge.  This is the exact opposite of radio's historical "we own the ears" model.  Now, the ears own you.

– The mass market is dead, replaced by the market of niches

– Markets are conversations, so the key skill today is not "marketing" but conversing

– We have shifted from an economy based on scarcity to one based on abundance.  The control of products or distribution will no longer guarantee a profit.

– Enabling customers to collaborate with you is what creates a premium in today's market

– Owning stuff is no longer the key to success.  Openness is.

As an industry we should waste less time clinging to the past and more time structuring our future.

Shrinking and restructuring are not the same.  You can lose weight, but that doesn't mean you gain flexibility.

Radio needs some massive restructuring all right.  And everyone working in it needs to consider how to restructure their skill-set.

God did not create radio managers.  We did.  And we can create them differently for this new age.

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