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Radio’s Biggest Problem: Leadership

Relevance is a funny thing.

Many of radio’s leaders will argue radio’s relevance is proved by its widespread consumer usage.


Usage is a temporal thing. It is a byproduct of relevance but it is not relevance. Relevance is relevance.

And long-lived goods and services which are not as relevant to me and my life as newer goods and services will be disrupted and displaced by those newer goods and services over time.

So never take refuge in being popular. Just ask MySpace.

Likewise, relevance is not simply being present in every place and on every device. This is another popular fiction that some broadcast leaders propagate.

The notion that relevance necessarily follows if FM were to magically appear on a widespread selection of mobile devices is false. Showing up is not relevance, relevance is relevance.

And the fretting over the auto dashboard is also misplaced. The dashboard is getting more crowded no matter what broadcasters do, after all.

In general, broadcasters worry too much about the march of technology and not enough about their own march – their value proposition in the menu of options before consumers every day, day in and day out.

If radio becomes irrelevant, it will not be because of technology, it will be because of radio itself. It will be our own fault.

Relevance is not about technology, it’s about what you do.

I can’t imagine a more elegant illustration of this point than the fictional one from an early episode of Mad Men, “The Carousel.” How can you possibly make something exciting that’s “not exciting technology, even though it was the original [technology].”

[click the video to watch, and yes you really should]

Relevance requires using the tools available to us, even the new tools, to make meaning, to satisfy the needs of the consumer, to deepen the experience that radio can be rightly famous for, to be personal even if it doesn’t mean being personalized.

If you’re a News/Talk station, for example, witness the way this feature in the New York Times tells a story using technology. Technology is not a “place to be” here, it’s a means of deepening the richness of the story. Kinda makes your debate about what podcasts to list in your bottomless archive feel a bit thin, huh?

Radio is obsessed with monetizing what it has and being where it isn’t. This is sensible only if you can’t see past the closest financial horizon.

The real win is embracing those tools which help us tell meaningful stories that matter to real people and leveraging those tools with our strengths and the desires of our audience in mind.

I will listen past the garbage for the thing that’s relevant.

I will listen past the garbage for the thing that moves me.

I will ignore the “glittering lures” in favor of what’s meaningful.

The relevant things to do don’t happen by accident, they’re designed by people who care and leaders who show the way.

Show the way.

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