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Radio is Afraid of Change


There’s no doubt about it: Consistency matched to consumer expectations is a big reason why listeners keep coming back to the brands they love.

But what happens when new choices and the novelty packed into them abound? And not just “radio” choices, but attention-getting distractions which occupy the same block of time that otherwise would have been devoted to “radio”?

It was legendary ad-man David Ogilvy who famously said “Encourage innovation. Change is our life blood, stagnation is our death knell.”

How would Ogilvy react to stations who rest on their laurels not for years but for decades? What would he say when radio’s best known morning shows celebrate twenty or thirty year anniversaries with nobody on deck for succession? What would he say when the top News/Talk host on the radio in 2013 was on the cover of Time…in 1995? How would he respond to the graying of the radio audience and the graying of the broadcasters in front of and behind the mics? What would he say about the large number of radio stations who have no online radio presence whatsoever or the even larger number whose digital platforms look like they were built on Geocities in 1997?

In general, the radio industry has so enslaved itself to the momentary blips of the Arbitron (sorry – Nielsen Audio) PPM device that every conversation is about evolution, not revolution – granular tweaks, not holistic impact.

The problem is that while listeners may respond to radio products on a moment-to-moment basis, that’s not how brands are built and sustained. And it’s certainly not how they are loved and remembered. Nor does moment-by-moment analysis advise us in any way whatsoever how to cope with those bright and shiny distractions not bound by the harsh limitations of PPM – by which I mean virtually  every distraction on the horizon.

Isn’t this why radio usage has declined over the past several years? When the consistent is confronted with the fresh, the advantage always favors the fresh.

That doesn’t mean what’s new will always succeed – far from it. But as an industry we have not only a determined fear of failure but a congenital sense that experimentation itself is an unworthy use of time since it risks even a single quarter-hour PPM blip. Besides, who has time to take chances anyway? And who, exactly, is rewarded for chance-taking in this day and age?

Who has time? Who is rewarded? People who don’t work in radio, that’s who. People struggling to create in garages and bedrooms all over the world. People with ideas that spark consumer attention, where that attention can come only from the brands and media that have historically commanded it. That attention comes from you, radio. And with it will go the time and usage and ad dollars that follow.

So who is your Chief Innovation Officer? What fraction of your brand’s executive time is devoted to trying new things? What is your stated policy on failure as a route to success?

In my world, I didn’t have to launch an audio future festival, but I did. I didn’t have to develop one of the best digital platforms of anyone working in and around radio, but I did. I don’t have to infuse my research work with new elements every time a project rolls from inception to completion, but I do. I didn’t have to write this post, but I did. I didn’t have to expose critical ratings data that illustrates the decline in attention to radio when every industry force would rather keep that data under wraps and virtually every radio trade ignores it, but I did.

What’s novel and fresh is always “unnecessary” – right up until it becomes essential.

For me, new stuff is vital, not optional.

For you, too.

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