Radio’s in the “scarcity” business

Radio has always been in the scarcity business.

The spectrum is scarce, and places within that spectrum are precious. Not everyone or anyone can own one and, Lord knows, not everyone does.

And then came satellite radio which introduced an all-new alternate spectrum, thus reducing the scarcity.

And then came iPods and the like which functioned more like radios than CD players and reduced the scarcity more.

And it’s only a matter of time – a short time – before the Internet comes to your car and quite possibly eliminates musical scarcity altogether.

The existence of HD radio and, to some degree, satellite radio, presumes that listeners want more flavors of more music than the flavors available on the radio now. In general, this is wrong-headed. Listeners don’t want more flavors, they want their flavors. And between terrestrial radio’s flavors and each listener’s own flavors there is nothing but the sound of crickets.

Indeed, it’s a losing battle to chase the music tastes by slicing those tastes into genre-specific slivers. There will always be finer slivers available somewhere else. And more slivers. And non-slivers that are customized according to tastes, not genres. You see, listeners have tastes, radio has genres. Remember that.

In the long run, the more radio is about music the less radio can compete. Unless we’re content to compete for those portions of the audience who will be the technological laggards and have-nots. And I’ve never seen advertisers attracted to markets like those.

In the long run (not yet – but it’s coming), the more radio is about unique non-music content, the better it can compete. Not just any old non-music content, of course. I mean really good non-music content. And the more value that content will have across stations and across distribution channels.

Today, of course, radio lives in a world where one broadcasting group won’t buy talent from another because they don’t want to support the other group. This is the kind of world where all the competitors cooperate on a slow march to oblivion.

As an industry, we should be taking more risks on talent, not fewer. We should be spending more money on distinctive voices, not less. We should be authorizing more experiments and trying more new things, not settling for the lowest cost way to rationalize our wishful thinking.

The era of scarcity is ending.

Unless you can create something that is scarce.

Howard Stern is scarce.

How scarce is a song by Beyonce?

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